SAT Subject Tests Explained

You've probably heard of SAT Subject Tests, but what exactly are they? And how do they affect your college applications? Here's a quick breakdown!

Founder, Moon Prep

Originally Posted: Nov 6, 2018
Last Updated: Nov 6, 2018

The SAT is one of the most well-known—and perhaps one of the most dreaded—college admission tests. A little less infamous are SAT Subject Tests, previously called “Scholastic Achievement Tests” or SAT II. Some colleges, especially Ivy League and other selective institutions, require or recommend that you take SAT Subject Tests, especially if you’re applying for particular courses or programs. 

What are SAT Subject Tests?

SAT Subject Tests include 20 subjects in five general subject areas. The tests are just one hour long and multiple choice. They focus on individual subjects and will test your understanding of the overall material of a specific subject learned throughout your academic career. They are scored between 200–800 points. The five main disciplines are English, history, languages, mathematics, and science, and each of these categories has at least one subcategory option to test in. 

Related: Introduction to SAT Subject Tests

Subcategories for SAT Subject Tests include:

  • English: Literature
  • History: US history, world history
  • Languages: Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese (Some will have an option to test listening comprehension and might require additional equipment.)
  • Mathematics: Level 1—college preparatory, including algebra and geometry; Level 2—all subjects from Level 1, plus trigonometry and pre-calculus
  • Science: Biology (either ecological or microbiological), chemistry, physics

SAT Subject Test will measure your readiness for college-level courses, and your scores can be an essential piece of your college application. The tests are designed to measure knowledge in specific areas, so colleges can decide if you can be exempt from certain basic course requirements. However, no matter how well you do, you are not able to earn college credits for performance on an SAT Subject Test.

Signing up

Registration and test dates vary year to year, so it’s essential that you check the College Board’s website early to make sure you don’t miss a deadline. SAT Subject Tests are offered six times a year and correspond with the dates of the SAT, with one exception (as the Subject Tests aren’t available in March). Not every subject is available each testing date, so plan accordingly. Fees are also applicable but can be waived for students from low-income families in some cases.

Why take a Subject Test?

SAT Subject Tests are not tied to any particular course on your transcript; instead, they can be used to emphasize abilities that are most relevant to your experiences and what you plan on studying in college. For example, if you already have a major or program in mind, taking a Subject Test in that subject matter can showcase your qualifications or help colleges decide your course placement.

Related: How to Navigate Standardized Testing During the College Application Process

Before preparing for an SAT Subject Test, check the requirements of each school you’re applying to, then choose the test you think will best demonstrate your talents and interests. Even if your prospective schools don’t require them, you might want to consider taking two or three tests. It can show your willingness to advance in your intended field and help you stand out from the crowded playing field of applications.

International, multilingual or ESL, and homeschooled students might benefit from taking SAT Subject Tests even if they aren’t required. It can validate your experiences and ensure that you’ve learned the same material as other students who attended a more traditional US high school.

Not all tests are created equal

Don’t confuse the SAT Subject Tests with Advanced Placement (AP) tests, as they are very different tests. SAT Subject Tests are used as a baseline for a student’s understanding of the subject material from high school and don’t count toward college credit. AP tests will cover college-level material, and you may receive college credit if you score well.

Related: Standardized Test Timeline for High School Students: What to Take and When?

Work SAT Subject Tests to your advantage. Whether they’re required or not, they can be a great asset to your transcript. Be selective in showcasing your skills, experiences, and interests so you can use them to help your college application stand out as much as possible.

Still curious about SAT Subject Tests or the SAT in general? Check out our Test Prep section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

admission tests sat SAT II sat subject tests standardized tests Subject Tests

About Kristen Moon

Kristen Moon is an independent college counselor and founder of Moon Prep provides one-on-one tutoring services catered to university admission. They guide students through the entire application process, including completing applications, personal statements, supplemental essays, student résumés, scholarships, and financial aid. Their specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

College Matches