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7 SAT Subject Tests FAQs

 In SAT, SAT Subject Tests

Last month, we published a primer on the SAT Subject Tests. However, with spring finally here, more and more students are beginning to prepare for these exams. Most students will take SAT Subject Tests in May or June, concurrently with the winding down of the academic year in the corresponding subject. For example, many students taking Biology this year will take the SAT Biology Subject Test.

Below are answers to some of the more frequently asked questions we’ve received regarding these tests. Have any additional questions or are interested in taking a practice test? Contact one of our Program Directors today!

How are SAT Subject Tests scored?

The subject tests are all on the familiar 200-800 scale. However – and this is critical – the conversion from the raw score to scaled score differs from the conversion on the SAT or ACT. On the subject tests, there is a ¼ point deduction for wrong answers. There is no deduction for a question that is skipped.  Also, (with minor exceptions) there are five multiple choice answers for each question.

How does the “guessing penalty” affect strategy?

The presence of the ¼ point guessing penalty, described above, introduces an element of gamesmanship not found in the ACT or SAT. Students will want to skip questions that are out of their “range”. While the exact number of questions to skip will vary from test to test, and from student to student, the following general considerations apply.

-if a student can eliminate two or more choices, they should probably guess.

-if a student is unable to eliminate more than one answer from consideration, they should lean toward not guessing, but it is OK to be somewhat aggressive if they can eliminate even one answer from consideration.

The strategy of Process of Elimination is of particular importance for the subject tests.

How do raw scores translate to scaled scores?

At first glance, the translation of raw to scaled scores can seem generous. For example, on the diagnostic Physics test, if a student gets 59 of a possible 75 raw points, the student can achieve an 800 scaled. That means that if the student gets all 59 questions right that the student answers, and skips the other 16, the student can still get an 800. Getting the same 59 questions correct, but choosing incorrectly on the remaining 16, reduces the raw score to 55.  That is still a respectable 770.

Please note, the correspondence of raw to scaled scores varies considerably from test to test, so be sure to look at the score scale for your test.

What is a “good” score on the subject tests?

While there is a generous scale for some of these tests, the student’s score goal can be quite high. A relatively small number of students take the subject tests, and they take these tests with the clear purpose of showcasing specific academic strengths. As a result, most students will need scores in the 700s to really stand out. To illustrate, again using the Physics exam:  while a student can achieve an 800 on the Physics diagnostic test answering 59 out of 75 questions (and leaving the others blank), the College Board reported that about 11% of the class of 2014 who took the Physics Subject Test achieved an 800. 56% of the Physics Subject Test takers achieved 700 or more. A competitive college like MIT will be looking for scores above the mid 700s.

Which students take the SAT Subject Tests?

Students who take the SAT Subject Tests are generally applying to the most competitive colleges. Slightly over a dozen colleges require Subject Tests; another 15-20 recommend them, and another 70 or so will consider them.

How do the foreign language subject tests work?

There are several SAT Subject Tests in foreign languages. Some of these Subject Tests include a version that features a segment where students listen and answer questions based on the audio material. The listening tests are offered only in November, and several of the less popular language options are offered only in June and possibly one or two other times per year. It is important that the student checks with the College Board for details. Most foreign language tests have only four answer choices instead of five.

How do the SAT Subject Tests compare with the Advanced Placement exams?

Most AP students find the Subject Tests reasonably manageable. By design, the AP courses are college level. The Subject Tests are designed to test knowledge gained in high school level classes.

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