SAT Subject Tests
SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple-choice exams designed to evaluate achievement in five subject areas: English, History, Math, Science or Foreign Languages. These tests are at the high school (or college-prep) level, as opposed to AP or IB tests, which are at the college level.
SAT Subject Tests are administered several times during the school year on the same dates and venues as regular SAT’s. Not all SAT Subject Tests are available on each testing date.Many colleges recommend or require at least two SAT Subject Tests, regardless of whether you take the ACT or SAT. For a comprehensive list of the 20 subject tests administered by CollegeBoard, click here.
Why should I take SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests are relatively low-risk tests as they are only one hour in duration and the cost is considerably less than AP or IB exams. The tests are at the high school level, as opposed to AP or IB tests, which are at the college level. Because grading scales and course offerings vary significantly from one high school to another, standardized test scores in the subjects where you excel offer colleges a window to your achievement level in comparison to other applicants. In addition, most colleges allow you to use the CollegeBoard Score Choice feature with Subject Tests, so you can choose to retake and send your best score, or not send the score at all.
Many selective colleges recommend or require at least two SAT Subject Test scores as part of their undergraduate application. Check the undergraduate admissions website for each of the colleges you are considering to see if SAT Subject Tests are required. If you are applying to selective colleges it would be wise to take these tests even if they are only recommended. Test scores may enhance your applications to even less selective colleges.
If you have not compiled your college list, taking at least two tests will cover most admissions requirements.
When should I take the tests?
SAT Subject Tests are administered several times during the school year, usually on the same date that regular SAT tests are given, except in March. You may take up to three tests on the same date, although you should spread them out if possible. Not all subject tests are administered on each test date. You may change the number of tests or the subject you take on test day with no penalty, with the exception of Language with Listening tests. You may only take one Biology test on a given date, as the first 60 questions of this test are the same for both the Biology-Ecology and Biology-Molecular exams.
It is highly recommended that you take the test soon after you complete the corresponding course in high school. Most students who take foreign language SAT Subject Tests wait until they complete level 5 of a language series. For example, plan to take the US History SAT Subject Test in May or June of the same school year you complete that course so that the information is fresh. Because the Math Level 2 exam contains no Calculus, it could be taken as early as immediately after either a Pre-Calculus or Elementary Functions course. Some Fairview teachers will announce at the beginning of the school year that you will be prepared for a SAT Subject Test at the end of the school year. If in doubt, ask your teacher or counselor.
If you are taking an AP exam in May, register to take the corresponding SAT Subject Test the following June. Many of the topics overlap, so you might as well take advantage of the time you took to study. Since the tests are not exactly the same, be sure to take a few practice tests before the SAT Subject Test date. (Note: The exception to this is the SAT Subject World History test, which is very different from the AP World History test.)
Since SAT Subject Tests are typically taken to accompany college applications, it is strongly recommended that you complete at least two tests by the end of your junior year if you are applying through early admissions, or by October of your senior year if you are applying through regular admissions. For information regarding admission types and application deadlines, click here. If you plan to take the regular SAT or ACT, be sure to plan for separate test dates since SAT Subject Tests cannot be take on the same date.
Which tests should I take?
Some colleges require specific tests depending on your department of interest. Science, Engineering and Architecture Departments usually require a Math Level 2 and/or a science exam score, and an Arts and Sciences Departments might recommend scores from at least one Humanities subject. For example, the University of California Subject Test recommendations vary by campus AND by department. Use this quick guide to view the SAT Subject requirements for all the colleges on your list. Always double-check requirements with the each college's freshman admission website.
If you do not have a college list or you are unsure about what you would like to study in college, it’s still a good idea to take at least two subject tests as you complete corresponding courses and by fall of your senior year. This should cover any requirements that may come up by the time you are ready to apply. In the end, the SAT Subject Tests that you take should be based on your interests and academic strengths. It’s likely that you will end up applying to programs that correspond to these factors.
Some notes regarding specific tests:
It should be noted that many students who take a SAT Subject Foreign Language Test are fluent or native language speakers. This means that the curve is not likely be in your favor if you are not a fluent speaker.
While statistics show that the Math Level 2 test has a more favorable curve than the Math Level 1 test, the Math Level 2 test is significantly more difficult. If you received a B or higher in Pre-Calculus or Elementary Functions, take the Math Level 2 test. If your grade in those courses is lower than a B, or if you have completed Algebra 2 and Geometry, take the Math Level 1 test.
How do I prepare for the tests?
SAT Subject Test questions may be presented in a format that is different from tests you have experienced in your corresponding Fairview class. In addition, part of success in standardized test taking is time management, or having some idea how much time to allot for each question. Therefore, taking a few sample tests before your test date would greatly enhance your chances for a higher score. Sample tests are readily available through the CollegeBoard website or through preparation books you can purchase.
To view CollegeBoard information regarding anticipated skills, topics and practice resources for each SAT Subject Test, click here. Click "Practice Now" (blue button) to the right of the subject test you are considering to view the details.View SAT Subject Test details by subject area:
- SAT Subject Math Levels 1 and 2
- SAT Subject Literature
- SAT Subject US History
- SAT Subject World History
- SAT Subject Biology E or Biology M
- SAT Subject Chemistry
- SAT Subject Physics
View a list of local private and group tutoring services. Note: Fairview compiles this list for your convenience but does not necessarily endorse any particular service.
What do I need to bring to the test?
- Admission ticket with photo that you received after online registration.
- Valid (not expired) photo ID (e.g., School Photo ID or Driver's License).
- Two No. 2 pencils and soft eraser.
- Math Subject Tests: Graphing Calculator and extra batteries. No laptops, tablets, cell phones, smart phones or anything with internet access allowed. No models with peripherals such as stylus, pen-input or typewriter-like key pads allowed.
- Language with Listening Tests: Portable, battery-powered CD player with earphones and extra batteries. No power cords allowed. No CD players with recording or duplicating capabilities allowed.
How are the tests scored?
SAT Subject Tests are scored on a 200-800 scale. Each correct answer receives one point. Each incorrect answer is subtracted as follows:
- 1/4 point subtracted for each 5-choice question
- 1/3 point subtracted for each 4-choice question
- 1/2 point subtracted for each 3-choice question
- 0 points subtracted for questions you don’t answer
A “good” score depends on the type of colleges to which you are applying. For most colleges, a score of 650 or above is acceptable. For more selective colleges, scores of 700 or above are more desirable.
Score interpretation may also depend on Subject Test. For example, a Math Level 2 score of 750 would place you in the 79th percentile, while the same score in another Subject Test would place you in the 90th percentile.
Also note that most colleges allow you to choose which scores you send with your application. This means that you can take tests more than once and choose to send only your best scores.
When should I send my scores to colleges?
Though you may take SAT Subject Tests throughout your high school years, it may not be a good idea to send scores too early. Many colleges do not retain application materials for more than a year, and some purge the materials at the end of each application season. It’s generally safer to wait until after August 1st before your senior year to start sending scores, as that is the date most colleges begin accepting application materials for your graduating class. You are also more likely to have compiled a realistic college application list by then.