SAT Subject Tests

What about SAT Subject Tests?

Should you take those too? And, what are the SAT Subject tests? As if junior and senior years aren’t stressful enough with college admissions craziness, now you may need to add SAT Subject tests (formerly called SAT II tests) to your list of things to do. Fear not! Many schools don’t require Subject tests for admission. But even for schools that don’t require the Subject tests, you may want go ahead and submit them to highlight particular talents. Let’s dive in and discuss.

What are they anyway?

The SAT Subject Tests are essentially achievement tests designed to measure success in specific high school subjects. They’re used as part of the college admissions process, though how much weight is given to the SAT Subject tests as part of the application package varies widely from school to school.

What can I expect on test day?

Each SAT Subject test is one hour long, scored on a scale from 200 – 800. A correct answer earns you 1 raw score point. Unlike the regular SAT, however, there is a penalty for guessing on the SAT Subject test; that is, a fraction of a point is deducted from your raw score for every incorrect answer. That fraction depends on how many multiple choice answers are in the response; for questions with four possible choices, an incorrect answer causes you to lose ¼ point from your raw score. This means that you need to have some test taking strategies about guessing and eliminating answer choices.

Why do colleges want to see them?

First, it should be noted that some schools don’t want to see them. But many do.

If a college doesn’t require the SAT Subject tests, your inclusion of SAT Subject scores, assuming you did well on them, can greatly enhance your application and showcase your talents in particular areas. Colleges can use the tests to get a more complete picture of you. Additionally, some universities will use SAT Subject tests to help place you in particular courses. Some schools will even offer credit for required courses depending on Subject test performance.

Pomona College says the SAT Subject tests are optional but suggests “home-schooled students are encouraged, although not required, to submit results of at least two SAT Subject or Advanced Placement exams.” Boston College doesn’t require the Subject tests but says, “If you would like to highlight a talent in a specific area, you are welcome to submit SAT Subject Tests for consideration.” BC also uses the Subject tests in foreign languages and sciences for placement.

Which tests are offered?

There are 20 SAT Subject Tests. Yikes. They are offered in the general categories of Science, Math, History, English and Foreign Language. For the most part, schools that require or recommend the tests allow you to choose which exams to submit. There are exceptions to this. Caltech, for example, requires the Math Level 2 Subject test and one science Subject test. But many schools give you a choice. Dartmouth recommends two Subject Tests and advises, “We encourage you take tests in the two subjects you like the most.” This gives you the opportunity to take the tests that are best suited to your particular talents. That’s good news! Isn’t it?

While you can take up to three SAT Subject tests on a particular test day, there are a few salient points. You can’t take both the regular SAT and an SAT Subject test on the same day. And, not all SAT Subject tests are offered on every test date. For the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, no Subject tests are offered in March. So, you need to do your homework and plan.

Should you take the SAT Subject test?

To answer that question, go to the websites of your schools of interest to see if the Subject tests are required or recommended. Be careful of the wording. “Strongly recommended” sounds pretty close to “required” if you ask me. Georgetown University states on their website, “It is strongly recommended that all candidates, whether they have taken the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT, submit three SAT Subject Tests scores.” So, if you have your heart set on Georgetown, you should probably take the Subject tests.

On some universities’ websites, they don’t even address the SAT Subject tests. Other schools make the SAT Subject tests optional and will consider them if included in the application. Some colleges make it clear that they won’t consider the tests. For example, Pepperdine University “only considers the SAT I and/or ACT exams.” It turns out, that colleges have varying opinions on the Subject tests. Do your research. Should you choose to take a Subject test or two, make a plan and let’s get to it!




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