Students taking notes for SAT Subject Tests

You may be aware of the SAT—one of the two major exams for US university admission. But not as many people know about the related exams: the SAT Subject Tests.

These exams give students the opportunity to test their knowledge in 20 specific areas. Several competitive universities in the US and the UK alike request up to three of these exams when a student applies.

Particularly in the case that a student’s secondary school curriculum was not rigorous, it is advantageous for them to consider taking either the SAT Subject Tests, the AP exams, or both. This ideally occurs before their final year begins, or in the first couple of months of their last fall term.

Basics of the exams

The SAT Subject Tests are offered on the same day as the normal SAT exams. A student may take up to three Subject Tests in one sitting, one of which may include a Listening component. Due to limitations in staff and equipment at testing centers, students may only take one exam involving such a component in a given session. Nearly all of the language exams involve a listening comprehension section.

They are scored between 200 and 800 points. Computer scoring and several quality control staff ensure the accuracy of the scores. This also ensures that taking a particular test on one day has the same outcome as taking it on any other day.

Unlike the AP exams, which may last several hours, each SAT Subject Test takes only one hour.  There are no essay questions.

Studying for SAT Subject Tests

Many educators advise taking these exams soon after completing the related course. This way, the information will be fresh in the student’s mind. That being said, if they are taking a course they are good at, and if the SAT has an exam related to it, decide in the first three weeks or so of the term whether the exam should be a goal.

There are a few official study guides out there, some of which are free. However, doing well on these exams is not only about memorizing facts and reading books. As with any other structured exam, it is critical to take timed practice tests. Students need to familiarize themselves with the structure of the test as well as the material. Tutors are excellent resources, as classroom teachers are often busy with many other things.

List of subjects offered

While not as expansive as the Advanced Placement curriculum, there are a couple of different languages the SAT offers:

Why take Subject Tests?

Several sources have noted that these exams measure one’s readiness to take on university-level work, whereas IB and AP assessments measure mastery. This does not mean that the SAT Subject Tests are less rigorous—only that they measure a different skill set. This is why SAT Subject Tests are listed as an admissions requirement more often than AP exams.

When someone enters college, it is expected that they won’t have mastered what they want to study. True mastery is something that takes years. It takes trial and error. It takes success and failures (which is the challenging part!). The SAT Subject Tests will not tell colleges that a student has mastered something, but it will say to them that they are ready, and most importantly, willing, to start.

Want to learn more?

You should check out our Ultimate Guide to the SAT Subject Tests!