What were SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests™ were subject-based standardized tests that were separate from the SAT® Suite of Assessments. Each Subject Test examined your understanding of material taught in school. SAT Subject Tests are no longer offered in the U.S., and will be discontinued internationally in June 2021.
There were 20 available tests and each student could take up to three SAT Subject Tests on a single test day. The College Board grouped 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 contained two choices: Mathematics Level 1 and Mathematics Level 2. Both Subject Tests consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions, but the material covered by each test was different.
Math Level 1 encompassed college-prep-level algebra and geometry.
Math Level 2 incorporated most subjects covered in Math Level 1 and added precalculus and trigonometry to the mix. Math Level 2 explored content covered in the Math Level 1 test in more depth. For example, Math Level 1 algebra consisted mainly of basic algebraic equations, while Math Level 2 could include logarithmic and trigonometric equations.
Choosing between these tests was easy. If you had taken precalculus or trigonometry, or both, and scored a B or higher, you were ready for Math Level 2. If you were not comfortable with precalculus or trigonometry, you were better off taking Math Level 1.
You could use a calculator during the test, but it needed 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 included Biology-M (Molecular), Biology-E (Ecological), Chemistry, and Physics. The tests had 75–85 multiple-choice questions.
Biology-E focused on biological populations. Topics like nutrient cycles and energy flow were more common than other subjects. Biology-M focused more on biological chemistry, such as cell respiration and photosynthesis. Neither test was objectively more difficult.
For an excellent overview of subject topics, check out the Khan Academy SAT Subject Test Practice: Biology playlist on YouTube.
The Chemistry Subject Test evaluated your mastery of college-level chemistry. It covered atomic structure, molecular structure, and your ability to understand lab test data. The test required 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 contained 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 were 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 gauged your understanding of major literary works throughout the English canon. It covered a range of 17th–20th-century American and British authors. A few foreign author entries were included, but the text must have been written in English first to make it onto the test. The test covered prose and poetry, and possibly drama or another genre.
The exam was composed of 60 multiple-choice questions that could be broken up into six to eight passage sections. Each section focused on a single excerpt, followed by questions about its grammar, historical relevance, or meaning.
Reading 17th–20th-century literature encountered in your English coursework would give you a solid foundation of the test's content.
History SAT Subject Tests
The U.S. History Subject Test covered pre-Columbian American history up to the present day. It focused 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 focused on societies ranging from prehistory to 1,900 CE. The test broke 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 constituted roughly a quarter of the content. A few of the test questions asked you to interpret primary source material, such as an old text. These interpretation questions usually added up to about 7 of the 95 test questions.
Both the U.S. History and World History SAT Subject Tests required foundational knowledge in interpreting graphs, data analysis, and geography. To do well, you would 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 offered the most diverse test choices in this list of SAT Subject Tests. There were versions for Korean, Latin, Modern Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish, and German. The tests were 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 could be taken in one of two varieties—Listening and Without Listening. Spanish, French, and German fall into this category. This listening test required students to answer prerecorded questions from an audio track. The choice between taking the listening and non-listening variants was a matter of student preference. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests had a mandatory listening component, while Italian, Latin, and Modern Hebrew didn't feature listening at all. The language you chose would depend on your coursework.
Although SAT Subject Tests were offered on six different dates during the school year, not all World Language SAT Subject Tests were available on each date. For example, tests with listening were ONLY available in November. Italian, German (without Listening), and Modern Hebrew were only offered in June.