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How to Determine Which SAT Subject Tests to Take

Recently, a number of students who have worked with MyGuru for ACT or SAT tutoring have followed up asking about SAT subject tests.  Their main question has been which SAT subject tests should I take?

Some Context on SAT Subject Tests

Well, first of all, if you’re asking that question, I hope you’ve visited the SAT subject tests section of the College Board web-site, the organization that administers the SAT, SAT subject tests, and AP tests -

On that site,

The College Board writes the following about SAT subject tests:

“Subject Tests are hour-long, content-based tests that allow you to showcase achievement in specific subject areas where you excel…they allow you to differentiate yourself in the college admission process or send a strong message regarding your readiness to study specific majors or programs…provide a more complete picture of your academic background and interests.  Based on your performance on the test(s), you could potentially fulfill basic requirements or receive credit for introductory-level courses.”

Advice We’ve Given Students

Some of the advice we’ve recently given students almost seems obvious once you read it, but can be extremely helpful to a student who’s struggling with deciding which SAT subject tests to take and feeling a bit overwhelmed.  The following was advice provided by our resident College Applications Advisor, Melissa (a Northwestern University graduate with experience getting many students into top colleges) -

“I would say go with the subjects that she is already the most confident in, especially if she wants to take it sooner rather than later. If she's stronger in chemistry than bio, go for chemistry, and so on. “

In other words, take SAT subject tests in areas in which you have relatively more comfort with the material.  There is a thread about “which SAT subject tests are easiest" on College Confidential - but the gist of the thread is “that depends on what you’re good at!”

Here was some advice given by Payman, one of our ACT and SAT tutors in Minneapolis, who tends to go beyond test prep to provide academic guidance and advice to his students.  He made the following point to a student asking about SAT Subject tests -

"The decision you make should be heavily dependent upon what Maria thinks she wants to do with her college education (or at least what she will feign interest in when writing her college application essays).  Her application essays should show passion even if a tiny bit of artifice is thrown in there.   For instance, if she states in her essay(s) that she dreams of one day being a neuroscientist, then clearly science based SAT subject tests are appropriate.  If she portrays herself as a future lawyer or political scientist, then the fact that she might go to MIT does not mean she should take 2 science tests.  In the latter case, I think it would be more strategic to take at least one test a test with a verbal bent (ex literature) since such skills are requisite in these professions."

In other words, take SAT subject tests in areas which relate to whatever major you are considering or career you are writing about in your application.  Consistency across your application is important, and the SAT subject tests can help provide that consistency.  If you say you’ve always been great at Physics and plan on being a Physicist, but either don’t take the subject test in Physics or do average on it that could be a problem with your application.


SAT subject tests can do two things:

  1. Help you get into college (either by strengthening your application, or because the college requires that you take these tests) and
  2. In some cases, help you get college credit for introductory classes

So, here are four final summary tips for choosing SAT subject tests:

  1. Read each college’s SAT subject requirements carefully, and make sure you meet them. Harvard requires two SAT subject tests, but not Math 1 and Math 2
  2. Only choose tests which you feel confident in.  Don’t take a test because you think it will look good…
  3. …at the same time, if you’re committed to a certain major or career, try to take SAT subject tests which are relevant to that major
  4. Look at your potential colleges’ criteria for granting college credit.  If credit is granted for a given SAT subject test, perhaps you should consider taking it (all else equal, and if you have the expertise to potentially do well).

Good luck managing the SAT subject test decision process!

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