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 Jul 09, 2020
SAT Subject Tests

Whether you’re a parent or a student, you may be wondering just how many exams colleges require. Aren’t the ACT and SAT tests enough? It turns out that there are a few more tests that several colleges look for on your applications, and they are the SAT Subject Tests. In this article we’re going to delve deeper into what exactly an SAT Subject Test is, and how you can perform your best on test day. 

What are the SAT Subject Tests?

The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour content-based tests over a variety of subjects that you usually take in school. These tests are different from an ordinary SAT exam because rather than being forced into taking each one, you get to choose which tests to take. Let’s say you love biology, but physics just isn’t your thing. Not a problem! You can go ahead and take the biology SAT Subject Test and not the physics one. This way, you’ll be able to showcase your strengths to colleges rather than stress over subjects that make you squirm with anxiety.

Although you can take as many SAT Subject Tests as you want, most colleges only ask for a few.* Of course, if you want to major in a science degree, you may want to include some science Subject Tests in your college application. Likewise, if you love reading and writing and want to become a writer, it wouldn’t hurt to take a literature Subject Test. You can take up to three Subject Tests on each testing date, and you are allowed to add or remove tests on the testing date. You may not retake any Subject Test. A complete list of all twenty Subject Tests is below:

  • Literature
  • United States History
  • World History
  • Mathematics Levels One and Two
  • Biology E/M
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Chinese with Listening
  • French with/without Listening
  • German with/without Listening 
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening
  • Latin 
  • Spanish with/without Listening 

*Find out which colleges look at SAT Subject Test scores here.

Wait, isn’t a Subject Test the same as an SAT test?

Nope! This nifty chart tells you everything you need to know about both tests.

SAT Subject TestsSAT Test
No Sections: There is one and only one test for each subject!Four Sections: reading comprehension, writing and language, math (with and without a calculator), and an optional essay 
Scoring: Your score will range anywhere from a 200 to an 800.Scoring: Your score will range anywhere from a 400 to a 1600.
How Long it Takes: 1 hourHow Long it Takes: 3 hours (without essay)3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)
Incorrect Answer Penalty: A fraction of a point is deducted for each incorrect answer.Incorrect Answer Penalty: No points are deducted!
Type of Questions: All questions are multiple choice!Type of Questions: All questions (except for a few math ones) are multiple choice. 
How Frequently They Are Offered: 6 times each year (Not all tests are available each time; look below for more information.)How Frequently It Is Offered: 7 times each year

Can I get college credit by doing well on the SAT Subject Tests?

Some (but not all) colleges provide college credit to students with exceptional SAT Subject Test scores. You should talk to college admissions officers and research college requirements to discover whether you can get college credit at the school of your choice and save money on your tuition. However, keep in mind that while the SAT Subject Tests may showcase your abilities in certain subjects, their main purpose is to show colleges how much you learned in high school. These tests show colleges how prepared you are to tackle college level work. 

When should I take an SAT Subject Test?

We recommend that you take an SAT Subject Test soon after you finish learning that subject in school.* For instance, if you are taking an AP chemistry course and want to take a chemistry Subject Test, you should register for the test that is nearest to the end of your chemistry course. For languages, however, you should learn as much of the language as possible before taking the test. Language tests are chock full with vocabulary and reading questions that require you to have an advanced skill level. 

As for the dates of each Subject Test, the College Board posts on its website when each test is taking place, as well as when to register. Keep in mind that you need to register around a month beforehand in order to take any Subject Test. This link tells you everything you need to know about when each test is during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

*If you want to learn more about the recommended requirements for each test, click here

How can I prepare for the SAT Subject Tests?

You have several options when it comes to preparing for a Subject Test. To have the best idea of what the questions are like on each test, take a look at this College Board pamphlet. Although there are no full-blown practice tests out there, the pamphlet has plenty of practice questions that can give you an idea of what to look for on test day. You can also buy one of the test prep guides made by companies like Fiske, Kaplan, or Princeton Review. Most tests have some material that you may not have covered in school, but don’t fret! Almost every test comes with some wiggle room–you can still get one or two questions wrong and get a full score.

The SAT Subject Tests are your chance to shine at the subjects that you are best at, so make each one count. Put in your best effort so that you can go in on test day with confidence and come out with pride. If you have any questions, feel free to look at the College Board website for more information.

Trisha Bhujle is a former Brilliant Prep student with the goal of answering your questions about high school, standardized tests, and everything in between. Having received a 36 on her ACT and a 1560 on her SAT, she now actively works to inform students and parents alike of how to prepare for not only these tests, but also other high school hurdles. In her spare time, she likes to experiment in her kitchen, conquer DIY projects, and most of all, write!

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