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Ask the Experts: SAT Subject Tests

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Question Should I only take the tests in subjects that I excel at and avoid the subjects where i do not do as well? - john

AnswerYou should take a test in any subject where you can show mastery. No college requires more than three SAT Subject Tests, and most require none. However, if you can do well on four or six or one subject test, then you should sit for the exams. They will often help with course placement and even credit once you enter college. Take a few practice tests prior to taking any exam, and if you are scoring in the 600s for example, you should strongly consider taking the test.

 

Question Is it okay to only take one or two tests or should you try to take each subject area?  Also, can i take the same subject test multiple times? - haiyun

AnswerThe selective colleges that require SAT Subject Tests often suggest a math and then one or two other exams, such as a science or history or language. Again, if you can do well in several areas, you should try the tests. Yes, you can retake the tests, and colleges will usually use your highest score for evaluation purposes.

 

Question which SAT II's are the best to take?  I was planning on taking spanish because this year i will be finishing span 4 honors.  Also should I take US History after finishing AP US History this year? I was also wondering about the SAT II's in science. This year I am in physics honors but wonder if the SAT II will be too hard because my school did not offer AP physics. I know SAT II's differ depending on the selectivity of the school, anyway i would like to attend mostly catholic schools, Providence College, Holy Cross, Catholic University of America, Notre Dame ( a bit hard tho) or St Mary's. Thanks - Kaitlan

AnswerYou will almost certainly be prepared for the American History SAT Subject Test, and should strongly consider that test. We are finding we are recommending to many AP students to take the SAT Subject Tests in May, alongside the AP tests, and then delay the SAT until June, or to take more SAT Subject Tests in June if you have taken the SAT in March. You could try the Spanish, which is a reading only test in the spring, but a reading and listening test in November. You might be prepared for physics, but are right about the fact that it's a hard test which many AP students take. Look at a few practice exams to see if your class has prepared you adequately in each case. Some of the less competitive schools you mentioned don't require SAT Subject Tests, but you should have them for Notre Dame, Holy Cross, or Georgetown, for example.

 

Question I am a HS junior and I took the SAT this past fall and did okay on it. I am a hockey player and i have a couple of colleges that have shown an interest in me. I would like to also show that i am strong academically.  Would taking the subject tests (regardless of my score) help my chances of recruitment? - Jeff

AnswerTaking the subject tests and doing poorly on them could have the reverse effect for you. You could undermine what could be solid grades by getting sub-par SAT Subject Tests. For example, if you are taking a moderately strong curriculum at your high school, and getting Bs and B+s in regular college prep and a few honors classes, including Honors American History and Honors/Accelerated Algebra II, but then take the SAT Subject Test in American History and Math Level I and get 400 or 500 range scores, this could give colleges the sense that you are being graded too easily in your school, and are not learning a lot in your classes.

If the colleges in which you are interested do not require SAT Subject Tests, and you don't think you'll do well on them, then you should consider skipping the tests. Only take those in which you think you can earn a score on par with your SAT. If, on the other hand, some colleges that are recruiting you require SAT Subject Tests, then you'll need to take them, almost regardless of your scores, in order to fulfill entrance requirements so as to be eligible for recruiting.

 

Question I'm a 9th grade student in high school in California. I have signed up to take the SAT II in Biology. My teacher (I'm in Honors Biology) is encouraging students to take the SAT II. I'm worried that I won't get a good score. I'm expecting to get in the high 600s-low 700s. My teacher says that's OK, if I get a bad score, then I can take the SAT II again after AP Biology. The earliest I can take AP Biology at my school is in 11th grade, and I'm not sure if I want to take AP Biology. Also, I don't want the colleges to see my bad score if I do score bad on the SAT II in Biology. What do you think I should do?- Jeffrey

AnswerYou should take at least one practice test. If you score in the high 600s or above, then take the test. That's a strong score, especially for a student taking only freshman biology. You will be glad later to have this test in place, and more so if you don't take the AP Biology. If you do take the AP, you can retake the SAT Subject Test, and the AP exam as well, and colleges will look at those scores as better measures of your bio knowledge. If you don't take bio, you'll have put a solid score in your portfolio which you can rely on.

 

Question Hi. I am currently a junior and plan to study neuroscience in college. In order to fulfill the 3 SAT II requirements of certain colleges, I am planning to take the biology and math IIc subject tests in June. I already took the chemistry subject test last year. Is it ok that none of my subject tests are in the humanities? Do colleges want to see variety in the subject tests that you take or does it not matter? - Lisa

AnswerParticularly given your interests, it is very appropriate for you to submit two science and one math SAT Subject Tests. Because writing has been incorporated into the SAT, colleges will be less concerned about seeing more balance in the subjects, especially if you are headed toward the sciences. If you think you can do well, you could try to add another SAT Subject Test in the fall, such as Literature or a foreign language, but this is not a necessity. If you could do well on them, it would indeed show more balance and add strength to your application.

 

Question Q1. Should a student select MATH 1 or Math II for SAT II?  Although she finished Pre-calculus/Trigonmetry in her 11th grade, Math is not her strong subject. She may get a poor score in MATH II. She has taken AP courses in Biology, History, and Psychology.

Q2. How many courses should she select for SAT II? So far, she is planning to take two in October (MATH I or II, and Biology). - Naseem

AnswerNo college requires more than three SAT Subject Tests, but a number of the more selective colleges and universities do ask for two or three. Thus, it is best to prepare for three by the end of senior fall. Should a student take more than three? Yes, if she can do well (in the same range as her other test scores) on more, she should take more and further demonstrate the strength of her curriculum and preparation.

As far as Math Level 1 or 2, the Level 2 is harder, but many students finishing pre-calc find it easier because it emphasizes material they have encountered more recently (Algebra II  over Geometry, for example). She should look at practice tests, and talk with her math teacher about which test seems best for her. Don't worry too much about the percentile scores, which are thrown off significantly on these tests, especially on the Math Level 2. If she can do reasonably well on the Level 2, it will be preferred by the more selective colleges.

 

Question I plan to take German language as one of the SAT II subject areas. What is the difficulty level of the test - eg "zertificat" level, "mittelstufe" level or above? Do you know of prep book(s) to practice for the SAT II German language test? thanks in advance - Yannis

AnswerThe SAT Subject Tests for languages are based on a "working knowledge" of the language rather than a high level of fluency. The tests are multiple choice and most of the questions relate to fundamental language structure and proper grammar usage. Thus, we would describe the German exam as somewhere between certificate and middle level. You can review for the test with workbooks. Vile gluck!!

 

Question According to the SAT subject test prep book, it is recommended to take the SAT Science Subject tests immediatly after the courses. This would be after one year of a intro course at a college prep-level. Do they mean to take the test after Honors chem, bio, & physics or do they mean after AP chem, bio, & physics? - Brittany

AnswerWe can understand where this recommendation as stated in a review book is somewhat confusing. Here is what we suggest as guideline: You should take the SAT Subject Test at the conclusion of the introductory level subject, especially so if the course is at the honors level. What most students do not understand is that you can retake a subject test a year or two later if you have completed an AP level course in the same subject. This has been the case for many science- and math-oriented students. If you score well on a subject test the first time (after the introductory level course) then leave well enough alone. If after taking an AP level course you feel you can improve your score then retake the test.

 

Question I've been trying to figure out which SAT II my daughter should take. Any math/science test is out (not her strength). She's taking AP American History next year (junior year) so I'm thinking that she'll probably well prepared for the Am. History SAT II. She's strong in English and will be taking Spanish 4 next year. So English Literature and Spanish are also possibilities. However, I've heard that the Spanish language test is very difficult for all but native speakers. I can't find any info on the degree of difficulty for the English literature test. I appreciate any info you have on the difficulty of these tests. She'd like to attend a small, liberal arts school (her interest is film) -- I don't know if that makes a difference in selecting which test to take. Also, should she prep for these tests as well? Thanks. - diane

AnswerGood questions. The SAT Subject Tests are good ways to show content knowledge in particular areas. Though most colleges do not require them, many of the more selective ones, especially the smaller liberal arts colleges, do ask for two or three. Math or science is usually not required, so taking two or three humanities-oriented tests is fine. American History sounds like an obvious choice. The literature test is good for those with strengths in reading comprehension and analysis. If your daughter is doing well on the Critical Reading portion of the SAT, then the Literature could work well for her. She can find practice tests and information about that and other subject tests on this site. The Spanish is tough for non-native speakers. If she is going to take Spanish senior year as well, she could wait to try it in November (when it is a reading and listening test, if aural comprehension is a strength) or December.

 

Question In the case of the SAT Subject Test, I would like to write a test in Mathematics and Physics. Now in Mathematics there two levels  Mathematics level -1c and Mathematics level -2c, Do i have two write Test in both the levels or i can opt for only one level? - priya

AnswerYou can try both, or pick one. The Math Level 2 (formerly IIC) supersedes the Math Level 1 (formerly IC). That is, if you take the Level 2 and do well on it, the Level 1 is basically no longer relevant. Take the Level 2 if you are at least through pre-calculus and math is a strong subject for you.

 

Question I have had 3 years of Spanish at the high school and 2 years in middle school. I am currently enrolled in Spanish level 4, which is an honors level class (after Spanish 3 languages switch from regular to honors in my school). I was wondering if you think I am well enough prepared for the SAT II in Spanish. I am looking at schools like Wake Forest and Franklin and Marshall, so I don't want to do badly. What would you say is a good score for these schools? An okay one? When I take a few practice tests what score should I aim for if I want to take the test? Thanks for your advice - Stephanie

AnswerYou have completed enough Spanish to fulfill colleges' entrance requirements, Stephanie, but it is tough to say whether you are prepared for the SAT Subject Test. Many native Spanish speakers and students completing AP Spanish or Spanish through level 4 or 5 will take the test. We find very few Spanish III students feel well enough prepared to take it. Certainly taking some practice tests makes the most sense for you to see how you might do.

A good score? Definitely something about 600, and for the schools you are considering, more in the mid-600s (especially if you are getting B's or above in honors level classes). If you are taking Spanish 4 next fall, you might consider delaying the SAT Subject Test until November (when it is a reading and listening test) or December, regardless of whether that is in time to be considered for a first round ED application.

 

Question Do you have any advice on the SAT Subject Tests. Is it advisable to take 3 on one day? Are there some that are generally easier than others, etc. If you take more than what the school applying to requires do you get to choose what tests to send or do the schools see all that you take? Any other advice would be appreciated. - ann

AnswerYou raise a very important and practical question that all students should take under consideration. We always counsel students to take no more than two subject tests in one test date if possible. Plan your testing schedule so that you are the most prepared for each subject test and then take it in the spring of junior year or fall of senior year. May and June are the usual test dates for juniors and November and December for seniors. No college or university in the country requires more than three different tests and many require only two since the writing portion has been added to the SAT.

The present policy is that the College Board will send all of a student's test results. There is no opportunity to send only those you choose. Colleges will consider positively a second score if a student retakes a subject test and improves his or her score.

You should look at some of the SAT Subject Test review books to determine which subjects you are most prepared for. There is no easier subject test; you should take those subjects in which you are most prepared and comfortable with.

 

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