What are SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests™ are subject-based standardized tests that are separate from the SAT® Suite of Assessments. Each Subject Test examines your understanding of material you've been taught in school. The best way you can prepare is with coursework and practice materials. Fortunately, you're allowed to pick which SAT Subject Tests you take, so you can alter your course load accordingly if you plan early enough. A high score on an SAT Subject Test enhances your college application and can tip the chances of admission in your favor.
There are 20 available tests so you have many options and each student can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on a single test day. The College Board groups SAT Subject Tests into five main categories: Math, Science, English, History, and Languages.
The Complete List of SAT Subject Tests
Math SAT Subject Tests
The Math category contains two choices: Mathematics Level 1 and Mathematics Level 2. Both Subject Tests consist of 50 multiple-choice questions, but the material covered by each test is different.
Math Level 1 encompasses college-prep-level algebra and geometry.
Math Level 2 incorporates most subjects covered in Math Level 1 and adds precalculus and trigonometry to the mix. Math Level 2 explores content covered in the Math Level 1 test in more depth. For example, Math Level 1 algebra consists mainly of basic algebraic equations, while Math Level 2 can include logarithmic and trigonometric equations.
Choosing between these tests is easy. If you've taken precalculus or trigonometry, or both, and scored a B or higher, you're ready for Math Level 2 If you're not comfortable with precalculus or trigonometry, you’re better off taking Math Level 1.
You can use a calculator during the test, but it needs to be on a list of approved devices. Check out this list of acceptable calculator models before buying a calculator or bringing one you already own.
Science SAT Subject Tests
The Science Subject Tests include Biology-M (Molecular), Biology-E (Ecological), Chemistry, and Physics. The tests have 75–85 multiple-choice . Each test focuses on different .
Biology-E focuses on biological populations. Topics like nutrient cycles and energy flow are more common than other subjects. Biology-M focuses more on biological chemistry, such as cell respiration and photosynthesis. Neither test is objectively more difficult, so pick whichever you feel more comfortable with or take both.
For an excellent overview of subject topics, check out the Khan Academy SAT Subject Test Practice: Biology playlist on YouTube.
The Chemistry Subject Test evaluates your mastery of college-level chemistry. It covers atomic structure, molecular structure, and your ability to understand lab test data. The test requires some skill in algebra and interpreting graphs. Students should have taken one year of introductory chemistry, including lab experience, and one year of algebra before attempting the Chemistry SAT Subject Test.
For an excellent overview of subject topics, check out the Khan Academy SAT Subject Test Practice: Chemistry playlist on YouTube.
The Physics Subject Test contains 75 multiple-choice questions about major physics concepts, such as thermodynamics, magnetism and electricity, kinematics, and gravity. A one-year college-prep-level course in physics and courses in trigonometry and algebra are recommended before taking the Physics SAT Subject Test.
For an excellent overview of subject topics, check out the Khan Academy SAT Subject Test Practice: Physics playlist on YouTube.
English SAT Subject Test
The Literature SAT Subject Test gauges your understanding of major literary works throughout the English canon. It covers a range of 17th–20th-century American and British authors A few foreign author entries are included, but the text must have been written in English first to make it onto the test. The test covers prose and poetry, and possibly drama or another genre.
The exam is composed of 60 multiple-choice questions that can be broken up into six to eight passage sections. Each section focuses on a single excerpt, followed by questions about its grammar, historical relevance, or meaning.
Reading 17th–20th-century literature encountered in your English coursework will give you a solid foundation of the test's content. Try a few English practice tests to familiarize yourself with the exam layout and types of questions.
History SAT Subject Tests
If you plan to take a history SAT Subject Test, you can choose between U.S. History and World History. Both tests contain 90–95 multiple-choice questions but cover very different topics.
The U.S. History Subject Test covers pre-Columbian American history up to the present day. It focuses heavily on the political and social history of these time frames as well as critical thinking. To prepare, students should focus on material covered in college-prep-level history courses. Extracurricular reading about important U.S. history dates help shore up any weaknesses.
The World History Subject Test focuses on societies ranging from prehistory to 1,900 CE. The test breaks this timespan into four manageable chunks: prehistory to 500 CE, 500 to 1500 CE, 1500 to 1900 CE, and post-1900 CE. Each time period constitutes roughly a quarter of the content. A few of the test questions will ask you to interpret primary source material, such as an old text. Note these interpretation questions usually add up to about 7 of the 95 test questions.
Both the U.S. History and World History SAT Subject Tests require foundational knowledge in interpreting graphs, data analysis, and geography. To do well, you’ll want to take college-prep-level history courses and do significant supplemental reading. Though not expressly aligned, AP World History or AP U.S. History courses would prepare students well.
World Language SAT Subject Tests
The language category offers the most diverse test choices in this list of SAT Subject Tests. There are versions for Korean, Latin, Modern Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish, and German. The tests are arranged in a similar way, with questions about vocabulary, structure (grammar), and reading comprehension each forming roughly a third of the 60 total questions.
Some world language tests can be taken in one of two varieties—Listening and Without Listening. Spanish, French, and German fall into this category. This listening test requires students to answer prerecorded questions from an audio track. The choice between taking the listening and non-listening variants is a matter of student preference. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests have a mandatory listening component, while Italian, Latin, and Modern Hebrew don’t feature listening at all. The language you choose will depend on your coursework.
Although SAT Subject Tests are offered on six different dates during the school year, not all World Language SAT Subject Tests are available on each date. For example, tests with listening are ONLY available in November. Italian, German (without Listening), and Modern Hebrew are only offered in June. Be sure to check the SAT Subject Test dates.
Which SAT Subject Test Should You Take?
You should consider a few factors when making SAT Subject Test plans. First, keep in mind your projected college major and program. Choose a test that's directly related to your future field of study. But don’t take a test if you haven’t completed the related content-area coursework. It’s better to choose a subject you know you can do well in versus risking a mediocre score on a test that more closely aligns with your major. SAT Subject Tests are an opportunity to showcase your knowledge from accumulated coursework and study.
How to Prepare for SAT Subject Tests
Preparation is the key to doing well on the SAT Subject Tests. Your class materials and coursework in the related subject are your primary study source. Take advantage of practice questions and tests available online and in study guides.
Before taking the test, be aware that the SAT Subject Tests use a different grading rubric than the SAT. The tests are scored on a scale from 200 to 800 (higher is better). Depending on the test, different sections account for different percentages of your overall score. Remember, a quarter point is deducted for incorrect answers, so it’s wise to make an educated guess at an answer but skip a question that you’re entirely unsure of.
Colleges with rigorous requirements generally look for a 650 score or above. But a lower grade won’t make or break your chances. A median score of around 500 or 600 is considered good. In fact, many colleges are flexible in their requirements.
If you're anxious about your SAT Subject Test, reading up on what to expect on test day may calm your nerves. Try the practice portal to hone your skills and increase your test knowledge. Alternatively, you can find out which colleges use SAT Subject Tests and how to register for them to get the ball rolling.
If you’re a freshman, SAT Subject Tests may seem a long way off. Even so, it's never too early to start prepping. Many students take the Biology Subject Test in their sophomore year after completing a course in biology. Get a head start by making a list of the SAT Subject Tests you'd like to take and start planning accordingly with the help of a teacher or school counselor.