Updated: June 14, 2015

SAT 2 Subject Test: The Guide

You've taken the PSAT Test, the SAT Reasoning Test and/or the ACT Test, and now you're looking for the final part of a great application to a competitive college or university. Taking the SAT 2 Subject Test is not required by most colleges and universities, but it can set you apart from all of the other applicants. The SAT II Subject Tests are considered on par with AP Exams. A good SAT 2 test score proves that you've taken your classes seriously, and that you are an expert in a particular field. SAT II test scores can also increase your chances of receiving scholarships, and in some cases taking the SAT II Subject Test qualifies you for a specialized scholarship without a lot of competition. With the College Board's new program called Score Choice, the College Board lets you choose which SAT score to send and which to keep secret- if you don't do well on your SAT II Subject Test, it's okay! No one will know except for you. There's nothing to lose, except a scholarship to your top choice college or university.

Which SAT II Subject Test is the best test to take for college admissions?

Really, no SAT II Subject Test is better than any other. You should take the SAT 2 Subject Test in whatever field you know best- U.S. History, Math, Literature, Spanish, French, World History, German, Italian, Hebrew, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Latin, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. All good colleges are interested in seeing what your talents are, and this is a great opportunity to showcase those talents.

Because the SAT Reasoning Test has a Math section, a Critical Reading section, and a Writing section, some students think they don't need to take the SAT 2 Math Subject Test or the SAT 2 Literature Subject Test. However, these are the two most popular SAT II Subject Tests to take! The SAT Reasoning Test is designed to measure your ability to cipher through unnecessary information and to answer trick questions- the SAT Reasoning Test is designed to measure your reasoning skills. The SAT 2 Subject Tests are designed to measure your knowledge of a subject. The SAT II Math Test, for example, can test your ability all the way to trigonometry and pre-calculus, whereas the SAT Math section only covers geometry and a little bit of advanced algebra. A college will be impressed to see that you know your statistics and functions well enough to take the SAT 2 Math Test!

Taking the SAT II History Tests is also a good idea- history is an important subject and it is not covered at all on the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT Test. The College Board offers an SAT 2 U.S. History Test and an SAT 2 World History Test, and the College Board website has practice questions for both of these subject tests so that you can determine which one is a better fit for you.

What is the best way to prepare for SAT 2 Subject Tests? What is the best SAT II prep guide?

The College Board says that studying your subject for one year (two to three years for a language) is adequate preparation for an SAT II Subject Test. That may be true, but the best way to prepare for your SAT 2 is to study a test preparation guide. I have no doubt that the Princeton Review SAT Subject Test Prep significantly improved my scores, and it also provided practice tests (about $13 each). Using this SAT 2 test preparation guide took my scores in U.S. History, Spanish, French, and Literature from 610-630 to scores of 690-760, and even the perfect score of 800! The Princeton Review SAT Subject Test Prep is the guide you want if you know your subject well and need the extra focus and study help to get an excellent score. If you're having trouble with a certain subject and want help getting an above-average score, try Kaplan SAT Subject Test Preparation guides. Kaplan publishes great test prep guides that help students "outsmart" the SAT Tests. My friends have great things to say about the Kaplan SAT Subject Test Prep books, and I liked them too. At just $10-$15, most guides contain 4 full length practice exams, plus diagnostic quizzes, detailed explanations, and ongoing chapter quizzes as you review new material.

Besides test prep books, there are also sample test questions (and their answers and explanations) available for free on the College Board website. Sparknotes.com offers another free on-line resource: a condensed version of the test prep books recommended earlier. There are also private tutors available (some even offer over-the-internet tutoring sessions), and depending upon the subject of your SAT II Test there may be an evening class available at a local high school or community college.

What's the SAT II Subject Test like? How much do SAT 2 Subject Tests cost?

All of the SAT 2 Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple choice tests. However, some of the SAT 2s have special formats. The Biology Subject Test has a 60-question core section plus a 20-question section that focuses on either ecological or molecular biology- the test-taker chooses their specialty. The SAT II Math Subject Test, both Level 1 and Level 2, is designed with the expectation that test-takers will use a graphing calculator. Some of the Language Subject Tests (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish) are available with listening and reading components, as opposed to just reading- when taking one of these listening and reading Language Subject Tests (usually offered only once a year), you are expected to bring a personal CD player. Whatever your SAT 2 Subject Test, your test score will be available on-line within three weeks.

SAT II Subject Tests are offered on the same dates as the regular SAT Reasoning Test, except for the test date in March. Deadlines for regular registration are at least a month in advance of the test date, so sign up early to avoid fees for a late registration. SAT 2 Subject Tests are pretty well-priced: you pay $20 for basic registration, and then only $9 per test. You can take up to three subject tests on the same day. If you're taking a Language Test with Listening, the price-per-test is higher: $20. Luckily, you probably won't take more than one! Viewing your scores on-line is free, and four official score reports (for the colleges of your choice) are included in your test registration. Each additional score report is $9.50. You can also register by phone and receive your scores by phone, but there are high charges to use these features. I'd recommend using the on-line resources for free.