Since most colleges don’t require SAT Subject Tests (click here for our post on which colleges require the tests), most students will not need to take them. However, if you’re one of the lucky few students applying to one of the 160 colleges in the United States that require or recommend the tests, you’ll need to take them.
Which SAT Subject Tests Should You Take?
For most students, the answer to which Subject Tests to take is “the ones that you’ll do the best on.” Most colleges that require or recommend Subject Tests do not require or recommend a specific test. Instead, they require a particular number of tests (either 2 or 3) and leave the rest of the decision-making to the student.
There are 20 different SAT Subject Tests covering topics such as Literature, Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, Latin, and Japanese), History (World and US), Math (Level 1 and 2), and Science (Chemistry, Biology, and Physics). You should plan to take only the Subject Tests that are going to give you the best chance to get a top score and put your best foot forward in your applications.
When to Take the Tests
The best approach to determine which Subject Tests to take is to plan ahead starting in 9th grade and take any test that provides you an opportunity to get a top notch score. Since Subject Tests are more aligned to specific course content, it’s best to take the tests right after you take the course that relates to it. Students who take Biology in 10th grade and are not planning to take Biology again in high school should consider taking the SAT Subject Test in Biology in June of the 10th grade. This will ensure that the content is fresh in the mind and improve the odds of getting a great score.
A second reason you should think about the tests as early as 9th grade is that by the time you know your actual list of colleges you plan to apply to, it’s often very late in the admission planning cycle (11th or 12th grade), and you have a million other things to do. If you start early you make your 11th and 12th grades easier and more effective.
A third reason to start thinking about the test early is that Subject Tests are administered at the same time and place as the SAT, and thus cannot be taken on the same day as the SAT. This means that during your 11th and 12th grade, you have limited opportunities to take the test because you have to take the SAT and do other things. However during 9th and 10th grade, when you’re not worried about taking the SAT, you have more dates to choose from and greater control of when you take an SAT Subject Test.
So, start early and plan ahead, and you will be able to count on several Subject Tests that will make your application stand out.