SAT Subject Tests: A Primer


Published:

Photo courtesy of Laurence Gough/Shutterstock.com

Often an afterthought in the mind of applicants, SAT Subject Tests can greatly benefit some applicants and are a near-necessity for anyone with their eye on gaining acceptance to Ivy or Ivy-caliber schools. One might say that subject tests are like the Jan Brady of the college application family, easy to forget about when surrounded by the Marsha-like SAT I, essays, GPA, class rank, credit-granting AP tests and other top focal points of the admissions process.

We receive many questions on the topic and hope the following will give you a complete understanding of what these tests entail and whether or not they should be a part of your college application process.

* For the sake of clarity, a quick note about the nomenclature …The College Board removed the “SAT II” designation in 2005 switching to only “Subject Tests,” but the defunct name continues to persist in admissions parlance. In this piece, SAT II and SAT Subject Tests are synonymous.

What’s on the menu?

There are over 20 Subjects Tests, but that number implies more variety than is reality. A dozen of those 20 tests are actually in the foreign language arena and include your usual suspect tongues such as Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese as well as lesser-studied languages like Korean, Modern Hebrew, and Japanese. For several of the language exams, students can choose between a purely written exam or one that includes a listening component.

The eight non-foreign language exams cover Literature, two levels of general math, Chemistry, Physics, American History, World History, and Biology, of either the Molecular or Ecological variety.

What tests should I choose?

In terms of sheer volume, the three most commonly administered assessments are the Math Level 2, U.S. History, and Literature exams. Of the science exams, Chemistry and Biology top the popularity charts. Of course, you’ll want to choose your areas of greatest strength. If subject tests are not required by any school to which you are applying, avoid tests that are redundant in terms of what they say about you. In other words, if you already got a 5 on the AP U.S. history exam, taking the SAT II: Subject Test in the same area isn’t going to reveal any significant new information about your ability, even if you register a perfect score.

When to take Subject Tests

If tests are required by your prospective colleges, you’ll be best served by focusing on areas of strength and, of course, adhering to any program specific requirements.

We advise you to take your subject tests in June of your junior year of high school, if possible. This will allow you to maximize your exposure to key concepts in the classroom and sit for the exam while everything is still fresh in your mind. From an admissions standpoint, having your scores in hand the following fall will put you in the catbird seat should you wish to submit an application during the early admissions cycle. If you are unhappy with your scores, there is always the option to retake an exam at the beginning of 12th grade.

Required, Recommended, or Considered?

Roughly 160 colleges and universities, mostly of the elite variety, required or highly recommend the submission of SAT II: Subject tests as part of an applicant’s portfolio. Many of the most selective schools in the country such as Brown, Cal Tech, Cornell, and MIT require students to take either one or two Subject Tests.

Emory, Lafayette, Georgetown, and Stanford are among the institutions that recommend or in some cases “strongly recommend” that subject tests be a part of any application.

Many other schools do not recommend subject tests but will give them serious consideration in the application process. Institutions such as Dartmouth, Duke, and Vassar operate this way.

Colleges moving away from Subject Tests

A growing number of institutions have recently dropped SAT subject test requirements, including Amherst, Duke and Barnard. However, applicants possessing strong subject test results should still submit their scores to these institutions, as doing so may help them stand out from the competition.  If your scores are not (relatively) strong, there may be no reason to worry. Schools like Columbia, Haverford and Vassar all state that students will not be penalized if they choose not to submit subject tests.

Special situations

It is worth noting that some schools will accept subject tests in lieu of the SAT I. The University of Rochester will accept two SAT II tests in place of the SAT/ACT. NYU and Middlebury offer the same deal but require three test scores instead of two.

Other schools require more research as they only require or recommend SAT II scores from applicants to certain academic or honors programs. For engineering applicants, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and UC-Berkeley strongly advise the submission of math and science subject test scores. The University of Delaware, George Washington University, and the University of Miami all strongly recommend subject tests be included as part of any application to their Honors Programs.

If you referred to your high school teacher as “mom” or “dad” then you may be held to special subject test requirements. Northeastern, Virginia Tech, and American University all require SAT subject test only for home-schooled or other non-traditionally educated applicants.

A strong cohort

While students of varying caliber typically take the SAT I, the SAT II are mostly the domain of high achievers. Over 60 percent of SAT II: Subject test takers are in the top 20 percent of their respective high school classes. The average subject test participant scored over a 600 on the reading, math, and writing section of their SAT I, over 100 points higher per section than the average student. Keep this in mind when interpreting the percentile results of any subject test; you're pitted against much stiffer competition.

Prepare for the test

If you’re going to shell out the $43 College Board fee plus number two pencil costs (approximately 17 cents) and spend a portion of your Saturday bubbling your demographic information into a Scantron for the millionth time this year, you might as well prep sufficiently so that you can excel on the SAT subject tests.

It sounds obvious enough, but some students will take an SAT Subject Test with very little preparation on the assumption that since they aced the class at their high school, they’ll nail the subject test just the same. The flaw is this logic is that high school curriculum is truly, as The Common Core Standards purport, going to be covered and taught identically in every high school classroom across the country.

Unfortunately, it is very possible to ace an honors biology class, sign up for the Molecular Biology SAT subject test and feel like you were just thrown a nasty curve ball. Remember, unlike in an AP class, your teacher, even in a very rigorous course is aligning his or her curriculum and SAT subject test. It’s on you to learn exactly what is on the SAT subject test and then fill in any gaps with supplemental learning.

Give your subject tests the love and attention they deserve or on test day you might hear your neglected test booklet uttering the lonely whispered cries of “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

College Transitions recently collected subject tests policies from a number of selective institutions across the country, as featured below. For an updated list of colleges requiring or recommending subject tests, please click here to review. 

College

Policy

Number

Brown University

Required (or ACT)

2 subject tests or ACT w/writing

California Institute of Technology

Required

2 subject tests: Math Level II and 1 test in Biology, Chemistry, or Physics

Carleton College

Recommended

No recommended number

Carnegie Mellon University

Required

2 subject tests for certain programs

Cornell University

Required

Some colleges require 1 or 2 subject tests.

Davidson College

Recommended

2 subject tests

Emory University

Recommended

No recommended number

Georgetown University

Strongly Recommended

3 Subject Tests

Harvard University

Required

2 subject tests

Lafayette College

Recommended

No recommended number

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Required

2 subject tests: 1 math and 1 science

Princeton University

Recommended

2 subject tests

Stanford University

Recommended

2 subject tests

Tufts University

Required (or ACT)

2 subject tests for certain programs

University of Pennsylvania

Recommended

2 subject tests

Washington and Lee University

Recommended

2 subject tests

Wellesley College

Required (or ACT)

2 subject tests or ACT w/writing

Yale University

Recommended

No recommended number

This article was first published Aug. 3, 2015 updated July, 14, 2016.

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website—www.collegetransitions.com—to learn more.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Should My Child Be in a Play?

Consider these benefits to letting your child take part in a stage production.

Your Child’s First Smartphone

Tips for using digital devices in a balanced and responsible way.

Tech Gifts for People Who Truly Need Them

Not all children have easy, early access to the digital world.
Edit Module
Edit Module

About this Blog

College Transitions

Expert advice for finding the right fit


About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

Read all blog posts »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Kicks off the holiday season with local art, music, food, and family activities at various locations in Durham’s historic downtown district. Presented by the Durham Arts Council with support...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
Website »

More information

Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Celebrate the natural world and where favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Make a craft. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Search the preserve for hidden holiday-themed clues and learn about native wild turkeys. Make a turkey decoration. Ages 5 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course code...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Search for salamanders, owls and more. Ages 10-13. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in the District. This year’s event will take place the weekend of November 17th. Take the family to enjoy train rides, magical winter lights, live...

Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

Where:
Park West Village
3400 Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Telephone: 919-234-6710
Contact Name: Conner Dixon
Website »

More information

See ponies, hunters and jumpers compete in an event that benefits Duke Children's Hospital. Visit the website for hours and fees.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Make crafts celebrating turkeys. All ages with adult. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. Registration not required. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn what it was like to be a kid at the first Thanksgiving. Play games and make a food collage. Choose either the 10:30-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. session. Ages 7 and older. Register online.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Explore the woods and shoreline for signs of nature and collect treasures to make a craft. Take a full water bottle, snack and a bag lunch. Ages 6-11. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. Advance...

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen for the sound of silver bells and climb aboard in your pajamas for a first-class journey on the Polar Express. Come early to meet Santa and enjoy kid-friendly activities and a traditional...

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Athletes improve their flexibility, balance, joint mobility, as well as body and breath awareness. Special attention will be paid to core strength and posture and its importance in performance and...

Cost: Call for fees

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-345-5873
Contact Name: Jen Bluestone
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Read the story by Karma Wilson and make a Thanksgiving-themed craft. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Fit & Able Productions presents the Turkey Chase trail festival at Umstead Park. Take part in a 5K, 10K or 20K. After the race, enjoy fruit, brownies and other...

Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir makes an appearance before its big Christmas concert.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 30-minute tour to view the main power drive and milling machinery. Tickets available inside the park's visitor center. Online registration encouraged.

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2017-18 Education Guide offers 660 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our debut Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.
Edit ModuleShow Tags