The SAT Subject Test Plan

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In 2017, the College Board adjusted their calendar of SAT test dates, eliminating the January date and replacing it with an August date. August 25, 2018 will be the second August SAT test date. And it is becoming one of the most popular test dates for students to take their SAT Subject Tests.

            Other than in March, the most popular SAT date for high school juniors, the SAT test dates are also SAT Subject Test dates. High school students can register with College Board to take one, two, or three of the twenty hour-long Subject Tests on the same date and in adjacent classrooms to their peers taking the SAT. While a majority of students applying to college don’t need to worry about the SAT Subject Tests, students applying to prestigious and highly competitive colleges and universities, or highly competitive programs inside less challenging colleges and universities, should take at least two SAT Subject Tests as part of their college admissions process.

            Although the information will fluctuate from school year to school year, it appears that approximately 30 of the most competitive universities in the United States currently require the SAT Subject Tests for admissions. Dozens more, though, recommend that students submit at least two SAT Subject Tests, and hundreds more than that will consider SAT Subject Tests as supplemental data points in the admissions process. Additionally, there are now dozens are colleges and universities advertising themselves as “test-flexible”, meaning that a student can submit a combination of SAT Subject Test and Advanced Placement (AP)/International Baccalaureate (IB) scores in lieu of an SAT or ACT score. Even though fewer colleges and universities than ever before require the SAT Subject Test, it appears that more and more schools are opting to use Subject Test scores in the admissions process.

            Numerous tutoring companies and education bloggers waste hours trying to track which schools require, request, and consider SAT Subject Tests. The most comprehensive list appears on College Board’s own website, however, the College Board purposefully refuses to acknowledge the difference between the concepts of “required”, “requested”, or “considered”.

            We recommend that any student applying to any college or university that even considers SAT Subject Test scores should take at least two of them. The more information a student can provide to admissions officers, the better. The more an admissions officer gets to know a student, the more that admissions officer will care about accepting that student or not. Subject Tests can help paint a more detailed picture of a student’s academic achievements, and allows the student more latitude in discussing non-academic matters in college application essays, supplemental essays, and other writing samples.

            Traditionally, the most popular test dates for the SAT Subject Tests were the May and June SAT dates. The SAT Subject Tests in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, US History, and World History match up fairly well with the curricula of their respective classes at the honors, AP, or IB levels. I also recommend to students that if they are completing the year in an honors, AP, or IB level class in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, US History, or World History, even if it is freshman year, they should take the Subject Test in that subject. May and June are the months when students are already taking finals or the AP and IB exams, so they are already reviewing the material that will appear on the SAT Subject Tests.

            The SAT Subject Tests in Math Level 1, Math Level 2, Literature, and the languages tend to cover material from multiple years in high school, although still at the honors or AP/IB levels. It is less important in which month a student takes the Subject Tests in these areas, however, data shows that most students still take these Subject Tests most often in May or June of their junior year.

            Now that there is an August test date, may students are choosing to take the Subject Tests then, after the pressure of finals and exams has abated, but when the information learned during the school year is still relatively fresh. For extremely busy students, this may turn out to be the best plan, especially if these students plan ahead and review the material over summer, whether on their own or utilizing the services of a tutor.

            One last thing to consider when crafting an SAT Subject Test plan is which tests to take. Most colleges and universities want students to submit scores from tests that are in different topical areas. For example, a university will generally not accept scores from the Math Level 1 test and the Math Level 2 test. In fact, that hypothetical university would take the better of those two scores and then want a score from a completely different test such as one of the science tests, Literature, or a history test. Many students plan ahead for this by taking three different Subject Tests and letting the colleges choose which two scores they will consider.

            Luckily, just like the SAT or the ACT, students can take an SAT Subject Test more than once, especially if a student is looking to hit a certain score in hopes of applying to a particular college. SAT Subject Test scores, like their SAT and ACT counterparts, are no guarantee of admission anywhere, but maximizing these scores can open possibilities students previously thought out of reach.