WHAT TO KNOW

Young student stressed by her examinations in a classroom

Subject Tests are graded on a scale of 200-800…they are NOT scored on the same bell curve as the SAT (where 500 = national average). In large part, this is because students who choose to take Subject Tests are choosing those particular tests because they’re strong with that material — kids who are bad at Physics don’t opt to take the Physics exam! Therefore, there is an intrinsic likelihood of high scores, as the best students are self-selecting. Colleges will often look at the percentile for a particular test…for instance, SO many people get a perfect 800 on the Spanish Subject Test (there are a ton of native speakers who take it) that even a 700 is often around the 50th percentile. That doesn’t take away from scoring a 700, but it does put it in context of how everyone else is doing, too.

High scores on Subject Tests prove to colleges that you are prepared to pursue particular subjects on the college level. This is your chance to show admissions officers where your strengths lie and to convince them that you can thrive in their school’s advanced courses, so be sure to take tests in your areas of academic interest. For instance, if you intend to apply as a Chemistry major, you’ll want to take the Chemistry subject test; if you’re applying as an English major, be sure to take Literature.

Strong Subject Test scores also reinforce strong grades or can make Admissions officers more forgiving of weaker grades; for instance, getting a B in a class but scoring well on the Subject Test shows that you understand the material but perhaps had a tough teacher. And while only a select few colleges still require Subject Tests, quite a few recommend them and ALL accept them! (Even better, if you do poorly, you are under absolutely no obligation to send the scores to colleges — you can just pretend it never happened.)

Most schools that require or strongly recommend Subject Tests typically ask for two (or sometimes three) scores. While most let you pick which subjects you want to take, some require scores in particular subjects — for instance, many engineering programs require Math II scores. Be sure to investigate this before deciding which subjects you’ll take or which schools you’re applying to. And remember, even if a school doesn’t request Subject Tests (as many state schools don’t), strong test scores will only enhance an already impressive application.

Some colleges have even started using Subject Test scores the same way they use AP scores, allowing high-performing students to test out of introductory classes in particular subjects.

2020-21 SAT SUBJECT TEST DATES REGISTRATION DEADLINES
August 29, 2020 July 31, 2020
October 3, 2020 September 4, 2020
November 7, 2020 * October 7, 2020
December 5, 2020 November 5, 2020
May 8, 2021 * April 8, 2021
June 5, 2021 May 6, 2021

* Foreign Language w/ Listening Available

WHAT THEY ARE

The SAT Subject Tests are offered in twenty different high school subjects, and each test is 1-hour long:

  • Literature
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • Math Level 1
  • Math Level 2
  • Biology/EM
  • Chemistry
  • German
  • German with listening
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with listening
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Physics
  • French
  • French with Listening
  • Chinese with listening
  • Japanese with listening
  • Korean with listening

Subject Tests penalize students for wrong answers, so it is often better to leave a question blank than to guess.

You are allowed to take up to three tests in a single sitting.

NOTE: While College Board offers a Math Level 1 test, very few schools will actually accept it. If you are not comfortable taking Math Level 2, consider testing in another subject besides Math. Also, while foreign language tests are offered every sitting, be aware that foreign language tests with listening are only offered in November.

WHAT WE RECOMMEND

It is best to take history and science Subject Tests in June (or May, if June is not possible) of your sophomore and junior years around the same time as any related finals or AP exams; not only will you already be reviewing the material, but this will also ensure that you’ve learned everything you need to know.

Other Subject Tests — such as Literature, Math II, and any foreign language — test skills that only grow with time, so you can take these whenever you are comfortable doing so.* A lot of students prefer to take these tests in the fall of senior year so that they’ve learned as much as possible, but be warned how much work (and stress) will be on your plate with college essays/applications and SAT/ACT prep, not to mention senior classes. It’s up to you if you think you can handle more standardized testing on top of this, as well.

To determine whether a Subject Test is worth taking, let alone prepping for, buy a copy of the Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, which is one book with a copy of each Subject Test offered. Take the test(s) in question in March (fairly close to the exam, but leaving enough time to prepare/review, if needed) — within the allowed time of 1 hour, no more — and score it. See how you do…are you already scoring well? Are you missing questions because you haven’t learned the material, don’t understand it, or don’t know how to attack the test itself? You should also review the results with your school teacher in this particular subject…the teacher might tell you that some of the material you don’t know is actually going to be covered in an upcoming unit, or that he/she already covered it (perhaps not well) — or that he/she has no intention of covering it at all in the class.

Depending on your needs, our tutors can supplement any gaps in material that exist or simply cover strategy, pacing, etc — either in one-on-one sessions or in a small group with your friends/siblings (learn more about our group tutoring programs). How much time we spend and how in depth we go is entirely dependent on how you’re currently scoring, how you hope to score, and how much energy you want to invest in improving.

* The only exception is students who are extremely advanced in math; you want to take Math II shortly after completing Pre-Calculus (although you can do quite well with only the first semester of Pre-Calc, if time is limiting). If you wait until fall of senior year and you took Pre-Calc as a sophomore, you’re going to need a serious refresher to do well!

Explore our various Classic packages and Founder’s Circle packages to determine which is best for you!