It may seem like a conspiracy to make you take more tests, but SAT Subject Tests may be worth it. Although they are not required by most colleges, strong Subject Test scores can strengthen your applications.
The Subject Tests measure a student's mastery of commonly taught college preparatory courses. Many colleges find them useful for admissions evaluation and for college course placement. Even if a college doesn't require them, submitting Subject Test scores can help boost your admissions chances by proving your readiness for specific academic areas.
What Are the Subject Tests?
The 20 Subject Tests are hour-long, multiple-choice tests in specific subjects. Administered by the College Board, they test you on subjects you have been studying in high school. There are five main categories of Subject Tests:
- English literature
- Languages, including French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish
- History and social studies, including U.S. history and world history
- Mathematics, including Math Level 1, which covers principles of algebra, basic trigonometry, elementary statistics, number theory, and geometry; and Math Level 2, which covers algebra, geometry, trigonometry, functions, logic, number theory, sequences, limits, and statistics
- Science, including biology, chemistry, and physics
When Do You Take Them?
Most students take the Subject Tests toward the end of their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year. You should take the test as soon as possible after completing the course in that subject, while the material is still fresh in your mind. You'll also do better on the foreign language tests if you study a language for at least two years before taking it.
Which Tests Should You Take?
First look at the admissions requirements of the colleges you are interested in. A college's admissions website should tell you which tests the college requires for admission. Even if a school does not require the Subject Tests they may review these scores as further proof of your academic strengths. If their Subject Test policy is not specified, call the college and ask an admissions counselor.
Which tests you take may also depend on what you are planning to study in college. For instance, if you plan to follow a "premed" track it would make more sense to take the biology test than the literature test.
How Are They Scored?
The scoring of the Subject Tests, which are multiple-choice, is a two-step process. Questions answered correctly receive one point, while skipped questions receive no points. A fraction of a point is subtracted for questions answered incorrectly. The testing company converts your raw score to a scaled score that ranges from 200–800.
How Are the Scores Sent to Colleges?
Before making a decision about how you'd like your scores handled, make sure that you understand the score-use and admissions policies of the colleges you're applying to. Some colleges require applicants to send the scores from every Subject Test sitting. But a college may give you the option to send only your best score if you take a test multiple times. This option, called Score Choice, is offered at no additional charge. If you do not choose to use it, the College Board will send colleges your entire Subject Test history. For more information, check with the College Board.
Are They Important?
If the college that you are applying to doesn't require them, should you even bother taking the Subject Tests? The College Board developed these tests to help you display your strengths and show how well you have learned a particular subject. While the SAT Subject Tests are not required by most colleges, they can help you prove what a great student you are likely to be.