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How the SAT Subject Tests Can Help You!

Disclaimer: This article is for the 2005 SAT. Click here to learn about the new, 2016 SAT.

Okay, Fine. The SAT is an important test–I can see why I need to take it. Oh, you want me to take the PSAT too…? To study for the SAT…? Okay.

Oh, I should take the ACT too?

Uhm… okay, that’s cool I guess.


Wait, what??

I know, it all sounds very daunting, but trust me; it’s not as bad as it looks. Granted, your junior year will be extremely busy with all of these tests, but they do have all of their individual benefits.

While all these other standardized tests are as fun as can be, let’s take a closer look at the SAT Subject tests.

Here is your guide on what they are, and how to master them!

What is an SAT subject test?

  • 20 subject areas
  • 1 hour
  • Multiple choice (and sometimes listening for the language subjects)

Seems simple enough, right?

The 20 tests can be found in these subject areas:


So, the SAT subject tests pretty much come in the normal school subjects that you’re already taking daily classes for.

And, if you want, you can take up to 3 of the SAT subject tests in one sitting! (Talk about a stellar day!)

But don’t worry–if you commit to three on one day, they give you the option to change the number on that day if you get a bit overwhelmed.

This goes for all the subject tests, except the language ones–because they are only offered once a year in November. Just some things to keep in mind!

Unfortunately, you can’t take the SAT subject tests and the SAT on the same day—bummer, right? — Because they are offered the same time of day.

Why Take the SAT Subject Tests?

I wish I could tell you that taking the SAT subject tests can fix it all. That you can get a full-ride to any college in the country plus a million dollars. But, as we all know, that’s not how life works, especially when it comes to college and testing.

Even though it doesn’t hand it all to you on a silver platter, it definitely helps. And that’s a good enough reason to take it.

More specifically, it helps to show the college of your dreams where exactly your strongest subjects can be found.


If you want to major in biological sciences at Stanford, then take the biology SAT subject test and show them what you’re made of! Or what if you want to major in U.S history at Yale for example, then take that SAT subject test and you show it who’s boss!

Basically, taking the SAT subject tests can never hurt you. All they can do is show the college how strong you are in certain different subjects. This can definitely set you apart from other students and it can give the more competitive colleges more of a reason to accept you! Of course, other than your intelligence and dashing good looks.

Not only this, but most of the Ivy League colleges and other competitive colleges require, or strongly recommend, taking 2 of the SAT subject tests. That’s only 2 hours of your life. It really isn’t bad when you think about the chance of getting accepted into a really competitive college!

So, if you’re still not sure what college is right for you, then the safe way to go is to take 2 subject tests in the area of your interest just in case you’ll need them. And if not, it’s just a good way to set you apart from the other students.

How is an SAT subject test scored?

So, now that we know that taking even more standardized tests is a good idea—let’s talk about how they are scored.

Dun dun duuuun…

SAT subject tests are scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points, 800 being a perfect score, of course.

Now, as you probably remember, the SAT test has three different sections (math, reading and writing) and each section is out of 800–since the whole test is out of 2400.

Even though the SAT subject tests and the sections of the SAT use the same number grading scales, the scores can’t be compared. This is because the average score on the subject tests are higher than those on the SAT sections.

For example, if you score a 750 on an SAT section, you score better than 99% of other students (wow)! But, if you score a 750 on, say, the math level 2 SAT subject test you would score better than about 79% of students who took the exam.

This is because the SAT subject tests are taken by a bigger percentage of high-achieving students, so the bar is set a little higher. Because of this, most schools that require the SAT subject tests expect a score of 650 to 750 or maybe even higher—YIKES!

Now, about the actual grading process. It’s pretty much like the SAT in this way—you get 1 point for every correct answer and then you get ¼ of a point deducted if you answer a question wrong.

This seems really scary, but if you study and practice enough then you should be confident in your skills to at least make an educated guess.

If not, then, don’t worry leave it blank!

Try not to do it often, but, if every once in a while you just don’t know, its okay to leave it blank, just in case.

When to take the SAT subject tests

So… now that we know that these extra tests can help us get into college and stand out, when do they need to happen?

Unlike the SAT, which is taken your junior year, the SAT subject tests don’t really have a time frame.

Let’s say you take chemistry your sophomore year of high school, and you think you’re ready for the SAT subject test–then go for it! You show that test what you’re made of! It all just really depends on when you learn the material on the subject test, and when you feel comfortable taking it.

funny sat

Okay, so you definitely won’t be starting that early, but it doesn’t hurt to take the SAT subject tests before you take the SAT in your junior year. Speaking of the SAT, the College Board released some SAT changes that you may want to check out!


So, what is an SAT subject test? 

Basically, it’s an hour long, usually multiple-choice test that tests your skills in a very specific subject area. SAT subject tests are usually recommended or required by selective schools but it never hurts to help yourself stand out from all the other applicants!

So when in doubt—take the SAT subject test that is important to your field of study. Worst comes to worst, you have gained knowledge from taking the test—so it can never hurt!

It never hurts to start preparing early. What SAT subject test do you plan to take? Leave a comment below!

Coauthored by Rita Khalaf

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Laura earned a Master's degree in Secondary Education plus Teaching Certification for Mathematics and Psychology in both AZ and CA. Her undergraduate work was in Psychology with a minor in German from UCLA where she graduated magna cum laude. She has been tutoring since the 90's, was a high school teacher 2006-2011, and still teaches for a local college. Laura is passionate about teaching, learning, entrepreneurship, and traveling the world with her husband, their dog Tuck, and her Macbook Pro. -- Join Laura on Linkedin & Twitter!

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6 years ago

Today, my Math Subjest Test Score came out, and it is absolutely horrible. I am hoping to major in business in college, would it be necessary to retake the exam?
Thank you.

Todd VanDuzer
Todd VanDuzer
6 years ago
Reply to  Paula

Nope! Unless you are looking to get into an elite university or ivy league and have an unweighted GPA of at least 3.8 I would not worry about it.