SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as SAT II’s) are 45-60 minute tests offered in subject areas like Biology, French and US History. For the full list of available Subject Tests, check the CollegeBoard site. You cannot take the Subject Tests on the same day as the actual SAT because they are offered at the same time. However, if you decide to take Subject Tests you can take up to 3 in one sitting.
Play to your strengths by taking tests you know you can do well on. Some colleges tell you which tests they want you to take, especially for certain majors (i.e., engineering majors at highly selective schools are often asked to take Math level 2 and Physics). I strongly suggest that you get a prep book for any tests you plan to take and memorize the material. The books are thin and word on the street is that the SAT Subject Tests are not as difficult as the AP tests. Colleges know the material is available to you ahead of time, so this is largely a matter of what you already know and how much time you are willing to put in to brush up on and master the material.
Some colleges require, recommend or strongly suggest SAT Subject Tests, so unless the tests are absolutely required, you need to decide what to do. Here’s a handy guide to help you navigate the lingo used by colleges about these “extra” tests. Always note: If your schooling or life situation has been challenging in some way, colleges will take that into consideration and not require as much from you on these tests, so be sure to tell your full story to each college.
Required: You have no choice here. You must take as many of them as the college mandates, and you must do well. Your competition are taking the tests and they are likely scoring well, so unless you come from a disadvantaged background, you will need to submit strong scores on these.
Strongly/highly recommended/suggested: You should probably submit great scores here to really be in the running, but if your scores aren’t on par with accepted applicants, I would not send them. Don’t submit something that can be viewed as a weakness or mediocrity. Not submitting scores will disadvantage you if the vast majority of applicants are submitting them, but average scores could hurt you, so I wouldn’t send them. No one is terribly impressed that you took an extra test. Great scores are impressive.
Recommended/suggested: You could submit your scores, but I would only do so if they are equal to or higher than those of accepted applicants. You are not likely to be at a direct disadvantage by not submitting scores that are only recommended, but of course great scores would help you.
Optional: If you scored well and you want to show off a little, do send the scores. These colleges will consider them.
Not considered: These colleges will not use the scores in your evaluation, so save the $11 fee and don’t send them.
A few final notes: You should take SAT Subject Tests with the goal to do well on them. You will only want to send your scores if they help your application, so just taking the tests is not the aim. Taking them and doing well on them is the idea. Check the scores of admitted applicants, which is info the college should have available. This will tell you the goal score you need to set.
Remember that at the end of the day, all of the material is available in a booklet you can memorize, and the colleges know this, so start studying early for schools that really matter to you.
Article was contributed By: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed is a college counselor based in Seattle, WA. She has been working with high school students for 20 years, first as an English teacher and then as a guidance counselor. As a first generation college graduate, Susanna believes that education is the best way to break the poverty cycle and she is passionate about increasing access to higher ed. Susanna founded www.CollegeMapper.com, a free website that gives each high school student a step-by-step plan to find and apply to college.
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