Taking AP tests vs. SAT Subject Tests

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Last Updated Dec 12, 2020

Taking AP Tests vs. SAT Subject Tests

Should I be taking AP Tests or SAT Subject Tests? This is an oddly common question. We say "oddly" because the premise of the question assumes that SAT Subject Tests and AP Tests serve the same function on your college application. In fact, these two College Board exams are not substitutes for one another! Here’s the deal:

Most selective colleges require scores in at least two SAT Subject Tests. Certain rigorous schools — like Georgetown University — actually require three SAT Subject Test scores. SAT Subject Tests, while difficult, tend to be a bit more top-level than AP exams. A strong math student, for instance, could expect to do well on the Math 2 Subject Test with a little bit of studying.

AP courses, on the other hand, are usually year-long commitments. Whereas a strong score on an SAT Subject Test sends a signal to a university that you may be ready for college-level work eventually, a strong score on an AP test is indicative that you’re already performing well on college-level work. In fact, most colleges allow you to place out of introductory courses if you have a 4 or 5 on the associated AP exam. Taking AP tests, in short, is much more difficult.

That said, AP classes are not mandatory. In fact, almost no universities require a set of AP scores for college admissions — some high schools don’t even offer them. Many students get into top colleges every year without a suite of 5s on AP tests. Of course, taking AP tests looks very good on an application. Even a decent score on several AP tests shows that you’ve taken the initiative to challenge yourself with college-level work.

So, should you taking AP tests or SAT Subject Tests? The short answer is: both! Get studying!