Now is the Time for SAT Subject Test Preparation

            Now that April is here and the fourth quarter of the school year has begun, many students are turning the corner on preparing for the end of the school year.  For students of all ages this includes studying for end of year tests, like finals or PARCC.  For high school juniors, and a handful of sophomores, this may mean preparing for a first or second attempt at the SAT or ACT.  For high achieving students at the high school level, there is one other test, or set of tests, that may require their attention: SAT Subject Tests.

            While students applying to MIT or Harvard may be keenly aware of the SAT Subject Tests, most high school students are not.  It is true that fewer than fifty colleges and universities require SAT Subject Tests for admission, however, dozens of colleges require SAT Subject Tests for admissions to honors, pre-med, and other specificity programs in their schools even when they do not require the Subject Tests for general admissions.  Additionally, hundreds more colleges and universities request or accept the Subject Tests as supplemental testing submissions, and given the highly competitive landscape surrounding college admissions, these schools carefully consider Subject Test results when students submit them.

            SAT Subject Tests are single subject tests in topics such as Biology, Literature, United States History, or Spanish Language, which are written and administered by the College Board, makers of the SAT.  They are offered on most of the exact same test dates as the SAT, except the March test date, which is SAT only.  Students can sign up and take up to three Subject Tests in one day, since they are only one hour each in length, unlike the SAT, which is a four-hour test.

            Even though students can take the SAT Subject Tests throughout the year, the June test date is often the best test date for most students, whether they realize it or not.  Several of the Subject Tests, like Biology, Chemistry, Physics, United States History, and World History, correspond relatively closely to the curriculum of an honors or Advanced Placement (AP) level course in those subjects.  Since students are already studying intently for either a final exam or the AP exam in those subjects, they are already preparing for the SAT Subject Tests that relate to those courses.

            Other Subject Tests, including Literature, Math Level 1, Math Level 2, and the foreign language tests (Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Hebrew, Latin, Japanese, & Korean), do not directly correspond to a particular course in school.  Instead, these tests cover topics from multiple years of school. The Math Level 1 test, for example, mostly includes topics from Geometry and Algebra 2, while the Math Level 2 test includes topics from pre-Calculus in addition to Geometry and Algebra 2. Similarly, the English Literature Subject Test covers concepts that students will have learned in honors English classes throughout their high school careers.

            While it is not essential that students take these Subject Tests during the June test date, it is still a good idea.  Since students can take up to three Subject Tests on one test date, it is a good idea to plan to take more than one at a time.  In fact, when colleges request or require Subject Tests, they invariably ask that students submit a minimum of two scores, and many colleges will accept three scores.  Rather than eliminate several test dates in which a student can take the SAT and work to improve a result from a previous turn at that test, I recommend that students plan to take as many Subject Tests at one time as possible, both for the sake of efficiency and to reduce test stress.

            In fact, in the event that students are able to take high level courses early in their high school career, it can be a wise decision to take one or more SAT Subject Tests at the end of sophomore year.  A student taking honors pre-Calculus as a sophomore who is interested in a possible future STEM career will be well placed to take the Math Level 2 test in June of sophomore year, and having an early score to guide them in making decisions about future test plans.

            Additionally, help is available for students who have the knowledge and technical skills needed for an SAT Subject Test, but experience test anxiety.  Preparing for an SAT Subject Test does involve reviewing the material and topics that are on the test, but more importantly, builds student confidence through familiarity with the question types, structure & format of the test, and methodology utilized by the test writers to trick students.

            With only a few weeks left before the June test date, students should review their current courses and academic history to help them decide which SAT Subject Tests will work best for them.  Additionally, there is one important factor that most students and parents often do not know about selecting SAT Subject Tests.  For both the pair of the United States History and World History tests and the pair of the Math Level 1 and Math Level 2 tests, colleges will often only want to see students take one of the pair, not both. They do this to get a more broad view of a student’s knowledge base.  When selecting which Subject Tests to take, don’t be afraid to ask for help.