Like George Washington and the mythical cherry tree, SAT Subject Tests™ can grow larger than life if you aren’t familiar with what they are or how they work.

What are they? These admission exams in different subjects highlight the areas in which you excel. They test high-school-level knowledge via multiple-choice questions.

How do they work? You can take up to three of them per test date. They are offered six times per year. Each test is one-hour long. Send your scores to colleges to show your proficiencies.

    Myth #1

They are the same as AP® tests.

Not at all. SAT Subject Tests™ are admission exams, just like the SAT® test. Colleges that want SAT Subject Tests™ will not use AP® tests as replacements.

Additionally, SAT Subject Tests™ are one-hour tests with only multiple-choice questions. They’re graded on a scale of 200 to 800 based on percentile. You should aim for 750+.

They’re designed to show that you have a high level of subject knowledge in math, science, literature, history, or language.

    Myth #2

If a college says these tests are considered but not required, it doesn’t matter if you take them.

Student A’s application looks great but doesn’t include SAT Subject Tests™.

Student B’s application looks great and includes SAT Subject Tests™.

Who’s getting in?

(It’s B.)

It isn’t mysterious or secretive. Colleges that consider SAT Subject Tests™ want to know how you perform on them.

If you don’t send colleges any scores, they can’t know how you performed. Simple as that.

Imagine you were painting a portrait of yourself and decided to leave out your ears. That wouldn’t be an accurate portrayal of you, would it?

When colleges say they just “consider” SAT Subject Tests™, it gives the college a bit of leeway to accept a student who didn’t submit them but meets the other criteria. However, to be a strong candidate at those schools you should take them (especially if you attended a competitive high school).

    Myth #3

You can take them any time.

SAT Subject Tests™ are not offered on all SAT® test dates.

Not all subjects are available on each test date.

Language tests with listening components are even more limited in availability—they are offered in November only.

Since you can’t take an SAT Subject Test™ and the SAT® test on the same day, you really need to plan ahead for when you’ll take which test. It wouldn’t be good to run out of time or inadvertently miss an opportunity.

Generally, the subject tests are available six times a year. Check the College Board® website for test dates and deadlines.

    Myth #4

You should only take SAT Subject Tests™ in subjects related to your major.

“Oh no, a biology major who also understands literature and poetry. What a pity,” said no college ever.

These tests show colleges that you are a knowledgeable person who is a confident test taker.

It might be a little odd for a biology major to not take the biology test, but it is definitely not odd for a biology major to also take literature and chemistry, or history and Korean, or math and physics.

Send your best scores, no matter the subject. College admissions officers want to see you as a whole person who has skills and knowledge beyond just one discipline.

    Myth #5

Math Level 1 is easier, so you should take that test instead of Math Level 2.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

SAT Subject Tests™ are graded according to percentile. The Math Level 1 test a lower level of subject matter, so only about 1% of test takers ever get an 800. About 20% of Math Level 2 test takers make an 800 because the margin is a lot wider.

If you score a 750 on Math Level 1, you have to be in the top 10% or higher. But to score a 750 on Math Level 2, you only have to be in the top 40% or so.

See how that looks? You study a little bit for an “easier” test (which still requires three years of high school mathematics by the way) and can’t miss anything to get a good score.

On the other hand, if you’ve had any trig at all, you study really hard to answer 50 questions in 60 minutes (some of which will, yes, be trigonometry), and you come out with a score in the high 700s or better because everyone else was scared off by cosines.

That’s a win.


As always, our Directors are here to answer your questions. If you need help planning which SAT Subject Tests™ to take and when—just ask!