2021 Update: SAT Subject Tests
A portion of this resource addresses SAT Subject Tests. In January 2021, the College Board announced that both SAT Subject Tests and the optional essay portion of the current SAT exam would be discontinued. For more information on how this impacts college admissions, click here.
For generalized standardized testing best practices and study tips, read on.
By Priyam, IvyWise Master Tutor
Most people associate test prep, especially for SAT Subject Tests, with high school juniors and seniors, but did you know the best time to start taking SAT Subject Tests is actually in 9th and 10th grade?
What Are SAT Subject Tests?
The SAT Subject Tests assess the knowledge of subjects typically taken in high school. There are 20 SAT Subject Tests that the College Board offers in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics and Science. Each Subject Test is an hour long and has multiple-choice questions scored on a 200–800 scale.
SAT Subject Tests are generally given six times in any given school year but not all 20 tests are offered on every SAT date, i.e. the Language with Listening tests are only offered in November of each year. You can take one, two, or three Subject Tests on any test date however you cannot take the SAT and an SAT Subject Test on the same day. You choose what tests to take when you register, but on test day, you can add, subtract, or switch tests.
Why Consider Taking SAT Subject Tests?
Some colleges require or recommend that you take SAT Subject Tests, especially if you are applying to take specific courses or programs. Even if colleges do not require them, SAT Subject Tests can be used in the admission process to get a more complete picture of applicants and subject strengths that align with students’ interests or specialties. Taking specific Subject Tests can send a strong message to colleges about your interest in specific majors or programs — and how ready you are to tackle the workload.
While AP/IB Exams are also an excellent way to demonstrate understanding in specific subject areas, not all students have an opportunity to take AP courses in a range of subjects. For students who lack access to AP/IB coursework and still wish to demonstrate subject knowledge, the Subject Tests offer this opportunity. Also, students who are taking an AP course in senior year may not have their AP Exam score to report to colleges in time to meet admission deadlines. In this case, they could use Subject Tests scores to show their mastery in an particular area. If you are thinking of applying early decision or early action to any college, it may help to take the SAT Subject Tests earlier in high school.
When Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?
In general, you should take SAT Subject Tests right after you have completed the relevant classes for which you would take the Subject Test, because the material will still be fresh in your mind. In some cases, this may mean as early as spring of your freshman or sophomore year when many students have finished one or more years of high school level English language arts, a foreign language, history, biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, and and/or algebra II.
Preparing for SAT Subject Tests
The best way to begin preparation for the SAT Subject Tests is to take the relevant courses and perform well in them, which in turn will serve as a baseline preparation for the Subject Tests. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that it is not necessary to take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses prior to taking the SAT Subject Tests. SAT Subject Tests are high school-level tests, reflecting high school curricula and indicate a student’s readiness to take college-level courses in specific subject areas. AP/IB Exams, however, assess a student’s college-level knowledge, skills and abilities, learned in the corresponding AP/IB courses. As a result, the topics covered on SAT Subject Tests may differ from those covered on AP/IB Exams and often are more basic than on the AP/IB exams.
It’s a good idea for freshmen or sophomores interested in STEM to go ahead and prepare for the biology or chemistry Subject Tests, as this is coursework they are either already taking or have previously completed.
Take a diagnostic of the SAT Subject Test and find out where you stand and what concepts you need to improve upon. A good time to start prep is when you’re studying for the final exam, as you’ll already be brushing up on relevant concepts for both tests. This is the perfect time for students to get the first part of their testing out of the way in order to alleviate stress when it comes time to prep for the SAT or ACT at the end of sophomore year and into junior year.
When creating your test prep plan, remember that you should take the SAT Subject Tests for the subjects you feel confident and ready for. While it does help to complete your SAT Subject Tests earlier in high school so that you can focus on the SAT or ACT during your junior year, taking the tests early doesn’t do you any good if you’re not prepared and subsequently perform poorly. Make sure you’re on the right track, and if not, seek assistance from a test prep expert.
If you need help preparing for SAT Subject Tests, or just want to get started on your test prep plan, contact us today for more information on our tutoring and test prep services!