How do you decide what a good SAT subject test score is? A score at or above 700 on any test would be considered a good SAT subject test score at elite colleges (schools that accept 20% or fewer of applicants). If you’re not applying to elite schools, scores at or above mean scores (which are typically a little higher than 600) aren’t shabby, either.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: find out what a good SAT score on the general test is for the schools you’re targeting, then aim to achieve a similar score on the subject tests. That will certainly get you a good SAT subject test score!
How Do We Know What a Good Subject Test Score Is?
The following chart shows the scores 700, 750 and 800 and their most recent percentile rank for a few Subject Tests. You’ll also find average SAT subject test scores here, as well. Finally, this table includes the most recent percentile ranks for the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections of the regular SAT for better comparison:
|SAT Test||Average Score||800-score percentile||750-score percentile||700-score percentile|
|Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section||530||99+||99||94|
|Physics Subject Test||671||86||69||52|
|Literature Subject Test||614||99||90||74|
|US History Subject Test||647||97||83||68|
|Math 2 Subject Test||698||78||58||43|
|Spanish Subject Test (Reading Only)||645||93||76||60|
|Ecological Biology Subject Test||622||97||88||73|
|Molecular Biology Subject Test||654||94||78||59|
Judging from these percentile ranks, a 700 doesn’t look like such a great score after all. A lot of students therefore mistakenly believe that they must score a perfect 800 on Subject Tests to be even considered a decent candidate for highly-ranked schools. This is untrue! Here’s why.
Why It’s Tricky to Figure Out What Your Score Goals Should Be
On the regular SAT, most people would probably say a section score of 700 or more is a really great score because it corresponds to a high percentile rank. If one didn’t know too much about the SAT Subject Tests, one would expect this to be the same case on the SAT Subject Test, right? Well, you’ve already seen how seemingly high scores on SAT Subject Tests translate to percentile rankings.
And here’s the thing:
A 700 on any subject test, including the ones on this chart, is still a good score! Of course, the higher you score on any standardized test, the better your chances are of admission. But it’s important to know that while the SAT is created with the general population of students in mind, the SAT Subject Tests are specifically made for students who excel at the given subject.
The 79th percentile rank for a perfect score on Math 2 doesn’t mean that it’s really easy; it just means that a lot of students who are amazing at math take the Math 2 Subject Test. So, while a 700 may look disheartening next to a 43rd percentile rank, another way to look at it is that you fit right in with the average math brainiac. Unless you’re applying to elite, math-heavy programs, any college would be impressed with a student that scored a 700 on the Math 2 test.
What Are Strong Scores for the Ivy League?
Top schools seem to get it, too. Another reason why it’s hard to determine good SAT Subject Test scores is because of the lack of college admissions statistics for SAT Subject Tests. But from the few schools that release them, we can see that top schools aren’t sending applications to the reject pile just because applicants are scoring lower than the 80th percentile on Subject Tests. One reason for this is because SAT Subject Test scores aren’t required for many schools, even Ivies. Take a look:
Note that for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, many of these schools have made their testing policies more flexible due to COVID-19. Check each school’s admissions page about their requirements for more information!
SAT Subject Test Policies at Ivy League Schools
|School||Policy for SAT Subject Tests|
|Brown University||Recommended, not required|
|Columbia University||Not required|
|Cornell University||Not required|
|Dartmouth College||Recommended, not required|
|Harvard University||Recommended, waived for financial hardship|
|Princeton University||Recommended, not required|
|University of Pennsylvania||Recommended, not required|
|Yale University||Recommended, not required|
What else can we glean about how top-tier schools use SAT Subject Test scores? At Cornell, a score of 600 on the SAT Spanish Test is considered the same level as a 4 on the AP Spanish Test.
Similarly, Boston University—still a competitive college, but less competitive than most Ivies–allows students to use a score of 560 or higher to waive their language requirements, even though a score of 560 puts you near the 20th percentile on the Spanish Reading Subject Test.
In other words? At some top schools, you’ll be able to use sufficiently high Subject Test scores for language credits or placement.