My daughter spent several months preparing to take her SATs. After two tries, she was happy with her scores and relieved to be done with the standardized testing portion of her college application. That is, until her guidance counselor recommended she take several SAT Subject Tests.
What are the SAT Subject Tests and does your teen need to take them?
SAT Subject Test Overview
SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as SAT IIs) are hour-long subject tests that give students an opportunity show off their strengths in specific subject areas. There are 20 different SAT Subject tests offered in 5 categories: Math, History, Science, Languages and English. SAT Subject Tests are generally offered six times in any given school year, typically on the same dates that the SAT is offered. However, not all 20 exams are offered during every administration. Check the College Board registration page for more details on specific dates the Subject Tests are offered.
SAT Subject Tests are scored just like a section of the current SAT. Scores range from 200-800. Students earn 1 point for a correct answer, lose ¼ point for an incorrect answer, and earn 0 points for an omitted answer. All SAT Subject Tests are multiple-choice only.
At present, there is no plan from College Board to change the format or scoring of the SAT Subject Tests (even though the SAT itself is being changed.) The ACT does not have separate subject tests but it does have a separate science section included in the main test.
How are SAT Subject Tests different than an AP test?
Michael Boothroyd, Executive Director of SAT and ACT programs for Kaplan Test Prep explains, “SAT Subject Tests test high school content; AP Exams test college level content. That’s why students sometimes earn college credit for good performance on AP Exams. Also, while AP Exams can be valuable in admissions, sometimes SAT Subject Tests are required for admissions.”
How is the SAT Subject Test different from the SAT in Math or English?
The SAT already has a math and reading component, so why would colleges want to see scores on another Math or English test? Boothroyd explains, “The SAT Subject Tests in Math (both in Math 1 and Math 2) are more challenging than the Math sections on the SAT. While all three exams cover Numbers and Operations, Geometry, and Algebra, and Problem Solving, the Subject Tests also include Trigonometry and Data Analysis and Statistics. ” So the SAT Subject Test in Math will better showcase a student’s aptitude and talent in certain areas of mathematics. (Interestingly, the changes being made in the new SAT Math section will narrow the gap.)
As far as the reading section of the SAT versus the SAT Subject Test in Literature, again the testing on the Subject Test is more in-depth. Boothroyd says, “The Literature SAT Subject Test focuses on assessing a student's reading comprehension skills in the context of literary sources - like plays, novels, and poems across various genres and time periods. The SAT Critical Reading section, on the other hand, focuses on assessing a student's reading comprehension skills in the context of a variety of different types of passages – from Science to History to Literature to Humanities. The SAT Critical Reading section also focuses on your typical ‘SAT Words,’ or more obscure vocabulary, while the Literature Subject Test focuses more on word meaning in the context of a passage.”
Should Your Teen Take the SAT Subject Tests?
College Board says, “Many colleges use SAT Subject Tests for admission, course placement, and/or to advise students about course selection. Some colleges specify that SAT Subject Tests are required for admission or placement, while others allow applicants to choose which tests to take.” Most colleges that require SAT Subject Tests for admission ask students to submit scores for two different tests. For more information on which colleges require SAT Subject Tests, check the individual college’s website.
According to Boothroyd, “Generally, colleges that require SAT Subject Tests do so for a couple of reasons, including determining course placement, providing students with an opportunity to showcase their unique strengths and to get a deeper understanding of a student’s skill level in an area important to that college or major.”
Students should take the SAT subject test in the categories they feel they can most excel at. If a student knows what they want to major in at college, it can be beneficial to take the SAT Subject Tests in areas that showcase their aptitude for this area of study.
Boothroyd says, “Even if colleges do not require SAT Subject Tests, it’s not a bad idea for students to take a couple in subjects that they excel in. This will set a student apart in the admissions process. SAT Subject Tests are often major-specific as well and students can benefit if the tests they take match their major’s coursework.”
Do Students Need to Prepare for the SAT Subject Tests?
The SAT Subject Tests are generally based on coursework covered in high schools. According to College Board, “SAT Subject Tests are high-school level exams that reflect high school coursework and indicate a student’s readiness to take college-level courses in specific subject areas. Because the SAT Subject Tests are based on high school–subject course work, the best way to prepare for them is by learning the material taught in the corresponding classes.”
Says Boothroyd, “Just like tests in high school, though, studying and preparation will help students put their best foot forward. That’s why it’s good to take the SAT Subject Tests around the time you take the course in high school. So if you take Biology as a sophomore, you might want to take the SAT Subject Test in Bio in June of your sophomore year.”
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