The majority of colleges require a reasoning test for college admission such as the ACT or SAT and most people are aware of that fact. Therefore, families plan ahead for that eventuality. However, I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve called me in the senior year wanting to apply to a top college and have not taken the knowledge tests that are required – SAT Subject tests. What are they?
SAT Subject Tests
These tests are one hour long and assume a high school level knowledge of particular subjects. They always include a multiple-choice section, but some have unique formats.
They are offered six times a year on the same day as the SAT; however, you must choose between the SAT and SAT Subject tests on a given test date.
Tests are normally administered in:
March (SAT only)
You may take from one to three SAT Subject test in one day, but I only recommend taking one so the student can perform to the best of their ability.
The requirements for SAT Subject tests is always in a state of flux, so always check your target schools as you plan for high school. It is true that many colleges do not require the SAT Subject test, however, there are good reasons to consider taking them.
1. Many top colleges require SAT Subject tests for admission. To keep absolutely every door open for your student, it is wise to keep this in the back of your mind. I’ve seen many students suddenly blossom late in the sophomore year or early in the junior year and decide they want to go to a selective school. Without SAT Subject tests, they won’t be considered. The majority of schools who do require Subject tests require two (but always double check).
2. Even if a college doesn’t require SAT Subject tests, many recommend them. If you are serious about the school, you should consider any recommendation a requirement to be competitive.
3. Strong scores can certainly strengthen any application, especially if your high school is not a well-known college-prep high school. Good SAT Subject scores can give your student an edge.
4. SAT Subject tests are often strongly recommended by many colleges for homeschool students. Because we are nontraditional, we need to go the extra mile in proving that our students have had a great education. However, you need to decide how much extra testing you are willing to do for the sake of a particular school. Some schools actually require 5-6 Subject tests for homeschoolers (while requiring none for traditionally educated students). My family chose to drop this type of school from our list. Happily, many colleges are beginning to drop these ridiculous extra requirements for homeschoolers.
5. Some schools that don’t require the Subject tests for general admission do make it clear that the tests can be important for those students vying for slots in competitive majors.
Some things to consider:
1. While certain universities (such as some California schools) are eliminating the SAT Subject test requirement, don’t expect this trend to spread rapidly. If your student is in high school and planning on applying to selective institutions, take the tests.
2. Some schools will allow ACT or AP tests to take the place of SAT Subject tests. If your student is in the latter part of high school and has run out of time, you might want to consider the colleges that have this policy.
What SAT Subjects tests are available? There are 20 tests offered in the areas of:
· English Literature
· U.S. History
· World History
· Math Level 1 – after 2 years of algebra and 1 year of geometry. Note: many schools will not accept level 1 as it is the same as the SAT math section.
· Math Level 2 – adds elementary functions (pre-calculus and/or trigonometry)
· Biology E – questions pertaining to biological communities, populations, and energy flow
· Biology M – questions pertaining to biochemistry, cellular structure and processes, such as respiration and photosynthesis
· Modern Hebrew
· Chinese with listening
· French with listening
· German with listening
· Japanese with listening
· Korean with listening
· Spanish with listening
Some language tests are offered only as reading tests, others with listening to measure your ability to understand the spoken language. Listening tests are offered only in November. Keep in mind that native speakers are taking the tests in languages and driving the scores up, making it difficult for those new to the language to score in the top percentiles.
If you think there is any possibility at all that your student might major in engineering, they will want to take Subject Tests in Chemistry and Math Level 2 as these are required by many engineering schools.
Colleges want to see a range of tests, so don’t take both math tests or both biology tests. That is not helpful to the school and does nothing to prove your abilities in multiple areas.
Preparation for the Subject Tests should involve both study and as many practice tests as your student can take under timed, realistic conditions.
While colleges want to see the majority of Subject tests in the junior and senior year of high school, I encourage my clients to take one the sophomore year to make the testing load more manageable.
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