Are There Benefits to Taking SAT Subject Tests?

Cynthia S. West M.A., Ed.M.Blogs

Absolutely: We know of three key reasons why you should:

1.  Competitive colleges recommend (and many require) that you take at least two Subject Tests. Although many colleges no longer “require” the Subject Test, but rather “recommend” them, the most competitive colleges in the country still value high test scores. So, we advise you take them in order to increase your chances of being accepted to your dream college.

Home schooled students and international applicants should also take the Subject Tests. The admission requirements for both groups can be more rigorous. Colleges prefer more data points to better understand these applicants’ academic strengths.

2.  Merit (scholarship) awards are based on the academic strength of applicants and determined by the Admission Office. Subject Test scores provide additional data points for admission officers; so therefore, taking the tests and scoring well will positively affect your financial award package.

3.  Some colleges use Subject Tests to place students into appropriate courses. Depending on your test scores, you might be able to fulfill basic requirements or get credit for introductory-level courses. High-test scores may also be used to apply for Advanced Standing, which offers the possibility of graduating in three years.

What is the Difference between the SAT and SAT Subject Test?

The SAT shows how prepared you are for college by measuring critical thinking skills in reading comprehension, computational ability, and clarity of expression.

The SAT Subject Test measures what you have learned over the year in a particular academic subject. The multiple-choice test is one hour in which you choose from a variety of academic subjects. In some circumstances, you may request a Fee Waiver.

When should I take the Tests?

Subject tests can be taken in May and June when your classes are coming to an end. Ideally you should take a particular Subject Test at the end of the school year when you have taken a corresponding class of appropriate rigor. May or June of 11th grade year is thus the most popular time when the majority of Subject Tests are taken. 10th and even 9th grade students may be advised to take a Subject Test.

The choice between the May and June test dates requires careful planning. June tends to be more popular, simply because it is later in the school year for most students and occurs very close to final exams. Students in a corresponding AP class may find that their AP exam date is closer to the May date for Subject Tests than the June date. Would you rather study for the Subject Test first, knock that out, and then move on to the AP….or vice versa? We recommend you consult with your teacher at school or make an appointment with us to guide your decision-making.

You are not allowed to take the SAT and the Subject Tests on the same date. The ACT avoids College Board test dates, so the April and June ACT test dates do not create a conflict. The June ACT date is always the second weekend in June, one week after the SAT / Subject Tests date. So, you could choose both of these June dates, and not have to worry during the summer about more test-taking in the Fall. 

How many tests can I take on the same day?

You can take as many as three Subject Tests on a test date, but you don’t have to take that many – you could take just one or two. You can choose to spread your Subject Tests across multiple test dates if your schedule permits. Only having to cope with one or two Subject Tests on a certain date makes for a less stressful day, which may reflect positively in your scores.

Which Tests Should I Take?

If the college has particular requirements (or even recommendations), follow them. Some schools require particular tests (usually the Math Level 2 and/or a Science for engineering programs). Other schools require that your two tests be from different academic areas (i.e. math, science, humanities, and foreign language).

Math Level 1 usually isn’t accepted at top colleges—both public and private. If you’re applying to one of the very top schools, the Math Level 1 will be considered a real weakness. Only take it if you have no other options.

Choose Subject Tests that reveal your academic strengths and interests. Math plus Science sends a different message from Language plus Literature, though both reveal your focus. Want to show breadth? Go for Math or Science plus a Language or Literature or History Subject Tests.

In Summary: Even colleges that do not require Subject Tests may, in fact, accept them and use them to get a more holistic picture of applicants. Remember, strong Subject Tests scores can be beneficial in:

  • Being accepted to your dream college
  • Receiving merit scholarship awards
  • Getting course credit for introductory-level classes

Visit the College Board to learn more at

For information on college admission counseling, tutoring for the SAT Subject Tests, and paying for college, please visit us at