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Which SAT Subject Tests should I take?

What are subject tests, and why should I think about them?

SAT Subject tests, also known as SAT IIs, are designed to show your proficiency in a specific subject. Subject tests are not required by many universities, but if they are, you will typically need to take up to 3 tests. They are designed to show your knowledge and command of a particular subject, and so they will usually be related to the major that you’re applying for. They are useful as an extra piece of information for admissions people to get a picture of what kind of student you are.

Before you go any further, check whether you even need to take SAT subject tests! They are typically only required by more selective schools. If you look up the admissions pages of the schools you’re interested in, you should be able to find that information. If not, contact their admissions department. Note that if a school “recommends” that you take subject tests, that means you definitely should.

For more information about how to study for SAT subject tests, look here.

 

Which SAT Subject Tests should I take?

Here is a list of all the tests:

Arts & Humanities: Literature, U.S. History, World History

Math & Sciences: Math level I, Math level II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics.

Languages: French (with and without listening), German (with and without listening), Spanish (with and without listening), Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Chinese with Listening, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening

 

So … which SAT Subject tests should I take?

Here are some points to consider. Just by the way, I’m not an admissions expert, and I’m certainly not responsible for you not getting into your dream school! Your school’s admissions page should be the first place you look for information. If you need more help, try asking the counsellors at your school – they will have more specific information depending on you and where you are applying to.

Here are some general pointers though:

  • Check which, and how many tests your school requires. Some schools need only 1, some require 3. More tests is often a bonus though, so if you think there are 3 subjects you can score well in, it would be an asset to your application. Don’t prioritize these over the SAT/ACT, however.
  • To figure out the test content, I would start with the College Board’s synopses, then check out the contents page on prep books – use Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature, which will often show you the contents page of a book.
  • Consider what you know already. If you need a science, but are better at chemistry than physics, that could be a factor. Make sure you are looking at a test synopsis to decide, not just thinking about whether you’re good at the subject in general, because you might find you’ve covered nearly all of the biology content in class, but almost none of the physics content.
  • If you are doing any AP courses in the same subjects, try to to the Subject test around the same time as the AP exam, as the material is often similar. This includes languages.
  • A common misconception is that you should take a subject test in a language in which you are a native speaker. This might be helpful, but if you are an international student from France, it will be assumed that you speak excellent French without you needing to take a subject test to prove it! It would be better to focus on the tests related to your intended major, and do well on those.
  • The biology test is offered in two types – Ecological and Molecular. A portion of the test is the same for both, then you complete a separate section depending on which option you pick. Unless you are applying for a specific biology program which is more related to one than the other, you should take the one that you know more about.
  • If you are looking at a Math related major (Math, Physics, Engineering, Computer Science or Chemistry), or are applying to Ivy League schools, you need to take Math II. You should take Math I if you are applying for a non-math related major as a way of demonstrating your math proficiency in addition to your expertise in other subjects.
  • The College Board publishes the average scores for each test – I compiled their data here, so you can use this as a baseline to determine what a good score is. You shouldn’t submit a score that’s below the average, as you’re supposed to be demonstrating your skill in the given subject!

 

The College Board has a useful pdf that contains information about the test and sample questions, so make sure you check that out too!

 

If a university is asking for 3 subject tests, a good rule of thumb is to take 2 that are related to your intended major, and one in a different discipline. HOWEVER, it’s more important to take ones on which you think you can do well, especially if your major is not directly related to a subject test. If you want to major in Bio, you ought to take the Bio subject test. But if you’re majoring in Business, you can choose a bit more freely.

This table shows possible choices for certain majors, assuming you need 3 tests.

Math Major Math II + one science + Literature/World History/American History/Any Language
Chemistry Major Chemistry + Math II + Literature/World History/American History/Any Language
Biology Major Biology + Math I/II + Literature/World History/American History/Any Language
Social Sciences Any 2 from Literature/World History/American History/Any Language + Math I/II
English Literature & Language Literature + World History/American History/Any Language + Math I or a science
General Studies Math I/II + Literature/World History/American History/Any Language + a science
Business/Management Math I/II + Literature/World History/American History/Any Language + a science
History Major At least one History test + Literature or a language + Math I

 

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