SAT subject tests: Which to take and when to take them

multiple choice testSAT IIs are subject tests that you may need to take in addition to the SAT or ACT. Not all schools require them, so doing your homework could save you the hassle of taking extra tests.

There are 20 different subject tests which cover English, history, math, science, and foreign languages. Only about 60 colleges require SAT IIs, and another 50 or so recommend it. Over half the schools that require them will accept the ACT in place of SAT IIs.

Which subject tests should I take? Each school will have its own specifications for how many and which to take. Science or engineering schools may require specific tests such as Math or Physics. Others may ask you to take tests in different subject areas (for example, a science and a foreign language) or in your proposed area of study.

If the school you’re applying to lets you choose the tests, pick subjects you are comfortable in. These tests will be much more specific than the SAT or ACT. Make sure you have taken at least two full years of a language, and at least one year in other subject areas. AP and IB courses will be good preparation for SAT IIs in the same subject areas.

It’s a good idea to take tests in the subject area you wish to study in college. If you’re going to a liberal arts school, you might want to choose tests in different subject areas.
Don’t wing it. Even if you feel prepared, get a SAT II prep book and take some practice tests. It will also help you familiarize yourself with the content that you will see on the test day.

If they’re optional, should I submit them? At some colleges, SAT II tests aren’t just for admission. They may used for course placement or to qualify you for an honors program. It also may be optional for admission, but required for scholarships. So be sure check if they are used for anything else before you decide not to take them.

It still might be a good idea to submit them even if they are only used for admission. Check out some SAT II test prep books in the areas you’re considering and take a few practice tests. Are your scores high enough to give you an advantage?

You could also take a couple tests and wait until you receive your scores to decide if you want to send them to any schools. You could even submit just one test in the area you’re the strongest in.

When should I take them? The end of your junior year is probably the best time to take most of the tests. The problem is you may also be taking AP or IB exams around that time as well. You might want to take them in late spring of your junior year or early summer at the latest. Ideally you should take the tests at the end of the course so you’ve covered all the topics and the information is still fresh in your mind.

You could get one or two out of the way at the end of your sophomore year if you studied any of the subjects that year. For example, two years of foreign language study are recommended before taking a language test. So by the end of your sophomore year, you might have already taken 2 years (or more) of a language.

Useful SAT II links:
List of SAT II subject tests and to register for them:

List of schools that require or recommend SAT IIs:

List of all schools and which SAT IIs are required, optional, or considered:

Remember, these lists should just be used as a guide – make sure to check with the individual schools to verify the information.


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