Difference between SAT 1 and SAT 2

While you’ve been studying like crazy for the SAT, you might have heard about something called the SAT 2. Don’t panic, you’re not studying for the wrong test. They are separate entities. Let’s explore the differences between the standard SAT, or SAT 1, and the SAT 2 tests, now known as the SAT Subject Tests.

What’s the difference between SAT 1 and SAT 2?

Although College Board doesn’t seem to use the term “SAT 1” anymore, SAT 1 refers to the test that most high schoolers take and use on their college applications. It has undergone a major overhaul in the last year, so if you plan to take it, make sure you know what these changes are. This SAT covers general Reading, Writing, and Math topics and includes an optional Essay section. Almost all colleges accept scores from this test, and a high score on it helps you prove to admission officers that you are a capable, well-rounded student who would do well at their school.  

The SAT Subject Tests are different tests altogether. They focus on only one subject at a time, and allow you to show your competency in that particular subject. There are 20 subject tests available under the categories of Mathematics, History, English, Languages, and Science, and you are free to take as many (or as few) as you like. Each test is one hour long and is entirely multiple choice. Scores range from 200 to 800, just like the main sections of the SAT. These tests have not undergone any format changes recently, so if you’ve already taken some, there is no need to retake them.

Why take an extra test?

Some colleges actually require applicants to have taken one or more SAT Subject Tests, in which case you have no choice but to take them. However, many other schools recommend taking a subject test or two, and most at least accept scores from these tests.

There are several reasons you might decide to take subject tests besides being required to. If you are applying with an eye to a certain program of study, a good score on a related subject test might demonstrate your interest and skill in that topic. This is especially useful for self-taught topics or extracurricular classes which may not be reflected elsewhere in your application. Some colleges and universities will award credit for high scores on subject tests. Entering college with credits already under your belt can allow you more freedom to explore other subjects or even help you graduate early. Students who have been homeschooled or classify as ESL or international often take the subject tests to help them display talents that may not be reflected in their transcripts.

Things to keep in mind

SAT Subject Tests are administered on the same days as the SAT 1, and not all subject tests are administered on every test date, so plan carefully when deciding which tests to take when. Because each subject test is only an hour long, you are allowed to take up to three during one test day.

Visualizing the differences

 SAT 1SAT Subject Tests
Topics CoveredReading, Writing, Math, Essay (optional)One topic per test, with over 20 to choose from
Length3 hours or 3hrs & 50mins with optional Essay1 hour each
Scores200-800 on each section except Essay; out of 1600 total200-800 on each test

Now that you know the difference between SAT 1 and SAT 2 (or rather, SAT and SAT Subject Tests), you should give some thought to whether or not you’d like to take both. Learn about the many different topics covered by the subject tests, research the requirements of colleges to which you plan to apply, and decide if one or more is right for you. Best of luck!


  • Elizabeth Peterson

    Elizabeth holds a degree in Psychology from The College of William & Mary. While there, she volunteered as a tutor and discovered she loved the personal connection she formed with her students. She has now been helping students with test prep and schoolwork as a professional tutor for over six years. When not discussing grammar or reading passages, she can be found trying every drink at her local coffee shop while writing creative short stories and making plans for her next travel adventure!

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