The SAT Subject Tests: What You Need to Know

Strong Subject Test scores can strengthen your applications. They are worth taking even if the college doesn't require them.

The Subject Tests measure a student's mastery of commonly taught college preparatory courses. They help colleges assess your readiness to study certain 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 in these five categories:

  • English literature
  • Languages, including French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish
  • History and social studies, including U.S. history and world history
  • Mathematics, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics
  • Science, including biology, chemistry, and physics

When Do You Take Subject Tests?

You should take any Subject Test as soon as possible after completing the course in that subject, while the material is still fresh in your mind. You'll do better on the foreign language tests, however, if you study a language for at least two years before taking it.

Which Subject Tests Should You Take?

Find out the test requirements of the colleges you are interested in. If their Subject Test policy is not specified, call the college and ask to speak to an admissions counselor. Even if a school does not require the Subject Tests, they may review the scores as further proof of your academic strengths.

Your college plans may also influence which tests you take. 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 Subject Tests Scored?

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.

What Scores Should You Send to Colleges?

If you take a Subject Test multiple times, a college may ask for all your scores or give you the option to send only your best score. This option, called Score Choice, is offered at no additional charge. If you do not choose to use Score Choice, the College Board will send colleges all your Subject Test scores. For more information, check with the College Board.

What's Next?

  • Look up your colleges of interest using College Match and see their Subject Test requirements under the Academics tab of the College Profile.
  • Find out about other college admissions tests, such as the SAT and the ACT.
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