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SEP 29, 2018 • 13 min read
You’ve probably heard of the SAT if you’re interested in going to college in the US, but have you ever heard of SAT subject tests?
These college aptitude tests are a pretty important part of US applications. So important, in fact, that some universities make them a requirement.
You probably have some questions, such as:
What are SAT subject tests? Do I need to sit SAT subject tests? If so, which subjects do I need to sit? How do I sit them? Will I still get into university if I don’t sit SAT subject tests?
This blog will answer them all. By the end of it, you’ll know exactly what you need to do in order to gain admission into your dream college.
SAT subject tests are optional multiple-choice tests that assess your knowledge of certain subjects at a high school level and improve your academic credentials when applying for US universities.
The word “optional” is used loosely, as a lot of the time SAT subject tests are a prerequisite at US universities - in addition to the standard SAT test.
It’s hard to add more workload to your already stressful final years of high school, but the commitment you show will pay dividends - adding an invaluable boost to your college application and chances of admission.
The news gets better too, because often the study and preparation time is minimal. This is because the content covered on each subject test is an extension of what you learn in the corresponding school subject.
The content for SAT subject tests is most closely aligned with the IB curriculum, however, no matter what curriculum you’re completing, the best way to prepare for SAT subject tests is to work hard at school.
Another positive of SAT subject tests is that they’re all structured the same way, so there’ll be no surprises come test day. Each SAT subject test is one hour long, 100% multiple-choice and scored on a 200–800 scale (except the language tests, which I’ll explain later).
But it’s not all easy when it comes to SAT subject tests and they can make or break your chances of admission.
The first step is to research your target college’s subject test requirements and which subject(s) you’ll need to sit.
In total, there are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas for you to choose from. There is no limit to the amount of Subject tests you take; however, you can only sit a maximum of three on any given testing day.
The subject and their subject areas are:
Mathematics Science English History Languages
Math Level 1 Biology E / M English US history Spanish
Math Level 2 Chemistry - World History Spanish with Listening - Physics--French - - French with Listening - - - - Chinese with Listening - - - - Italian - - - - German
Hint: If you’re an ESL student, multilingual or bilingual, I strongly recommend you take a language class - it’s a such an easy way to boost your candidacy!
The primary reason to sit subject tests is because some US universities require them in order to gain admission. Yet, beyond university requirements, there are plenty of reasons you should consider completing SAT Subject Tests.
For example, successful completion of subject tests offers an unrivalled boost to your college application and help you stand out in college admissions. Even colleges that don’t require SAT subjects may accept and consider the submission of subject tests scores. By sending in your subject test score/s you are able to show that you have proven a mastery in specific subjects.
Additionally, subject tests show off a number of characteristics that help colleges get a complete picture of each applicant. You show off your interests, strengths, and what you’ve learned beyond the standard classroom.
Speaking of strengths, this is another reason you should consider SAT subject tests, because you are able to play to your strengths. If you’re totally amazing at maths, than completing Maths 1 or 2 should be minimum work with maximum return.
This can be particularly useful for ESL, international, bilingual and multilingual students in particular who are able to take (and absolutely smash) subject tests in their native tongue.
Lastly, but certainly not least, some colleges use subject test results to place students into appropriate classes. So if your physics test result is impressive, they might place you in a more advanced class and potentially even give you credit for introductory-level courses.
Let’s find out which subject tests you should take so you can get on your way to gaining admission into your dream college!
The suggested number of subject tests you need to take will depend on not just university requirements but also academic ranking to provide you with a guide.
Most top universities, including all Ivy Leagues, recommend students take a minimum of 2-3 subject tests - so to impress at any university, not just top tier, you should aim to reach this goal.
However, it’s not a requirement to do so at all universities, so you can also follow the guide below:
If your university is outside the top 30 in the US, you should aim to sit at least one SAT subject test, although it is optional.
If your dream college is in the top 20 universities in the US, you should take 2-3 SAT Subject Tests.
If your dream university is a top 10 US college, including all Ivy League Schools, you should be aiming for a minimum of three SAT Subject Tests.
Choosing which tests to sit should be the easiest aspect of completing the SAT subject tests, because all you have to do is ask yourself two questions:
What am I good at? What does my college require or recommend?
It really is that simple. Every subject test you take should align with your interests and academic strengths and as such should align with your college requirements and recommendations, although to be safe you should double check this!
If you’re interested in applying to a world-class STEM university such as CalTech, Georgia Institute of Technology or Stanford, subject tests are particularly important.
All STEM applicants should submit at least one maths and one basic science subject test at a bare minimum, whether required or not. In doing so, you’ll jump ahead in leaps and bounds of applicants who failed to sit any subject tests.
Look at MIT for example, a university universally heralded as one of the best STEM universities in the world. MIT requires all applicants submit a minimum of two SAT subject tests. Note: minimum!
This should say something about the positive impact SAT subject tests can have on your application.
While it’s important for STEM degrees, the same logic applies to all areas of focus; if you’re providing more evidence of academic strengths, it’ll have a positive impact on your application.
Note: No matter how many subject tests you sit, at most universities it is still a requirement to complete the standard SAT in order to gain admission. However, there are a number of colleges that offer alternative test options for admission.
As we’ve mentioned, all SAT subject tests are scored on a scale of 200-800. However, there is an exception to this rule, with the Language Tests with Listening including subscores, on a scale of 20 to 80.
Subscores are added on top of the standard score to calculate the total score of the test. For each language test, though, the individual contributions differ between respective tests:
For French, German, and Spanish with Listening tests, the reading subscore counts for twice as much as the listening subscore. For the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean tests, subscores are weighted equally.
Besides the language tests, though, it’s pretty straight forward. You receive a mark in between 200 and 800 and that’s how well you performed. College Board suggests you think of your score as a range that extends a few points below to a few points above the score you’ve actually achieved.
They suggest this because the range allows for how much your score might change with repeated testing. Usually scores will range between 30-40 points above or below your true ability.
In order to assess how well you did in relation to other test-takers, SAT subject test scores are also provided in a percentile ranking. For example, if you score in the 47th percentile, it means you score better than 47% of the student taking the same test as you.
It’s important to keep in mind that with the score range allowance, you have to score at least 60 points more than another student to definitively state you are more competent than them. Don’t stress, though, colleges understand this and take into account the adjustments.
With all this talk about range, it can be hard to know what to make of your SAT subject test score and where it can take you. Follow these numbers to get an idea:
Local US students should be aiming to achieve a score of 700+ to be competitive for admissions;
International students and students applying to top universities, such as the Ivy League schools, should aim for 750+ on each of their subject tests as places are more competitive in this situation.
At their worst, subject tests are absolutely crucial to your college application; at their best, SAT subject tests are a nice little boost to your chances of admission.
For this reason, even if subject tests aren’t a requirement at your dream college, we suggest completing a minimum of two, as they’re certainly not going to have a negative effect on your application.
Just remember not to go overboard. Only take on as many as you can handle.