SAT Subject Tests are the annoying siblings of the regular SAT test (i.e., the one with Critical Reading, Writing, Math, and an optional essay). And sure, you can ignore the SAT Subject Tests (just like you probably, at times, ignore your siblings), but ultimately you have to accept that these tests are just as much as part of your college admissions future as any other standardized test.
[If you have never heard of SAT Subject Tests or aren’t really sure what they’re all about and how they differ from the regular SAT, then learn more about the differences between SAT and SAT Subject Tests.]
The question is, why should you worry about the SAT Subject Tests? Won’t the universities that you apply to see SAT/ACT scores, AP/IB scores, GPA, and rank? How many test scores and grades are required to get admitted?
First, know that you’re not just a number floating in some Orwellian college application nightmare.
Second, remember that colleges usually base their admissions decisions on what’s called holistic review, so any time you can brag about yourself, or show that you have what it takes to excel at college, you should do so.
SAT Subject Tests, in other words, are another important piece of information to set yourself apart from the competition.
But, really, how much do they matter?
It will depend on which colleges you are applying to. In some cases, the SAT Subject Tests are required. In other cases, they are recommended or considered helpful indications of potential college performance. And there are, of course, colleges that don’t require the tests and show little concern in whether you submit scores or not.
Since it’s clear that the SAT Subject Tests aren’t really an “it” factor when it comes to what admissions officers use to determine acceptances, rejections, deferments, and waitlists, these scores won’t make or break an application.
Yet ... they'll add substance where it may lack.
For example, let’s say you want to study pre-medicine, so you take AP Biology and get a 3 on the AP exam. 3 -- not a bad score, but not a great one either. As I said a few weeks ago, you self-report AP scores, so you can choose to send off your 3 or not.
You know that your 3 won't be enough to show how "pre-med smart" you know you are. So what do you do to illustrate that you are a biology whiz-kid?
Easy. You sign up for the Biology M (Molecular Biology) SAT Subject Test, study hard, and get a score somewhere in the 700-800 range. (Ideally, you get a score that’s 750 or higher.)
Now you have a standardized test score to illustrate your brilliance.
So it's strategizing time!
What is your best option to ensure that at least one of the exams -- AP or SAT Subject Test -- is high enough to report proudly?
You take the AP Exam in May and then take the SAT Subject Test in June. By lining up your tests in this manner, you can reduce the gap between studying for one and then the other.
If you want to see if you do well on the AP exams before committing to SAT Subject Tests, remember that you have to take the AP tests in May, but you could take your SAT Subject Tests at other times of the year, including August and October, but those times would be less ideal. (Do you honestly want to juggle studying for SAT Subject Tests, applying to colleges, and studying for your senior-year classes? Didn't think so.)
Still not sure if you should commit to SAT Subject Tests?
The general advice to any student who plans on applying to top-tier or highly competitive schools is that you should do as much as possible to demonstrate aptitude in the area that you are applying to.
If you want to be a doctor, rack up as many science-related high scores as possible. If you want to be an engineer, ace math exams to show your mathematical mind.
Sure, it takes time. It costs money. It gets boring. But it’s all part of the process. And it’s better to think that you did everything you could to get accepted than second-guess your chances because you opted out of a test.
Do everything you can on your end, and let the admissions officers decide. And make it hard on them. Make them feel agony for even thinking of rejecting you.
See. Those annoying "siblings" of the SAT aren’t so annoying after all.
Embrace the process.
Planning on taking SAT Subject Tests? Need more help brushing up on challenging math and science material? Want to refresh on literary devices? Still don’t quite know the subjunctive mood in Spanish? Check out our SAT Subject Test subject areas and schedule 1:1 or group classes before they get booked!