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Why Your Student Should Take SAT Subject Tests after AP/IB Exams

At the beginning of May, AP and IB testing will start. While most students take these exams because they have prepared for them throughout the school year, they may not know that they have positioned themselves well for taking the SAT Subject Tests.

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). The question is, why should your student worry about the SAT Subject Tests? Won’t the universities that they apply to see SAT/ACT scores, AP/IB scores, GPA, and rank?

Colleges usually base their admissions decisions on what’s called “holistic review,” so any time your student can brag about themselves, or show that they have what it takes to excel at college, they should do so. SAT Subject Tests, in other words, are another important piece of information that sets them apart from the competition.

But, really, how much do the SAT Subject Tests matter? It will depend on which colleges your student is 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. In all cases, SAT Subject Tests add substance where it may lack.

For example, let’s say your student wants to study pre-medicine, so they take AP Biology and get a 3 on the AP exam. 3 -- not a bad score, but not a great one either. Thankfully, students self-report AP scores, so they can choose to send off a 3 or not. Honestly, a 3 won't be enough to show how "pre-med smart" your student is.

So what should your student do to illustrate that they are a biology whiz-kid? Easy. They sign up for the Biology M (Molecular Biology) SAT Subject Test, study hard, and get a score somewhere in the 700-800 range. (Ideally, they get a score that’s 750 or higher.) Now your student has a standardized test score to illustrate their brilliance.

Of course, your student needs to register for the SAT Subject Test(s) much earlier than they will see their AP scores. So, why should they commit to taking AP/IB exams in May and then SAT Subject Tests in June, when they are offered?

The great part about SAT Subject Tests is that their content overlaps with AP/IB exams. Instead of having unique formats and question types (like SAT and ACT), SAT Subject Tests are based more on general knowledge.

For example, the regular SAT has a Critical Reading section which mostly includes questions about details in the passage. However, the SAT Literature Subject Test quizzes students on literary devices, poetry comprehension, and rhetorical strategies--all concepts that are assessed on AP/IB exams.

This overlap means that little extra work is necessary to do well on the SAT Subject Tests, which are already rather generous with their scoring (you can miss a handful of questions on the SAT Literature Subject Test, for example, and still get a perfect 800 score).

Still not sure if your student should commit to SAT Subject Tests? The general advice to any student who plans on applying to top-tier or highly competitive colleges is that they should do as much as possible to demonstrate aptitude in the area that they are applying to. If your student wants to be a doctor, they should rack up as many science-related high scores as possible. If your student wants to be an engineer, they should ace math exams to show their mathematical mind.

If your student is already planning on taking AP or IB exams, it should be an easy choice to register for the June SAT Subject Tests. After all, your student is simply extending the studying that they have already done for just two or three more weeks and taking a similarly formatted test. And they can give themselves an extra boost and even a safety net for proving that they are masters of their desired major.

In the ever-competitive world of college admissions, taking both tests is one of the simpler decisions your student will make. They should do it and have zero regrets.

Once you've registered for your SAT Subject Tests, the next step is to prepare! Thankfully, we can help you do your best on SAT Subject Tests (and even AP/IB exams). Our tutors can help you be the most confident when June arrives.

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