— When to Take the SAT Subject Tests, and Which Ones to Take: —

If you’re reading this, it means that you’ve decided to take the SAT Subject Tests.  Good call!  High scores on your SAT Subject Tests show colleges that you mean business and are willing to go the extra mile.

Getting great Subject Test scores boils down to three factors:

1. Picking the right time to take them (and planning as far in advance as possible)
2. Taking the right ones
3. Studying for them effectively

Let’s launch right in and figure out how to do all three, shall we?


SAT Subject Tests are given on the same days and times as the SAT I.  That means that you can’t take subject tests and the SAT 1 on the same day. However, you can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on the same day.  I don’t recommend it, but it’s good to know that it’s an option.

You can find the dates that the different Subject Tests are offered here:


While the exact dates are only a few months in advance, the Subject Tests are usually offered at or around the same times every year, so if you’re planning for next year, you can assume that these dates are pretty much static (i.e. it might go from June 6th to June 2nd, but it’s still gonna be the beginning of June).

As far as which date you should pick, I offer three pieces of advice:

1. Don’t cram for your Subject Tests. These are simple, straightforward tests of long-term memory and subject mastery. You can’t learn Spanish in one month, and you shouldn’t study for the Spanish Subject Test over the course of a month. Look at potential dates, pick a date that’s far enough out to allow for sufficient study on a light, daily basis, and then make your prep a small part of your everyday routine. 15 Minutes a day adds up to a HUGE amount of studying over the long-run, but it’ll barely affect your life in any way!


2. Get them out of the way as early as possible.  The Subject Tests shouldn’t be left until the last minute.

If you have absolutely terrible SAT Subject Test scores, most colleges won’t eliminate you from the applicant pool –  but if they’re awesome, they’ll put you way ahead of the pack.  Therefore, you should give yourself plenty of time to achieve high scores and add some paprika to your application.

While I don’t recommend taking these tests more than once, it’s still good to give yourself the opportunity.  If you bomb your only shot at the SAT Subject Tests….well, that’s that.  If you get a sub-par score early on, you can shoot for a higher score at a later date.

Start planning for your Subject Tests today.  If you can get them out of the way, and give yourself plenty of time to achieve high scores, you’ll be at a distinct advantage. The sooner you figure out when you’ll be taking them, and plot out a window for effective prep, the easier and more successful your entire application process is going to be.

This leads to the next big question: which SAT Subject Tests should you take?

3. Take Subject Tests in areas where you’re already strong, or right after you’ve taken that subject in school!  In other words, if you’ve just finished a chemistry class, and you did well, try taking the SAT Chemistry Subject Test right away!

Remember: bad Subject Test scores won’t hurt you, but great scores will certainly help.  Therefore, it’s much better to get high SAT Subject Test scores in “less impressive” subjects than it is to get mediocre scores in “fancier” subjects.

A few 700+ scores on the Subject Tests show that you’re really good at stuff.  And as silly as this sounds, colleges like students who are good at stuff.  So take the tests that give you the best chances of attaining high scores, regardless of what those tests happen to be.


When it comes to the tests themselves, the Subject Tests are NOTHING like the SAT 1 or ACT.  The SAT 1 and ACT are all about strategy, approach, and familiarity.  My students improve their SAT 1 and ACT scores by so much because they figure out how to take the tests themselves  – not just the material within them.   The material is easy – the strategy, tactics, and approach requirements of these tests are extremely complicated.

The SAT Subject Tests are the exact opposite.  They involve no real strategy and no real “approach” – most of the time, you either know the material or you don’t.  Your score is a pure function of whether or not you know the facts required by the tests – there’s nothing else to them.

Of course, you still need strong multiple-choice test taking skills if you want the best score possible – but overall, these tests are all about the material within them.

Unlike the SAT 1 and ACT, which appeal to two different styles of student and learner, these tests are best suited to students who know certain stuff.

Are you good at French?  Take the French Subject Test.  Good at chemistry?  Take the Chemistry Subject Test.  Good at math?  You get the idea.

When you’ve just finished a particular class (especially an AP class), it’s the perfect time to take the SAT Subject Test on that subject, since your schoolwork will have already killed a lot of your study birds with one stone. And we hate birds around here. The only exception: if the schools to which you’re applying take APs in place of Subject Tests. Again: do your research. You don’t want to take these things if you can just submit the great AP scores you’ve already attained, and you don’t want to skip them if your target schools expect them!

Plan in advance and take your SAT Subject Tests as soon as possible after you’re finished taking a class that has to do with it.  Also, for extra bonus points, study Subject Test material DURING your class and you’ll end up getting much better grades along with a better SAT Subject Test scores (talk about killing a lot of birds…). So in addition to your regular biology coursework, try working in 15-20 minutes of SAT-specific bio work on the side. You’ll end up doing better in your class, and you’ll have a better idea of which class elements can lead directly to a higher SAT Bio score.

Two other rules to go by:

1. If you’re really awesome at something, take that Subject Test.  This goes without saying.  If you’re freakishly good at chemistry, or fluent in Spanish, etc., take the test that corresponds.  Why wouldn’t you? (just make sure, in the case of languages, that it isn’t very apparent to colleges that you’re from the region where that language is spoken – if you take the French Subject Test and you’re from France….not very impressive).

2. If you’re trying to show off a certain skill or aptitude, take the Subject Test(s) that match up.  If you’re trying to show that you’re a great writer, take the Literature test.  If you’re trying to show that you want to be a NASA scientist, take Math 2C and Physics.  I touched upon this in the last section, but it’s worth repeating – it’s THAT important!

Still stuck?

If you still have no clue which SAT Subject Tests you want to take, I’d recommend:

1. Math 1C


2. US or World History

Most schools require a math Subject Test as one if their two required tests anyhow, so take the easiest one (there’s a 1c and a 2c, and the 2c is significantly harder).  Most schools also suggest a “humanities” Subject Test – the history exams are the easiest of these.  They just require a lot of factual information – if you study them consistently, you’ll remember them, and you’ll do well.  Done and done.  There’s not a human being alive who can’t do well on either of these exams – all you need is a memory and a bit of hard work. “Who was the first American President?” is not a hard fact to learn.

Now that you know which tests to take and when to take them, it’s time to figure out HOW TO STUDY FOR THEM.  That brings us to the final part of our guide:

Section Summary: Start planning and studying for your SAT Subject Tests as soon as you can – you’ll have more time to get high scores, you’ll get them out of the way sooner, and you’ll craft a better overall application.  They’re offered on all the same dates as the SAT 1 (with a few rare exceptions which you’ll find on the College Board Subject Test website).  Take the tests that you know you’ll do well on – ideally, right after you’ve finished relevant classroom courses in school, or in subjects in which you’re already a master.
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