02 Apr 2014

The Importance of SAT Subject Tests


Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the SAT Subject Tests. Hopefully I can answer some of them below and elaborate on the importance of these tests. First off, it is true that nowadays, the SAT Subject Tests (or SAT IIs) are not required by the majority of colleges out there. However, many of the U.S.’s best colleges (such as the Ivy League) do require two or more SAT Subject Tests.

1) What is the SAT Subject Test?

The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple-choice tests administered by the College Board, the same company that does the regular SAT. There are 20 SAT Subject Tests divided into five categories: English, history, mathematics, science, and languages. In each sitting, you may take up to 3 SAT Subject Tests.

2) When can you take the SAT Subject Tests?

In general, the SAT Subject Tests are offered 6 times in any given school year. Internationally though, this number might be different. However, the general popular time to take the Subject Tests are in the early summer (May and June) or in the fall (Oct and Nov). It should be noted that the languages are usually offered only once or twice a year.


Why You Should Care About The SAT Subject Tests

Before we continue our discussion, I want to point out that the SAT Subject Tests are not the primary tools that colleges use to evaluate applicants. That would be your GPA, SAT Score, and extracurricular activities. However, the SAT Subject Tests are important for two reasons. First, they demonstrate your skills, interest, and knowledge in specific topics. Second, they provide a means for colleges to standardize the abilities of students all over the world. Some high schools are more difficult than others, meaning that two students with the same ability could have different grades. The SAT Subject Test is a good way to back up that A you received in Pre-Calc or Chemistry.

While the SAT Subject Tests are not required for the majority of colleges, they are an important tool for differentiating students. As such, good SAT Subject Tests scores could give your application the boost it needed to go from the “maybe” pile to the “admitted” pile.


So What Should I Do?

If you haven’t caught my feelings by now, you should know that I recommend the SAT Subject Tests for all students. Yes, many schools don’t require them, but you also don’t want to be in a position senior year where you changed your mind about a school and they require the SAT Subject Tests. Even if you end up applying to only schools that don’t require the SAT Subject Tests, it will still help your application…assuming you did well.

That takes me to my second point. The SAT Subject Tests are not tricky like the regular SAT. They’re more straight-forward, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A strong result will certainly help you with your application, but a weak result could be bad. Many schools do participate in score choice so it’s good to take 3 SAT Subject tests so that you have options on what to present to colleges. The best strategy is to always take the SAT Subject Tests in the year you took the class if you are a sophomore or a junior. As a senior, you cannot take the test at the end of the year, as it will be too late for college applications. At the very least, you should try to have one SAT Subject Test under your belt by the end of junior year. You don’t want to have to do all two or three required SAT Subject Tests during the fall of your senior year. You will already have enough to worry about at that time.

Below is a list of colleges that require the SAT Subject Tests. However, the list of colleges and universities requiring the SAT subject tests is constantly changing, so ALWAYS be sure to check with the schools to which you are applying. Also, many colleges will allow an applicant to substitute AP scores or ACT scores for SAT subject test scores.

Amherst College
Barnard College
Boston College
Boston University
Brandeis University
Brown University
Bryn Mawr College
California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Carnegie Mellon University
Columbia University
Cooper Union (some programs)
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
Duke University
George Washington University (required of some dual degree programs only)
Harvard University
Harvey Mudd College
Haverford College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Notre Dame (Indiana) (home schooled applicants must take 3 SAT II or AP exams)
New York University (NYU) (but ACT or AP exams can substitute for SAT II)
Olin College of Engineering
Pomona College
Princeton University
Rice University

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) (some programs)
Stevens Institute of Technology (some programs)
Swarthmore College
Tufts University
University of California
— The state system has changed its policy to read, “While SAT Subject Tests are not required, some campuses recommend that students vying for slots in competitive majors take the tests to demonstrate subject proficiency.” You can get more information here.
University of Pennsylvania
Vassar College
Washington and Lee University
Webb Institute
Wellesley College
Wesleyan University
Williams College
Yale University

Leave a Reply