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SAT Subject Tests: An Overview


With all the talk around the SAT and ACT, it’s sometimes easy to forget about SAT Subject Tests. With a number of schools either requiring or recommending these tests, it’s important to know the basics.

Sometimes known as “SAT IIs,” Subject Tests offer students the opportunity to show their mastery in a variety of academic topics. There are currently 20 tests to choose from, including math, literature, various foreign languages, and several different scientific disciplines (biology, chemistry, and physics). While the number of questions per test varies, all of the questions are multiple choice.  In addition, all of the SAT Subject Tests are one hour long when taken without accommodations.  If students receive accommodations from the College Board for the SAT or PSAT, students will be given those same accommodations for their Subject Tests.

How are they scored?

As students take an SAT Subject Test, they earn a “raw” score. This is calculated as follows:

  • +1 point for each correct answer
  • -1/4 point for each incorrect answer
  • 0 points for each skipped answer

The raw score is then converted to a scaled score from 200-800 points. Since the difficulty of test forms may be slightly different, converting the raw scores to scaled scores allows student performance to be compared between different administrations.

Why do students take them?

The score generated by an SAT Subject Test is a reliable way for college admissions counselors to compare students’ academic performance. Since these Subject Tests are written to reflect a high school level of mastery, even excellent scores are not usually accepted for college course credit. Instead, they may be used to help place students in an appropriate class level. Colleges differ greatly on their Subject Test policies, so students will need to make sure that they take what is required or recommended by their desired schools.

When should students take them?

Students will generally take SAT Subject Tests near the end of a course on the same subject. For instance, if a student is taking Honors Biology, it would be a good idea to consider taking a Biology Subject Test while the content is fresh. Of course, students may also prepare for Subject Tests without taking a class on the same subject, if they wish.

Subject Tests are administered on the same days that the SAT is scheduled, with the exception of the March SAT test date where Subject Tests are not offered. Students may take up to three Subject Tests in a day, but they cannot take a “regular” SAT and Subject Tests on the same date.

Students who are preparing for an AP exam should consider taking the appropriate Subject Test as well.  Although taking both tests seems redundant, those schools which require Subject Tests will not accept AP scores in lieu of Subject Test scores.  Since AP classes and AP exams are created to reflect college-level curriculum and Subject Tests are created for the high-school level, students’ preparation for AP exams will help with their Subject Tests, and vice versa.

As a reminder, students should always discuss their testing plans with guidance counselors or other educational professionals.  Have more questions or interested in taking a practice Subject Test? Summit is here to help! 

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SAT Subject Tests