So your teen is planning to take the SAT Subject Tests? Unless your student’s primary choices are on the list below, taking Subject tests may be unnecessary.

Consider this — Amherst, Barnard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Haverford, Vassar and Williams all stopped requiring students to submit their scores from the hour-long exams; however, they will be examined if submitted. SAT Subject Tests, in the past called “SAT II” exams and “Achievement Tests,” were once a primary part of the admissions process, especially at the most competitive schools.

Since the University of California dropped its Subject Test requirement almost ten years ago, the number of students taking the tests nationally has dropped significantly. In the past five years, the number has fallen over 25%. Also worth noting is that the number of students taking the ACT increased nationally to over 23%. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in light of the redesigned SAT, given its similarity to the ACT. (In place of SAT Subject Test, many schools take AP scores. Many also take the ACT in lieu of the SAT and SAT Subject Tests).

So why the drop? Bob Schaeffer, director of Fair Test, explained this trend: “Admissions officers have recognized that the SAT Subject Tests contribute to standardized exam overkill. Requiring them excludes many otherwise qualified applicants.” The president of the University of California, Mark Yudof said, “The tests did not significantly help forecast college  performance”. Colleges may find them helpful, but are not definitive on how they are so. Bottom line, many of the most competitive colleges still state they require them as they can “enhance a candidate’s credentials”.


What are the SAT Subject Tests?

Tests are available in the following:

  • English Literature,
  • History (U.S. or World),
  • Language (Chinese, French, Hebrew, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Spanish or German),
  • Math (Level 1 or Level 2). (See Charles’ post from last week about comparing Level 1 and Level 2)
  • and Science (Biology-Ecological, Biology-Molecular, Chemistry or Physics)

Language tests can either be written only or written with listening. The dates for a particular language test may vary. Check out the College Board website.

NOTE: Students should take a subject test only in areas they excel in and that typically correlate their with AP courses.


How many SAT Subject Tests can your teen take?

Students may as many as three Subject Tests in one sitting. Students are allowed to change the number of tests or subject you take with no penalty—except for Language with Listening tests on test day. Only one Biology test can be taken per test date. (On the Biology-Ecological or Biology-Molecular, the first 60 questions are identical. Thus, students can take only one or the other.)


How are the Subject Tests scored?

Each Subject Test is scored on a 200–800 scale, just like the SAT. However, unlike the SAT, a student is penalized ¼ point for each incorrect answer – no random guessing! Your teen needs to be ‘test savvy’ and know when to skip vs. when to make an educated guess. (A student should answer if they are able to eliminate at least two of the options.)

Though the SAT and Subject tests are scored on the same 200–800 scale, your teen should not compare SAT Subject Test scores SAT scores, since Subject Tests are taken by a higher percentage of high-achieving students. For example, a 750 on the math section of the SAT would put you in the 99th percentile, but a 750 on the SAT Math Level 2 Subject Test would place your teen only in the 79th percentile. Likewise, for the SAT Chemistry Subject Test, a 750 only ranks at the 82nd percentile.  Generally speaking, relative to the SAT, a student can miss more questions and get a higher score.

What’s considered a ‘good’ SAT Subject Test scores?

Depending on the school, many are pleased with scores of 650 or higher, but highly selective schools may need to see a 700 or 750—or even higher —in the case of Math Level 2.

When should your teen take the Subject tests?

Students should take the subject tests in June after their AP tests as there is so much overlapping material. (The new August 26 test date, that could also be a viable option as students would have the time to study.)

So what schools do require the Subject Tests?

Examine the list below to see whether your teen really needs to take these tests. Notice how few actually require them as an absolute for admission consideration (only one local university — George Washington — mentions needing them and only for dual degree programs).

  • Boston University (some programs)
  • Brown University (requires the SAT and ACT with writing and recommend 2 subject tests)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (recommends for specific programs)
  • Cooper Union(some programs)
  • Cornell University(some programs)
  • Dartmouth College(recommended, not required)
  • Duke University(strongly recommended)
  • George Washington University(required for some dual degree programs only)
  • Harvard University(strongly recommended)
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Notre Dame (Indiana) (home schooled applicants must take 3 SAT II or AP exams)
  • New York University (NYU) ( SAT, ACT, IB or AP exams can substitute for SAT Subject Tests)
  • Princeton University(strongly recommended)
  • Rice University(not required if submitting the ACT)
  • Renasselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) (only for accelerated programs in law or medicine)
  • Stevens Institute of Technology (some programs)
  • Swarthmore College(encouraged for engineering applicants)
  • Tufts University(most programs)
  • University of California (the state system 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).
  • University of Pennsylvania (recommended)
  • Vassar College(scores will be considered, but are not required)
  • Washington and Lee University no longer requires them (recommended for home-schooled applicants)
  • Webb Institute
  • Wellesley College
  • Wesleyan University (school is test-optional, but scores are required and used for placement)
  • Yale University(recommended)

Since this list is constantly changing (it was curated last month) please be sure to check with the schools you are applying to.

 So what else can your teen do to dramatically make his/her academic portfolio stand out? Make sure your student has written an amazing college essay!

Resources:, “What Colleges Require SAT Subject Tests”, Alan Grove, July 4, 2016., “SAT Subject Tests “Fading Away’ as Admissions Requirement; Hundreds Of Thousands Fewer Exams Administered”, July 27, 2016

If your teen’s schools are on the above list, call us now to help prepare for the Literature and/or Math I/IIC Subject Tests. Most students need 2-4 lessons of review for a Subject Test.

We can also work with your teen to write an essay that will not be ignored!



The next 3 students who sign up BEFORE 4.30.17, will receive a $75 discount when prepaying for a minimum of 16 hours. (New students only.)


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