SAT Subject Tests: The Basics

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Gelyna Price
Gelyna Price

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Your scores on either the SAT or the ACT are one of the major factors in your college application. Despite their similar purpose, they have some significant differences that mean that one may be a better choice for you than the other. In order to help you make the best decision, we’ll review the SAT subject tests basics. With this information, you can make the best choice for you.

One of the most noteworthy differences, and one that you may not immediately realize, is that the SAT is actually a test in two parts. The main part of the test contains sections on Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. Any other subjects that the SAT addresses are covered in the Subject Tests.

What Are the SAT Subject Tests?

Formerly known as Achievement Tests or the SAT II, SAT Subject Tests are (as the name implies) designed to test your knowledge and skills in a particular subject.

Each Subject Test consists of 20 multiple-choice questions, which you have one hour to answer. All of the questions in each test are geared toward the particular subject of that test; you won’t find general math or reading questions mixed in, as those were covered in the SAT.

You aren’t able to take the SAT Subject Tests on the same day as you take the SAT, because they occur at the same time. However, on the day that you decide to take your Subject Tests, you may take up to three tests due to their shorter length than the SAT.

What Are the Subject Options?

SAT Subject Tests are available for a wide range of subjects in various categories, as follows. 

  • English: Literature.
  • Foreign languages: Chinese, French, German, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Spanish. (Bolded languages are available with or without a listening component, and italicized languages are only available with a listening component.)
  • History: U.S. History, World History.
  • Mathematics: Mathematics Level 1 (algebra and geometry), Mathematics Level 2 (everything in Level 1, with the addition of precalculus and trigonometry).
  • Science: Biology Ecological, Biology Molecular, Chemistry, Physics.

Should I Take the SAT Subject Tests?

Before asking whether you “should” take the tests, check the requirements for the colleges you may want to attend. At many schools, you have no choice; if you took the SAT, you also need to take SAT Subject Tests. The schools will also specify whether you need to take particular tests; some may require a math test, for example.

If your schools do require SAT Subject Tests, make a list of the tests required by all the schools. For example, if one requires a math test, one requires a foreign language test, and two require at least three SAT Subject Tests, you can take care of all the requirements at once by taking math, a foreign language, and one other test of your choice.

If SAT Subject Tests aren’t necessary, you may wish to take them anyway. This is particularly true if you have strengths shown in these tests but not by the main portion of the SAT. For example, if you’re brilliant at chemistry, you can show this off to prospective colleges by taking the relevant SAT Subject Test.


A note for students who took (or are planning to take) the ACT: SAT Subject Tests may be a requirement, or a good idea, even without taking the SAT. Some colleges require one or more of the SAT Subject Tests, regardless of your choice between the SAT and the ACT for your main test. Even if they are not a requirement, they can still help you demonstrate your strengths, just as they can for students who took the SAT!

Today we discussed the SAT subject tests basics, but if you want to dig deeper, reach out to us today.

Questions? Let us know!