Inside tips and advice from AcceptU's team of former admissions officers


What are SAT Subject Tests?

March 12, 2012, Posted In Standardized Testing

Colleges and universities will typically require applicants to take either the SAT or ACT as part of the admissions process. Many colleges that rank in the top 50 or 100 also require the SAT Subject Tests – academic subject-based tests that help an admissions office assess your child’s preparedness for college. Colleges will also often use SAT Subject Test results for placement into appropriate courses.

The SAT Subject Tests are broken into four categories:

• Math. Students may take Math Level 1 or Math Level 2. For Level 1, students need two years of algebra and one year of geometry; for Level 2, students also need pre-calculus or trigonometry. Either exam will be appropriate for students interested in engineering (most engineering colleges require one exam in math and one in science).
• Science. There are three science tests available – biology, chemistry and physics. The Ecological Biology Subject Test covers topics related to the environment, biological communities, population and energy. The Molecular Biology Subject Test focuses on biochemistry and cellular processes and structures. Chemistry and Physics Subject Tests are suitable for students interested in physical science or engineering majors.
• Humanities/Social Sciences. The English SAT Subject Test focuses on critical reading of literary works from various periods; students interpret reading passages to demonstrate their ability to understand literary concepts and themes. The U.S. History exam tests students on major developments in the United States over the past 400 years, while the World History test covers global history from ancient to modern times.
• Languages. French, Spanish and German tests are offered as stand-alone tests or Language with Listening. These tests are intended for students with three or four years of high school language. Other tests, written for students with two or more years of language, include: Latin, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Chinese with Listening, Japanese with Listening and Korean with Listening. (If your child speaks one of these languages but has not studied the subject in school, it is not advised that she or he take the SAT Subject Tests. Admissions officers will not be impressed with a high score on a language SAT Subject Test for native or near-native speakers. Instead, your child should take two other exams – and then perhaps take the language exam as an additional.)

SAT Subject Tests are one-hour multiple-choice exams; students can take up to three exams per test date. The next SAT Subject Test dates include May 5 and June 2 – students must register about one month in advance. Note that not all exams will be offered on these test dates; see the College Board website for availability. If students do not take the exams in May or June, the next time to do so will be in October.

Students should consider taking an SAT Subject Test after taking an advanced course in a subject, or after dedicated studying. (For math and languages, students should take the exam after two or three years of school.) Students often take SAT Subjects in their junior year or at beginning of senior year. But you should first determine if your child will even need to take the SAT Subject Tests at all. Is she or he applying to highly selective institutions? If so, a Subject Test will possibly be required – but there are about 25 highly selective colleges that do not require much (or any) testing. It’s best to visit a college’s admissions website to determine requirements.

Almost all universities that require the SAT and two Subject Tests will allow applicants to submit only the ACT with Writing instead. This is an option that your child might want to consider – preparing for and taking only one exam could be a lot easier than taking three exams. All colleges and universities will accept either the SAT or ACT equally – there is no preference for one over the other.

The registration deadline for the May SAT Subject Tests is April 6. Start planning with your child now to see if he or she should sign up for the May or June SAT Subject Tests – and if so, encourage him or her to start studying!