SAT Subject Tests: Which Exams You Should Take and When to Take Them

SATA majority of colleges require or recommend taking at least two SAT Subject Tests, but they do not usually advise applicants as to which tests they should take. Students are then left to decide when to take their Subject Tests and how to interpret varying institution-specific guidelines about which subjects to choose and how scores will be used.

For students who don’t have a firm idea of where they want to apply, the best course of action is to take two Subject Tests that highlight their academic strengths. Most students will choose subjects that have some relation to their intended majors, but as there are so many more majors than there are Subject Tests so these matches do not need to be exact.

For example, an applicant planning on pursuing an environmental science major might like to take Subject Tests in Math II and Biology. Another student applying to the same program might choose instead to take subject tests in Chemistry and American History. Either would be perfectly reasonable choices. If a college has a more specific requirement, it will be clearly stated on their website, but for the majority of students, two tests in areas of strength will make for the best possible application for the widest range of colleges.

That being said, here are some points to consider about particular cases where it could pay to think more carefully about which SAT Subject Tests to choose:

Pay Attention to Specific Program Requirements
Some colleges and programs that take freshman applications will impose their own SAT Subject Test requirements. This practice is most widespread in STEM programs. For example, MIT requires applicants to take one Subject Test in math (Level 1 or Level 2) and one in science (Biology, Chemistry, or Physics). UCLA’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences requires test scores from the Math Level 2 exam and one science subject exam.

The engineering programs at Berkeley and San Diego have the same requirement that UCLA does, even though there are no Subject Test requirements at all for students in other majors. With this in mind, if you know you will be applying to a specific school, pay attention to their unique SAT Subject Test requirements (if they have any) and adhere to them.

Consider Foreign Language Proficiency and Placement
The College Board offers SAT Subject Tests in nine different languages. For some languages, you have a choice between a written test and a test with a listening component. Other language tests are only available in one format or the other. Many colleges accept SAT language exams for placement or credit in language courses, but don’t rush out to take one of these tests for that reason alone – especially if you’re not as well prepared as you could be. If you’re concerned about missing out on credit, wait until you make your college decision and then take the exam during the spring of your Senior year (only if you know it will benefit you).

Reasons to Take More Than 2 SAT Subject Tests
One good reason to add a 3rd SAT Subject Test is if you want to take one in a language of which you are a heritage speaker. In that case, you may want to make the Subject Test for that language your third exam. This way, you can show how proficient you are in a second language while still taking two other exams in subjects that you have studied in an academic setting.

Another reason to take an additional Subject Test is to fulfill less common school-specific requirements. For example, Georgetown is one of few schools to still recommend three SAT Subject Tests. At NYU, which has a test-flexibly policy, the admissions office will actually accept three Subject Tests in lieu of the regular SAT. If you plan to apply to schools like Georgetown or NYU, consider taking three SAT Subject Tests before submitting your applications.

Reasons to Skip the SAT Subject Tests
Some colleges have made SAT Subject Tests optional, or have even stopped considering them all together. For instance, At Columbia, subject tests are accepted but not required, and at the University of Chicago, they state,”SAT II’s are truly optional, and not sending us Subject Tests will not hurt your application.” If you are sure that your college application list does not include schools where Subject Tests are required, it’s safe to trust that “optional” really means “optional,” and skip the tests.

When to Take SAT Subject Tests
If you are applying to one or more schools where SAT Subject Tests are strongly recommended or required, the next decision that you must make is when to take them.

Don’t be afraid to take SAT Subject Tests early on in your high school career. If your school offers AP World History in the 10th grade and you know that you’ll be interested in taking the test for that subject, go ahead and start fulfilling your Subject Test requirements early. On the other hand, if you know that your school offers two years of a single subject (for example, 9th grade Chemistry and 11th grade AP Chemistry), wait to take your Subject Test for that subject at the end of the second year.

Since history and science Subject Tests correspond closely with year-long high school courses, it is best to take them immediately after you’ve completed the relevant course. The math and literature exams, however, draw on skills that are developed over a period of years, and so these do not necessarily need to be taken in conjunction with specific classes. If you’re taking literature or math, find a time around your Junior year when your schedule will allow you the time to study and work with practice tests.

Finally, if you’re taking a language exam, it is advisable to wait until the end of Junior year or the beginning of Senior year to take the test. This way, you’ll allow yourself the maximum amount of time to practice the language before the exam.

SAT Subject Tests are necessary for many students, but each individual has a lot of flexibility in deciding which ones to take and when to take them. And if you’re still uncertain about what tests to choose or how to prepare, consider getting in touch with an experienced tutor or admissions consultant here at Veritas Prep.

Do you need help navigating the college application process and determining which tests to take for the schools you are applying to? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE Profile Evaluation for personalized feedback on your unique situation! And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

Anne Mathews is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in Los Angeles.