Subject Test Strategy

As Spring begins, many students are wrapping up their major test preparation and looking toward the end of the school year. In May, some students will be doing AP examinations; June brings SAT Subject Tests and final exams. We get a lot of questions at Sexton Test Prep about Subject Tests. This blog entry contains information about which tests to take, when to take them, and which colleges actually require them.

SAT Subject Tests are given for most major academic subjects. The most popular ones are Math I (Algebra and Geometry), Math II (Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus), Biology, Chemistry, Physics, U.S History, and Literature. Each test takes one hour, and you can take up to three of them on one test date. With the exception of some of the Language tests, Subject Tests are offered on the same dates as SAT tests. While they are scored on the same 200-800 scale as SAT sections are, a 500 is not an “average” score on a subject test. In most cases, a score of 650 or better is required to be an asset to your application.

Most Subject Tests should be taken in June, at the ends of the courses on which they are based. That way, in most cases, studying for a Subject Test will overlap significantly with studying for the corresponding final exam. Not just juniors and seniors should consider Subject Tests: a sophomore who just completed Honors Chemistry, for example, would be prepared to take the Chemistry Subject Test at the end of sophomore year. You should not take a subject a year or two after you have completed the corresponding course.

Before you make any decisions about Subject Tests, however, make sure you need them in the first place. In truth, only about 20 colleges require Subject Tests, and about 20 more recommend them. Most schools that do require or recommend them ask for two Subject Tests. All of these schools are elite schools. So, if you are not applying to a top 40 school, you probably do not need Subject Tests at all; only take one if you think it will showcase a major talent for a subject.

Among schools that do require or recommend Subject Tests, policies on how the scores are used vary slightly. At some schools, for example, three Subject Tests can be used instead on an SAT or ACT score. If you would like more information, click here to read about each school’s policies.

Please reach out to us if you have any questions about Subject Tests or if there is anything we can do to support you or your student.

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