While taking the SAT I seems hardly straight forward, it is compared to its lesser-known cousins, the SAT II’s or SAT Subject Tests. The SAT I includes reading, writing, and math sections and is comprehensive enough to fulfill many college’s application requirements, but some colleges also require or will alternately accept scores from two or more subject tests as well, in more specific areas such as chemistry, U.S. history, and foreign languages. Even if a college does not require SAT II scores, many will accept them to take into consideration with other grades and standardized test scores.
Standardized testing is intimidating, but you can use it to your advantage. Knowing which subject tests will be the best use of your time to take, and when to take them to maximize your chances of success, will give you the upper hand in the standardized testing game.
Which subjects will showcase your strengths or compensate for your weaknesses?
Subject tests are a great way to show colleges your unique talents and to improve the overall strength of your application. You may be slightly restricted in what you take by individual college requirements, since many of the colleges that do require subject tests ask that they be taken in different subject groups, one in the sciences and one in the humanities, for example. However, even within that restriction, and for colleges that accept SAT II’s as supplements but not requirements, you can be smart about your choices.
If you are applying to a specialized school or already know your major, it would be a good idea to take an appropriate subject test to illustrate your skills in that particular area. For instance, if you want to be a chemical engineer, doing well on the chemistry subject test will show how strong your foundation is in chemistry. If you are applying to a liberal arts college, a strong showing in history, literature, or a foreign language as well as a more technical subject like math or science will help to display your well-roundedness.
Play to your strengths. If you are thinking of going the pre-med route as an undergrad but know that you have a broader knowledge base in biology than in chemistry, definitely take biology, and only take chemistry as well if you feel like you will have the time to prepare yourself for it. As before, you will most likely be asked to take tests in vastly different subject areas, so you probably will not want to take two science tests anyway.
SAT II’s can also help to counter the weaker points of your application. For instance, if you did poorly in your AP physics class because of a bad exam day or junior-year time management issues and are concerned on how that grade will affect your eligibility, consider taking a few months to review with a tutor or an online class and then take the physics subject test. If you do well, colleges will see that you are capable of succeeding and even excelling in that subject, despite earlier struggles with the material. There is no shame in an upward trend and it shows determination to spring back from a rough start.
When will you be best prepared to take these tests?
As with the SAT I, you can take the SAT II’s multiple times, within reason. Taking SAT II Math Level 2 three times to try to get a perfect score looks obsessive and is probably not the best use of your time, but if you start taking subject tests by the end of your junior year, you will still have time to take them again in the fall of your senior year if you truly feel like you can significantly improve your performance.
It is also smart to take a subject test soon after completing coursework in the same subject in school. If you’ve already studied for the AP biology test after a year of class preparation, you should be ready to take the biology subject test as well, with little additional studying. You can usually schedule subject tests fairly close around AP’s, and while having standardized tests back-to-back is stressful, taking them within a month of each other should allow you to keep the material fresh in your brain without burning out.
Standardized testing is a necessary evil of the modern college applications process. It is going to be stressful, but planning ahead to put your best foot forward and taking the time to look into test prep resources, even if you have taken the appropriate coursework in school, are the best ways to minimize this stress.