Who Should Take SAT Subject Tests?

With so much emphasis put on the SAT and ACT, it’s easy to forget all about the SAT Subject Tests.

In this article, I’ll take you through the basics about the Subject Tests and hopefully convince you to take a few before applying to college. If you still have questions at the end of my spiel, be sure to take a look at the College Board’s official SAT Subject Tests website.

What are SAT Subject Tests?

For those of you who wants ‘just the facts,’ here’s the basics on SAT Subject Tests:

  • 20 different tests in five subjects: languages, history, English, mathematics, and science.
  • Every test is an hour long.
  • You can take three Subject Tests on one day, but you can’t take the regular SAT on the same day, even if the two tests are at different times. 🙁
  • Every test is scored on a 200-800 point scale.
  • Generally given six times a year.

One important thing to remember about Subject Tests is that the score reflects your knowledge, while your SAT score reflects a combination of knowledge and abilities.

What are they good for?

As mentioned in the first paragraph, SAT Subject Tests are important to the college admissions game. Why? Glad you asked. In the smallest of nutshells, each year America’s ultra-competitive colleges receive thousands of applications from EXTREMELY well-qualified high school seniors. SAT Subject Test scores help ‘tip the scale’ between extremely close applicants.

And of course, Subject Tests are sometimes required or recommended, so if you are applying to schools that have these guidelines, you have to take Subject Tests? But what if you aren’t, should you still take them?

Here’s an example of how Subject Test scores MIGHT work at a school that requires or recommends subject tests. An admissions counselor has two applications in front of him. The two students these applications represent are named Jamie and Alex. They live 1,000 miles apart, and go to very different schools. Their GPA, however, is identical: 3.95. Obviously, Jamie and Alex do very well in school, but every school is different. Which 3.95 is worth more than the other? That’s where Subject Tests come in.

Let’s say that along with their applications, Jamie and Alex both submitted Subject Test scores in U.S. History. Jamie’s score is 780, while Alex’s score is just 675. Though Jamie and Alex both made As in U.S. History, it seems, from the test results anyway, that Jamie knows more about the subject, and that his school did a better job preparing him for college-level work. Though this one score alone does not make Jamie a shoe-in, nor does it automatically send Alex’s application to the ‘little envelope’ pile, the score is one of many tools the admissions counselor uses to make his or her final decision.

So should I take them?

Yestake them. Even if your dream college’s admissions website doesn’t mention SAT Subject Tests, including a high score or two will be the ‘cherry on top’ of your application as long as you can get a score that matches or exceeds the level of your other test scores or GPA.

That’s all for now, SAT Subject Test scholars. Get out there and show those colleges what you’re really made of!

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  • Thomas Broderick

    Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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