— What’s the Point of Subject Tests? —
The Subject Tests are an important part of your college application strategy – but they’re very different from the SAT I and the ACT.
The SAT 1 and ACT are eliminators. In other words, they don’t get you into your target schools – they simply get your application opened or rejected on the spot. If your scores are high enough, administrators will look at your real application – your extracurriculars, recommendations, essays, etc. – if they’re not, your application will get tossed in the trash.
The SAT Subject Tests are quite different. Your Subject Test scores don’t show up before administrators look at your real application – they show up afterward.
So while the SAT 1 and ACT can get you rejected from great schools, but very rarely accepted, the SAT Subject Tests can’t get you rejected from great schools, but they can get you accepted.
The SAT 1 and ACT tell colleges that you have the raw ability necessary to master their coursework. If your scores are high enough, it gives them a base level of confidence that you can “hack it.” At least, that’s the idea behind these tests.
If you have the SAT 1 or ACT scores that meet their minimums, they’ll take a look at your application. This doesn’t mean that you’ll get in – there are plenty of students with perfect ACT and SAT scores who don’t get into their top schools. It just means that they’ll take the time to learn more about you – namely, who you are and what you’re really good at.
The SAT Subject Tests pick up where the SAT 1s and ACTs let off. They tell schools what you’re REALLY good at. Getting into college is all about crafting a narrative. “You should let me in because I’m an incredible _______.” What’s in that blank doesn’t matter so as long as you focus relentlessly on telling that story. Are you a great writer? Mathematician? Scientist? Humanitarian? Photographer? So long as you’re a great something, colleges will take note.
Your SAT Subject Tests are a great way to add credibility to your story. If you say you’re a great scientist, high SAT Math 2C and Chemistry scores will prove your story. If you say that you’re a great writer, you should have high SAT Literature and Language scores. The SAT Subject Tests are numerical proof of the story that you’re trying to tell to colleges.
Getting a 500/800 on SAT Biology won’t necessarily get you rejected from a great school if the rest of your application is strong – but if you’re saying that you want to be a marine biologist, a 750/800 will certainly help.
Think of the SAT Subject Test as the proof behind the statements you’re making in your application. You still need to put your best foot forward, but your Subject Test scores prove that it’s actually your foot!
Which colleges require the SAT Subject Tests, and which ones do they require?
The vast majority of the most competitive colleges require TWO SAT Subject Tests, and even the schools that don’t require them still take them very seriously as a way to verify your overall narrative.
Here’s how this goes:
1. Some schools don’t require SAT Subject Tests, but all the most competitive ones do.
2. Some schools allow you to submit strong AP scores in place of SAT Subject Test scores.
3. A very small group of schools will allow you to submit an ACT score in the place of both your SAT 1 and Subject Test scores, but this is getting rarer and rarer. Furthermore, even the schools that allow this generally prefer that you submit both and ACT/SAT1 score and two Subject Test scores.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of schools that accept, review, and require the SAT Subject Tests, check the College Board’s site here:
An even better way to find this information out is quite simple: Google it. Go to Google, type in “SAT Subject Test requirements for [school X]” and see what comes up. Every single college makes this knowledge publicly available.
You never know how long certain lists take to update, or how accurate they are, but colleges will always have accurate information on their own websites. Once you have your list of target schools put together, take the time to do the school-by-school research. It’ll be worth it.
Want an even better way?
CALL the admissions offices of EVERY college on your list and figure out their SAT Subject Test requirements. Believe it or not, phones still work! Find out if they’re required, if you can avoid the Subject Tests by taking the ACT, etc. Get the full scoop – only you know which schools you’re applying to and are interested in, so it’s your job to get the most up to date information possible on the issue.
As far as requirements are concerned, that’s all there is to it – every school is different, and it’s your job to find out precisely what tests your target schools are going to ask you to submit on their application. However, before we get into the next part of this guide, I’d like to bring up one extremely important point:
Whether or not you are required to take the SAT Subject Tests isn’t very relevant – these exams are probably THE best way to demonstrate your expertise. If you don’t take them, you’re being compared to countless students who will – and you’re losing a valuable opportunity to separate yourself from the pack.
Even if your dream schools don’t require these tests, don’t you want to do everything you can to show them that you care passionately about your area(s) of interest, and to demonstrate your expertise?
If you’re applying to be a math major, and you don’t take a a math Subject Test……it just looks sort of weird.
Even if there’s no particular subject you’re “showing off,”, taking a few SAT Subject Tests and getting incredible grades shows that you’re “Ivy Caliber.” Almost all of the nation’s most competitive schools require Subject Tests. So even if your target schools aren’t on this list, if you show up to the admissions party with 700+ scores on tests they don’t even require – they notice, even if they say they don’t care.
At this point, you should have a pretty darn good idea of whether or not you need to take the SAT Subject Tests or not (hint – you probably should).
Now it’s time to figure out when you should take these tests, and which ones you should take. Click the green button below to move on to the next part of the guide: