Five questions to consider when registering for SAT Subject Tests


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Standardized testing is an unavoidable part of applying to college. From beginning with the PSAT in sophomore year to finishing the last AP test of senior year, most if not all high school students take more than one standardized test during their four years leading up to the big college decision. While choosing between the SAT and ACT is often on students’ minds, deciding which SAT Subject Tests to take at the end of a school year can be a last minute decision with other standardized tests and finals occurring around the same time. SAT Subject Tests are one-hour exams on specific subjects such as biology and U.S. history. They are scored from 200-800 and students can take up to three different exams on a test day. Here are five questions students should ask themselves when debating what to take:

What are your strongest subjects?

Since the exams are subject-specific, it is important to be an expert in the knowledge that they individually test. If a student excels most in STEM subjects, they should showcase their skills on the math and science tests. If their highest grades are in humanities classes, they should demonstrate their knowledge on the literature and history tests. Colleges want to see that scores generally align with academic performance and overall interests expressed in extracurriculars and essays.

Are you currently enrolled or have recently finished the courses?

The fresher the knowledge, the more likely students will do well on a subject test. If a student is finishing up an American history course as a junior, he or she will be better off taking the American history subject test than trying to relearn biology from freshman year. It won’t take any additional studying if a student is simultaneously studying for an AP or final exam. Timing the tests with courses will avoid any reteaching of material and cramming stress.

Do the schools you’re interested in require both a STEM and a humanities test?

Despite obvious academic strengths, many colleges strongly recommend or require that students submit scores from both a STEM test and a humanities test. The suggested STEM test is often Math Level 2, which covers algebra, geometry, trigonometry and elementary functions. However, the biology, chemistry, and physics tests are also typically acceptable in the place of the Math Level 2 test. For the humanities, the US history, world history, literature and foreign language tests fulfill the recommendation or requirement.

Are you close or completely fluent in the foreign language of the test?

SAT Subject Tests in foreign languages may seem like an easy exam to ace if a student has taken a language for 4-5 years and feels confident in his or her speaking, listening, and comprehension abilities. However, what students don’t realize is that the scoring curve is often steep because many native speakers opt to take the tests for their respective languages. This makes it difficult for non-native speakers to achieve the score they want even if they receive a five on an AP language exam and straight As in their language classes.

How much time do you have to dedicate to studying?

No matter what time of the year, there will be a moderate to significant amount of studying required to proficient score on any of the SAT Subject Tests. With academics, extracurriculars, volunteering, jobs and other obligations, studying for standardized tests is often pushed to the bottom of a student’s to-do list. It’s important to think about how much time there is until the test and whether relearning an entire subject or even reviewing the year’s current material is feasible to achieve the desired score.

If your child still can’t decide on what subject tests to take or when to take them and to get more understanding around all aspects of the college admissions process, sign up for a 1-hour consultation.

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