What are SAT Subject Tests?

Most likely, you are accustomed to hearing about the SAT as a singular test that is used by college admissions committees to gauge your college and career-readiness. In actuality though, the SAT isn’t just a standalone test. In fact, there is, as the College Board refers to it, an entire SAT Suite of Assessments, beginning with the PSAT 8/9 and progressing to the singular SAT test that you’ve undoubtedly heard so much about.

SAT assessments don’t end there, either.

Beginning in 1937, the College Board began to offer a series of subject-specific standardized tests. First known as Achievement Tests, then as SAT II: Subject Tests, they are now simply called SAT Subject Tests. Each SAT Subject Test is a multiple-choice test administered over the course of one hour, of which there are 20 to choose from. When taken strategically, these tests serve to improve your chance at admission to colleges by highlighting unique subject-specific knowledge that might otherwise not be apparent.

What SAT Subject Tests are available?

Currently, SAT Subject Tests are available for the following subjects:

MATH

• Math Level 1

• Math Level 2

LANGUAGES

• Korean with Listening

• Chinese with Listening

• Spanish with Listening

• French with Listening

• German with Listening

• Japanese with Listening

• Italian

• Spanish

• French

• German

• Modern Hebrew

• Latin

SCIENCE

• Physics

• Chemistry

• Biology – Ecological

• Biology – Molecula

ENGLISH

• Literature

HISTORY

• U.S. History

• World History

These tests aim to highlight your strengths in areas that might be less obvious to college admissions committees. They are a great chance to draw attention to skills you’ve developed independently or to areas of your academic focus to which you’ve devoted extra time or dedication. SAT Subject Tests can also help to indicate your interests or intended path of study in higher education, and at some colleges can even help you to place out of introductory classes. 

Do I have to take SAT Subject Tests?

Short answer: no. SAT Subject Tests are not a graduation requirement and are not universally required for college admissions, so you do not technically have to take any of them. That being said, many colleges and universities will require SAT Subject Tests of some variety. There are several ways in which colleges use SAT Subject Tests as a part of their admissions procedures.

Some colleges might ask you to submit a specific number of SAT Subject Test scores, but they allow you to choose which tests you take. These colleges most likely want to see how well you perform in your strongest areas of interest.

Other colleges might specify exactly which SAT Subject Tests are required for admissions. These colleges place weight in certain subject areas and want to make sure that they have a standardized measurement of your performance within that content area. 

Finally, some colleges that don’t normally require subject tests for general admissions may still require specific SAT Subject Tests if you’re applying to a specific program at the school. For example, if you’re applying to a dedicated engineering program, you may be asked to submit a score from the Physics SAT Subject Test, or if you’re applying as a premed student you might need to submit a score from the Chemistry SAT Subject Test.

In any case, you’ll need to research the specific schools and programs to which you’re applying to make sure that you know the exact requirements of each.

Should I take SAT Subject Tests even if they’re not required?

If the colleges or universities that you’re applying to don’t require SAT Subject Tests, you may be tempted to skip them altogether. After all, standardized tests can be a stressful experience even if they’re not required for admission. Remember, though, that the SAT Subject Tests bring benefits besides just filling a requirement.

College admissions can be a competitive game, and SAT Subject Tests can help to set you apart from the field. Just because the college you hope to attend does not require you to submit them for consideration, it does not mean that they are not considered at all if you choose to submit them anyway. In fact, admissions committees will still review your scores and use them to create a more complete picture of you as a candidate.

And remember, with Score Choice, you can choose which scores you submit. Unlike with SAT exams, you do not have to submit all your scores from a single test day. Instead, you can pick and choose exactly which SAT Subject Test scores you send, thereby maximizing your opportunity to highlight areas of strength. If you perform poorly on an SAT Subject Test, you don’t have to send the score to anyone. On the other hand, if you perform exceptionally well, it would be silly not to include that score on your college applications, whether it’s required or not.

Further, SAT Subject Tests can draw attention to areas of strength that might not be readily apparent on the rest of your application. Do you speak a foreign language at home, attend summer programs for advanced sciences, or have a passion for U.S. History that you pursue outside of the classroom? Taking an SAT Subject Test is one way to show off the unique skills and understanding you have gained, in or out of the classroom. 

Last but not least, some colleges use SAT Subject Tests to place students into the appropriate courses when they matriculate. If this is the case at any of the schools you’re considering, make sure that you take the appropriate subject tests to get an appropriate class placement. You might even be able to place out of certain introductory requirements like foreign languages or mathematics.

For a list of colleges and universities that use SAT Subject Tests in some regard, check the College Board List of Institutions Using SAT Subject Test.

What is the format of SAT Subject Tests?

SAT Subject Tests are similar in format to individual sections of the SAT Test. They are all multiple-choice tests and they each take one hour to complete. Some tests, such as foreign language tests, contain a listening portion as well. SAT Subject Tests are scored on a scale from 200-800, just like the individual sections of the SAT.

When do SAT Subject Tests take place?

SAT Subject Tests are generally administered six times during each school year, on the same days and in the same test centers as the regular SAT. Keep in mind, though, that not all 20 Subject Tests are offered on every SAT date. At this time, Language with Listening Tests are only offered on the November test date, and several other tests also have limited availability.

Check the SAT Subject Test Calendar for specific dates and tests. Due to the limited dates on which some tests are available, it’s important to plan well ahead of time to make sure that you can schedule every test you want to take within the appropriate time frame.

How much do SAT Subject Tests cost?

There is a $26 flat registration fee for any administration of SAT Subject Tests. On top of the registration fee, you will pay $21 for each Subject Test you take on that day, or $26 for any Language Test with Listening. There may be other fees as well, such as late registration fees, registration by phone charges, or registration change fees. 

SAT subject tests are an extra burden. Take them only if the colleges you are applying require it. Otherwise, you can take that time to study something else!