• Thoughts on SAT Subject Tests (SAT IIs)


    SAT Subject Tests - What, Why, Who, When, and How?

    In recent years, the deans have come to notice some angst, confusion, and misinformation surrounding the SAT Subject Tests (formally known as SAT IIs). We hope to provide helpful, clarifying information in this letter.

    What: Subject Tests are one hour long, subject specific tests administered by the College Board. They are different from the main college entrance exams called the SAT or the ACT. Every year, about 4 million students take the SAT and/or the ACT.  Only about 5% of these students take Subject Tests. 

    Why:    There are over 4,200 colleges in the United States. Many of these require the SAT or ACT.  There are only about three* highly selective colleges and technical institutes that require Subject Tests (these institutions require two subject tests).  We are aware of only one institution (Georgetown) that strongly recommends three subject tests.

    Who:   Because some colleges want to see all tests taken, (and given that the vast majority of colleges do not require them), it is very important to be prudent about taking Subject Tests. If a student takes a Subject Test and does poorly, the test may be used against him/her- even at colleges that never required seeing it in the first place. Still, there may be students who find it appropriate to take Subject Tests, for they may apply to the colleges that require them.

    WhenFor those who choose to do so, Subject Tests are generally taken at the conclusion of the year in which a specific course was completed.

    9th grade: Biology 

    If a student is in Biology 513 and earning grades in the A range, it might be a good idea to take the Biology Subject Test. We have found that these students generally do well on the test. We do not recommend the Biology Subject Test for students in the Bio 512 class.  

    10th grade: Chemistry, Math 1, World History

    Generally speaking, we have found that most of our students do not take a Subject Test in 10th grade. Occasionally, some students choose to take the Chemistry, Math Level I, or World History exam, but please note that the vast majority of sophomores do not. 

    11th grade: US History, Physics, Math 1, Math 2, English Literature, World Language (Spanish, French, Chinese...)

    Students may choose to take one of the above exams based on course placement and performance, and if they might be applying to some of those colleges that require Subject Tests.  We will always discuss this during our college planning meeting that takes place in the winter or early spring.

    How the scoring works: The test is scored on a scale of 200-800.  Scoring is based on a curve and points are deducted for answering incorrectly.  Technically speaking, a student has the right under the College Board’s plan called ‘Score Choice,’ to choose which SATs or Subject Tests to send to colleges, (i.e. if a student takes a Subject Test and does poorly, then he/she does not have to send the result). However, we have found that colleges have their own requirements, and may ask for the student’s entire testing history, (meaning that the poor score will be seen by the college). 

    If you have questions, please communicate with your dean and ALWAYS talk to your teachers for their opinion and thoughts. 

    *As of this date (Jan. 2020), the institutions that require Subject Tests are: Harvey Mudd College, McGill University (allows ACT as a substitute), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Please note that there are some colleges that strongly recommend taking a Subject Test.  We encourage students to check with colleges directly to verify Subject Test requirements by program/major.