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How to Approach the SAT Subject Tests

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Students are typically familiar with most standard college admissions requirements, such as SAT or ACT scores and supplemental essays. Some colleges, however, also recommend students take SAT Subject Tests, which are standardized tests offered by the College Board on twenty different subjects that can work to highlight a student’s academic strengths in the admissions process. Each test takes one hour and is composed of multiple-choice questions. There are five general section topics — including Mathematics, Science, English, History, and Languages — and subsections for most. The Mathematics section offers two subject tests, Math Level 1 and Math Level 2, and the Science section offers three subject tests, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The English section has one subject test on Literature, while the History section covers the two subjects of U.S. History and World History. Finally, the Languages section offers nine subject tests: Spanish, Spanish with Listening, French, French with Listening, Chinese with Listening, Italian, German, German with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Japanese with Listening, and Korean with Listening. Students may take up to three Subject Tests on one test date, and each test is scored as if it is one section on the SAT test, meaning from 200 to 800 points. Students can visit the College Board website to see which colleges accept SAT Subject Tests, both within the United States and internationally.

To identify which Subject Test is right for you, it is beneficial to consider your academic strengths in high school as Subject Tests cover curriculum from that level. Additionally, if you are taking Subject Tests after already having completed the SAT or ACT, your scores from those tests can be useful indicators of what subject area you would excel in. For example, if you scored very well on the English portion of the SAT or ACT, the Literature Subject Test may be best suited to your aptitude.

Preparation for the Subject Tests varies on a student-by-student basis. If you are naturally well versed in a certain subject, you may not feel as inclined to study for the corresponding Subject Test as you would for other standardized tests. However, the most beneficial way to approach Subject Tests is familiarizing yourself not only with the content but with the formatting. Students should become comfortable with the tests’ timing, questioning, and methodology for analyzing multiple choice answers. Practice tests are available on the internet for each of the twenty different subject tests, and are one of the most effective tools to take advantage of when preparing to take the SAT Subject Tests. It is also helpful to remember that although the Subject Tests share similarities with the SAT and ACT, they are different in the fact that they are meant to spotlight your most valuable academic strengths; Subject Tests are oftentimes optional in the college admissions process for this very reason. Therefore, the Subject Tests you choose to take should be on a topic that you naturally excel in, have a strong interest in, or have studied extensively in high school.

By Anna Marguleas


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