SAT Subject Tests
The below thoughts are based on the collective wisdom and experience of some Tech parents, as well as information gleaned from the College Board website and Princeton Review. The guide contains opinions and subjective statements from parents and is not produced by the school. Some material may also be out of date. If you think information is incorrect, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Who should take SAT Subject Tests?
Every Tech student should take SAT Subject Tests, with only a few exceptions.
What are SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests are one-hour tests in a specific subject, administered by the College Board. Parents of a certain vintage may recall that SAT Subject Tests used to be called SAT II Tests or Achievement Tests.
SAT Subject Tests are different from the regular SAT. (Every Tech student should also take either the regular SAT or the ACT.)
See the overview of SAT Subject Tests.
See the list of SAT Subject Tests offered and a general description of each test.
Why should students take SAT Subject Tests?
Many selective colleges in the US encourage or require applicants to take SAT Subject Tests.
Some selective colleges do not require SAT Subject Tests.
Less selective colleges usually do not require SAT Subject Tests.
Generally, students take SAT Subject Tests in the spring of 10th or 11th grade. So unless your student is sure that she will not be applying to colleges that require SAT Subject Tests, then it is safest to take the SAT Subject Tests, as she may need them. 10th or 11th grade is probably too soon to have a final college list.
How many SAT Subject Tests should a student take?
Generally selective colleges recommend or require two SAT Subject Tests (Georgetown is an outlier in requiring three SAT Subject Tests). Taking more than two isn't really necessary, but if your student thinks he can do really well in multiple subjects and would like to demonstrate that to colleges, then sure, go ahead and take three or four. But it's not necessary to take more than two tests, and there are other ways to demonstrate competence, such as good grades in the class or a 4 or 5 on the AP.
Taking a foreign language as a third SAT Subject Test can be a good way to demonstrate competence in a language learned outside of school.
When should my student take SAT Subject Tests?
The best time to take the tests is immediately after taking the course, which is usually June of 10th or 11th grade. Spring of 12th grade is too late, because you need the test scores for college applications. Your student could take the tests in fall of 12th grade, but it's getting late and also it's better to take the test right after finishing the class. (See Princeton Review's good summary timeline of when to take the various standardized tests.)
You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on one date. It's a lot to study for, but each test is only an hour. The College Board doesn't permit a student to take Subject Tests on the same date that she is taking the SAT.
You can register up to one month in advance. The tests are offered all over the city, including usually at Tech.
Which SAT Subject Tests should my student take?
Broadly speaking, he should take the tests that he thinks he will do best on.
It is best to take SAT Subject Tests for classes where he is enrolled at the AP level (except math, where trigonometry or precalculus is enough preparation). For example, if your student is taking Regents Chemistry in 10th grade and AP Physics in 11th grade, it's better to take the Physics SAT Subject Test than the Chemistry one.
If your student isn't sure yet what area he'd like to major in for college, it's a good idea to take one humanities SAT Subject Test (Literature or a History) and one quantitative SAT Subject Test (Math Level 2, Biology E/M, Chemistry, or Physics).
If your student is much better at humanities, then sure, take Literature and World History or US History.
If your student is likely to apply to engineering school or indicate a strong preference for a science major when applying to college, it's probably best to take:
1) Math Level II and
2a) Physics or Chemistry (for engineering)
2b) Physics or Chemistry or Biology E/M (for science).
If he's also taking an AP Language or AP Social Studies class (e.g. World History, US History), he could take a third SAT Subject Test in that area, but it's not really necessary and if he is likely to get a 4 or 5 on the AP, that also demonstrates competency. (See breakdown of AP scores of Tech students. For most AP tests, ~50% of Tech students gets a 4 or 5, but only ~20% for some like Bio, Chem, Phys I.)
Another consideration is showing balance. For example, if your student is stronger in math or science, than it might be good to take a humanities SAT Subject Test to show proficiency in humanities as well (provided your student thinks he can get a good score of course).
A good time to plan out SAT Subject Tests might be 10th grade spring, once your 10th grader knows his Major. Then he'll know some of the APs he'll be taking in 11th grade. Don't forget that if your student is taking AP World History in 10th grade, it's worth considering taking the World History Subject Test in June.
Also, your student can ask his teachers and guidance counselor for advice! It's a good idea for your student to occasionally schedule time with his guidance counselor to discuss courses and standardized tests.
Can you give some more detailed thoughts on the various SAT Subject Tests?
Math: Any Tech student who wants to take a math SAT Subject Test should take Level 2, not Level 1. Level 2 is best taken after precalculus, but a student who was comfortable in trigonometry could take it as well. Colleges expect that students who have taken trig (or precalculus) will take Math Level 2. If your student doesn't think he'll do well on Level 2, then maybe take a non-Math SAT Subject Test instead.
Chemistry: It's best to take Chemistry only if your student takes AP Chemistry in 11th grade. Regents Chemistry doesn't cover many of the topics on the Chemistry Subject Tests, so unless he's willing to do a lot of extra preparation outside of class, best not to take the Chemistry Subject Test after just Regents Chemistry.
Biology-E and Biology-M: A Tech student who wants to take a Biology Subject Test should take AP Biology in 11th grade. Biology-M (Molecular) is better for Tech students to take, as it focuses on topics like biochemistry, cellular structure and processes, such as respiration and photosynthesis, that are the focus of AP Biology. Biology-E (Ecological) focuses more on biological communities, populations, and energy flow, which are closer to the Regents Living Environment curriculum. Unless a Tech student wants to demonstrate an interest in ecology, there's not a really a reason to take Biology-E.
Physics: It's best to take Physics only if your student takes AP Physics I in 11th grade.
Why take SAT Subject Tests if my student is already taking APs?
Many colleges require SAT Subject Tests as a way of comparing applicants. Many high schools don't offer APs.
What is a good score on an SAT Subject Test?
SAT Subject Tests are scored out of 800, but run higher than regular SAT scores. Princeton Review put together the below summary chart:
Princeton Review suggested that Tech students aim to take Subject Tests where they expect to score at least 700. Take some practice tests to get a sense of potential scores.
Scores at every percentile are available in the College Board's Subject Test data set. (If you're interested, check out the College Board's test data webpage, which has good data on SAT and AP score distributions, too.)
In terms of a target, obviously try to get as high as possible. As a benchmark, your student could aim to reach a similar percentile on a Subject Test as she achieved on the PSAT or SAT.
How can my student prepare for an SAT Subject Test?
Of course the best way is to work hard all year in the school course. And if a student is taking the Subject Test in June, then she will have just taken the AP or final exam for the class, so there isn't much additional studying to do.
There are plenty of review books available from Princeton Review, Kaplan, and other test prep companies. (Your student can perhaps buy them used from 12th grade friends or borrow them from the library.) The College Board, which administers the tests, has a guide which offers some sample questions and also sells prep books with complete tests.
It makes a lot of sense to take one of the free practice tests that Princeton Review periodically offers at Tech.
Test prep companies offer test prep in SAT Subject Tests, but these courses aren't as popular as SAT or ACT prep.
Most kids probably just study their class notes and go through a review book. Occasionally a student needs to teach himself a topic that's on the test, but wasn't covered in the AP class. (If the student only took the Regents level class, then he will likely need to teach himself many topics.)
Many professional test counselors say the best way to improve your score on a standardized test is to take practice tests under conditions as similar as possible to the actual conditions you will face when you take the test for real. So if you are scheduled to take a Subject Test at 9am, get up early, shut yourself in a quiet room, and practice taking it at that time of day.
How much do the tests cost? Are fee waivers available?
It costs $48 to take one test (or $70 if taking two tests on one day).
How can I see specific SAT Subject Test requirements for specific colleges?
We don't know of any aggregated data on the specific requirements for college applications. So you have to go to each college's admission's website and check out standardized test requirements. Such searching is of course super inefficient and pretty useless for the 10th or 11th grader who needs to take the SAT Subject Tests, but hasn't decided where to apply to yet.
FWIW, here are some examples as of fall 2017:
SUNY - Binghamton doesn't require SAT Subject Tests.
Macaulay Honors College says you can submit SAT Subject Tests "if you believe they provide additional support for your application, but it is not a requirement for admission." The other CUNY schools do not require SAT Subject Tests.
Fordham doesn't require SAT Subject Tests.
Carnegie Mellon recommends two SAT Subject Tests for most of their programs. For example, one math and either physics or chemistry is required for engineering.
Yale says "SAT Subject Tests are recommended but not required." An admissions officer told a parent that two would be good to have.
NYU doesn't require any SAT Subject Tests as long as the applicant has taken the SAT or ACT or three APs.
Stanford says "SAT Subject Tests are optional. Because SAT Subject Test scores can highlight your areas of strength, we welcome the self-reporting of these results in your application."
MIT requires one math and one science Subject Test.
Dartmouth recommends taking tests in "the two subjects you like the most."
Cornell: Arts and Sciences requires any two. Engineering requires one math and one science.
Georgetown says "It is strongly recommended that all candidates, whether they have taken the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT, submit three SAT Subject Tests scores."
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Thank you to Princeton Review for providing information and for offering free practice SAT Subject Tests at Tech for Tech students.