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SAT Subject Tests: Everything You Need to Know

For many students and parents, the SAT subject tests represent one of the most bewildering aspects of the college admissions process. Few schools have specific requirements regarding these tests—subject tests are optional at many schools, and there are few guidelines regarding which ones (and how many) a student should take—but high scores on multiple SAT subject tests can enhance students’ credentials and increase their likelihood of acceptance to competitive universities.

If a student has demonstrated academic aptitude in any of the subject areas covered by these exams, which include literature, US history, world history, biology, chemistry, physics, math and a variety of languages, it may be a good idea to sign up for a subject test. But where to start?

SAT Subject Tests: Tips For Parents

1. Prepping for an SAT subject test is different from prepping for the regular SAT. Though the math 1 and literature SAT subject tests do overlap with SAT and ACT content, the latter exams require substantially more preparation and practice than any of the subject tests. The subject tests don’t lend themselves to the same types of “cleverness” (aka smart test-taking strategies) as do the regular SAT or ACT, and they generally require more studying of specific concepts versus rote practice. While a student might take three to six months (or more) to prep for the SAT or ACT, prepping for a subject test should only take a few weeks of hard work and focus.

2. Start thinking about SAT subject tests early. There are two reasons for this. First, it’s best to sit for a subject test immediately after completing that subject in school—so if your child takes biology in 9th grade (and earns high marks), he or she would be smart to take a biology subject test immediately afterwards. Second, students will be extremely busy with extracurriculars, SAT/ACT test prep, college visits and homework by the time they reach 11th grade. Piling two or more extra standardized tests onto an already substantial workload is likely to diminish a student’s performance in at least one of those crucial areas. Why add extra stress to 11th grade, when it’s possible to stretch subject tests out throughout the course of a high school career?

3. Subject tests are especially important for students who are homeschooled, or enrolled in progressive schools that do not assign grades. If your student is homeschooled or enrolled in a gradeless school, colleges will not have a clear metric with which to judge his or her academic performance. By taking subject tests, that student can demonstrate academic prowess—even without grades.

4. SAT subject test scores range from 200 to 800, but students aiming for competitive schools and programs should set their goals at 700 or higher. Since most people are taking tests in their areas of expertise, score tend to range high. For example, students applying to math and engineering programs at top-tier universities frequently boast perfect 800 scores on the math 2 SAT subject test. If this is truly a student’s best subject, 770 or higher is an attainable goal.

5. In terms of content and difficulty, SAT subject tests mimic final exams. A student who earns high marks in a class (particularly one that is honors level or advanced in some way), will likely earn a high score on the accompanying SAT subject test. So, if your child earns consistent A’s in history and science, those are the subject tests to focus on. If he or she struggles to earn a B on a pre-calculus final, it’s a good idea to skip the math 2 test.

By Noodle Pros

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