The SAT Subject Tests are a cause of concern for many students. This article will facilitate the decision-making process, leaving more time to prepare for the tests.

What are the SAT Subject Tests? 

You should always do some form of prep for the Subject Tests. The “Official Guide” is the best place to start.

Subject Tests are hour-long tests that gauge a student’s knowledge of a particular subject. They are designed to differentiate between top students. Tests are offered in math, science, history, and language. Unlike the SAT Reasoning Test, the SAT Subject Tests cover material that significantly overlaps with the curricula of most high school classes.

Do I need to take SAT Subject Tests?

Many highly competitive schools require two or three Subject Tests.  Top universities like Harvard, MIT, and Yale require Subjects Tests; some even specify which exams must be submitted. Other elite universities like Stanford, USC, and Johns Hopkins all “recommend” taking Subject Tests. This is their way of saying that you should take the exams. Some colleges and universities require or recommend specific Subject Tests when applying to certain majors or programs within the university. For example, applicants to the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry and College of Engineering are recommended to take Math Level 2 and a science. This is a crucial fact which may elude prospective applicants. Due to the unique admissions requirements of each university, it is recommended that students research the requirements of the colleges and universities they are interested in.

Which subject tests should I take?

After you have researched the application requirements for the schools you are applying to, it is time to decide which tests to take. Follow these recommendations:

  • Focus on your strengths when choosing tests because you are aiming for great, not good, scores.
  • If you received an “A-“ or better in a rigorous honors or AP class in biology, chemistry, physics, US History, World History, or junior-year English, strongly consider taking the corresponding Subject Test.
  • Never take the Math Level 1, as most schools do not even consider it.  Talented math students should always take the Math Level 2.
  • Foreign language tests should only be taken by exceptional AP students or native speakers.
  • If you are unsure where you stand, take a diagnostic test. also has practice questions.

When should I take the Subject Tests?

Each test is tailored to material learned in various high school courses. Therefore, it is best to take the Subject Test after the equivalent class has been completed, typically in May or June. Since AP tests, SAT/ACT, and final exams make this a very busy time of year, students should plan ahead as far in advance as possible to avoid a mountain of stress.

How Do I Prepare for the Subject Tests?

High school courses are good introductions to the content of each of the Subject Tests; AP courses are even better. However, to achieve a competitive score, more preparation is necessary. The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests is a good place to start. It includes practice tests for each of the twenty Subject Tests as well as tips for taking each test. Because a high, competitive score is essential, students should also consider professional test prep.

The SAT Subject Tests can cause a lot of stress. By researching college requirements and playing to your strengths, you can make the experience less hectic. Do not let signing up for the tests be harder than taking the tests!

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