How to Prepare for the SAT Subject Tests

~3 Minutes / ~586 Words
Last Updated Dec 12, 2020

One of the most important parts of the college application process will be preparing for and taking the standardized tests required by the colleges and universities you are applying to. Some colleges require that you take one or more SAT Subject Tests to be considered for admission, while others may require you to take a group of them for entry into a particular program (like engineering or pre-med/dental programs).

But how do you prepare for the SAT Subject Tests?


First you’ll need to register for the SAT Subject Tests in advance: while the registration deadlines are usually 4-6 weeks before the exam dates, many testing centers fill early, and far fewer testing centers offer the Subject Tests compared to the general SAT. Some students have found out the hard way that waiting until the deadline means having to travel to another city or even country to test.

It is also a good idea to plan early and take an Advanced Placement (AP) course in the subject you’ll also take your test in. Earning a top score on an AP exam (offered once per year in May) will give you a chance to earn university credit, strengthen your college applications, and prepare for the SAT Subject Test in the same subject (i.e. Taking an AP French course to help you prepare for the SAT subject test in French, or an AP Chemistry test to prepare you for the SAT subject test in Chemistry). If AP courses are not offered at your school, seeking out and completing other advanced courses may be helpful in your SAT subject test preparation – certain universities offer online courses and platforms such as Coursera offer a variety of electives.


SAT subject test scores range from 200-800 (language tests include listening subscores on a scale from 20-80 that are then used to compute your total score). Students aiming to score high enough for elite universities (750+) should study with professionals. A professional tutoring program features a tailored approach based upon a diagnostic test designed to pinpoint weaknesses and strengths. Authentic practice tests should also be scheduled to account for variations in performance and test difficulty. For example, many students study and take practice tests in the evening; the actual SAT Subject Tests begin at 8am on a Saturday. This has caused countless students to be unpleasantly surprised by their results.


As you plan to prepare for the SAT subject test, note that the frequency and scheduling of study should be logically planned. Knowledge degrades over time, so deciding when to study for SAT Subject Tests is important. If a student hoping to attend Harvard scores 480 on a diagnostic test in May, there is no reason to prepare for a June SAT subject test. The student should still take the exam as a practice and to become acclimated to the testing conditions, but intensive preparation is a waste because there is virtually no chance a student will raise her/his score by 300 points in a month's time. Rather, a deliberate, smart study plan could start mid-summer in order to target fall SAT Subject Test dates. Preparing for and earning a top score on the SAT Subject tests are an important part of making your college applications as competitive as possible. Planning ahead, registering early, and developing a logical, effective and intensive study schedule will help you be as ready as possible for these exams.