Some students have never heard of the SAT Subject Tests and others take five or six in an effort to impress college admissions officers. In reality, most students need to take two to three SAT Subject Tests. Having helped thousands of students get into college, we find this is one of the top 5 questions students ask, especially high school juniors and seniors.
What are SAT II Subject Tests?
Subject Tests are 1 hour long multiple-choice tests that focus on a specific subject. They are more academic than the SAT I and usually we recommend students to take them after an AP/IB/Honors course in that respective field. The timing is often in May or June of that year. We highly recommend June because students have finished studying for finals and the AP or IB tests by then, and just have to retain the knowledge.
What Do the Colleges Require?
Many schools actually do not require the tests – but because so many students take them, we always recommend students to take these. Even if you are a high school senior, we recommend taking at least one SAT II Subject Test to show academic proficiency.
If you are taking the ACT, some colleges like Yale require the SAT II. Many schools like to see proficiency on a “SAT like” exam so they can standardize their academic weighting internally. Students are at no disadvantage of taking the ACT test because of this.
Some schools like Northeastern require 2 Subject Tests for homeschooled children, and we often send these to all schools for those cases. Others like Stanford recommend them, but from anecdotal experience every colleague had taken them during our time there.
Take two tests and a third as a backup. Very few programs actually consider a third Subject Test, and even if they do, it is for a few moments. Most admissions counselors can get a sense of academic strength from the unweighted GPA, SAT/ACT, and school difficulty. A fourth or fifth test will not help your chances. We often see high-achievers try to take more in an effort to gain an edge. We say: spend that time building on a passion or activity you already have. At that point, your story and essays are what matter, so start introspectively reflecting.
Another point to consider is that some schools want to see all attempts. Unlike SAT I, we can select which tests are sent to different colleges. Yale is infamous for wanting to see all attempts.
The Subject Tests are important and often recommended. We require all of our 9th through 11th grade students to take at least 2 Subject Tests. For homeschooled students, it is a must to show proficiency. With high achievers, there is no case where you need more than 3 Subject Tests above 750 – you have proven your point there. For those with middling SAT/ACT or GPA, have two strong SAT II Subject Test scores, they can make up a lot. Especially at schools like Duke which strongly consider test scores, they can help you. Below is a chart with many universities, their SAT II requirements, and links to their official website.
P.S. If you liked this article, please read this one on how GPA affects college admissions.
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