Need to Take a SAT Subject Test?

The Difference between the Regular Reasoning Test

While the SAT (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test and now the SAT Reasoning Test, given by the educational testing service known as College Board) is a standard requirement for entering college, the SAT Subject Tests are often optional. Usually the students who choose to take them want to inform the colleges they apply to of their strength in a particular subject, and taking the well-known SAT Subject Test is an excellent way to emphasize your skills and interests.

If your demonstrated concentration in high school has been mathematical achievement, but you also turned in a solid performance in French, you might choose those two subject tests to show why you earned good grades in those courses.

The Difference between the Regular Reasoning Test and the Subject Tests

The SAT tests your ability in the fundamentals of education: reading, writing, and math. It’s a good gauge of your readiness for college, because if you have not yet mastered those fundamentals you’re not prepared to move out of high school.

In contrast, the SAT Subject Tests cover specific academic subjects in more depth. Each one lasts an hour and deals with a single topic in one of five general areas (English, history, languages, mathematics, and science). There are practice questions and tests available on College Board’s website free of charge, and those will help you prepare for individual tests.

Here is a list of the subject areas for the SAT Subject Tests, twenty-one in all counting Biology-E and Biology-M separately:


  • Biology-E (for Ecological)
  • Biology-M (for Molecular)
  • Chemistry
  • Physics


  • Mathematics Level I
  • Mathematics Level II

History and Social Studies

  • U.S. History
  • World History


  • Literature


  • French
  • French with Listening
  • German
  • German with Listening
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening
  • Chinese with Listening
sat test

When you take the SAT Subject Tests, it is very important that you follow the stated policies to the letter. The list of what you may bring is short and simple: Admission ticket, pencils, eraser, photo ID, acceptable calculator (meaning graphing, scientific, or the less desirable four-function). Be very careful in selecting a calculator, because details matter: for example, you may not use any portable computer, cell phone calculator, or calculator with a QWERTY keyboard.

The list of forbidden items, therefore, is quite extensive. In fact, College Board doesn’t attempt to list every single item they won’t permit, so you will have to rely on the permitted list and on their general guidelines to help you decide what to bring. Violating the rules by bringing a device like a cell phone, Blackberry, pager, or PDA can invalidate your test, and that would be an embarrassing and expensive experience for you.

There are some exceptions. The language listening tests require you to bring an acceptable CD player. Again, rules are stringent, and it is entirely your responsibility to make sure your CD player, headphones, and batteries will operate properly throughout the test. The testing center will not provide any substitute equipment for you to use if anything goes wrong, so if you can find a backup device, bring that too (which is also good advice for calculators).

Which One to Take?

Contact the college or university that you plan to attend and find out if they require any subject tests dealing with your chosen major. It’s also helpful to ascertain whether the Subject Test can earn you college credit if your score is sufficiently high. Familiarizing yourself with the SAT Subject Tests in high school can only help you later on, because some schools (Princeton, for example) may require you to prove your foreign language proficiency prior to graduation by scoring well on the appropriate test.

If you need to test for college admission, try to coordinate the timing of your high school courses that relate to the Subject Test with the date of the test itself. It’s wise to take the test as soon as you have completed your related high school course so you can be sure you retain all the information you learned.

Tips for the Language Tests

The test administrators advise you to take a language test only if you have had at least two years of study at a high school level. Naturally, you should perform better with more experience (practicing with native speakers can be very helpful). It’s up to you to decide between the two types of language test, listening or reading. Listening tests usually require more skill, so a high score on a listening test will be better regarded than a comparable score on a reading test.

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