An Overview of the SAT Subject Tests

The SAT Subject Tests are a collection of twenty hour-long, subject-specific tests that focus on subjects traditionally offered to students in high schools throughout the United States. The results of these tests are used in the college application process in a variety of ways, with many schools requiring the submission of two different SAT Subject tests along with their application. These tests are therefore best understood as an opportunity for each student to demonstrate his or her skills in specific subjects in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. Preparation for the SAT Subject Tests is typically done over the course of four to six weeks and involves two full-length mock tests, and most students take each Subject Test no more than twice.

Here is the complete list of Subject Tests we tutor:

  • Mathematics Level 1 and Level 2
  • Biology E/M
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • United States History
  • World History
  • Literature
  • Latin
  • Spanish

Format

While each SAT Subject Test is different, each is an hour long. The tests also vary in number of questions, but most have between 60 and 80 questions. Most of these questions are traditional multiple-choice questions, but several of the test have “matching” questions in which students match multiple-choice answers to a list of definitions, and the Chemistry test has a unique 15-question true/false section that usually requires extensive preparation. Finally, six of the nine language tests can be taken with or without listening sections.

Scoring

First, testers receive a raw score that is the equal to the number of questions correctly answered minus a fraction of a point for every wrong answer: 1/4 point is subtracted for incorrect five-choice questions, 1/3 point is subtracted for incorrect four-choice questions, and 1/2 point is subtracted for incorrect three-choice questions. No points are deducted for unanswered questions, making guessing and skipping strategies essential to test-day success.

The resulting raw score is then converted to a scaled score of 200 to 800 points, the same scale used on the SAT. As with that test, the statistical process known as equating is used to ensure that scores are comparable across five years’ worth of testing results. Among other things, this guarantees that there is no advantage to taking the test on one testing date over another. Each Subject Test has its own scale and its own dataset, so the raw score required any given scaled score varies widely from test to test. In some instances, such as the Math Level 1, a near-perfect raw score is required to get a perfect scaled score, but in others, such as the Math Level 2, students can miss a number of questions while still receiving a perfect scaled score. Finally, percentile ranks are used to compare these individual scaled scores to the entire group of testers.

Once you receive your scores, usually two weeks after testing, you may send them to the college of your choice using the College Board’s website. This process is typically all you need to do in order to include test scores as part of your college application, but check with your school college counselor to make sure you haven’t missed anything. SAT Subject Test results never expire, so you can use results for years after you take the test.

There is only one reported score on each SAT Subject Test, so there are no opportunities for superscoring. However, if you decide to test more than once, you may choose which of the scores you send using the College Board’s Score Choice program as part of your application. Many students therefore take each test twice in order to take advantage of the opportunities this program provides.

Registration and Test Dates

The SAT Subject Tests are administered six times each year at the same times and places as the SAT, with only the March test date not offering these tests. Because the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests take place at the same time, students cannot take both on the same day, requiring advanced planning for those students intending to submit scores from both tests with their applications. Further complicating things, testers may take up to three Subject Tests on the same day, but not every topic is offered on every test date, so students need to carefully plan their testing calendar out well in advance.

Students can register for as many SAT Subject Tests as they like, though most students take no more than three subjects during the entire testing process. Up to three tests can be taken on any given test date, although we recommend most students limit themselves to two, as fatigue often affects performance on the third test of the day. Scores are usually reported to students within two weeks of testing, with only the June results typically taking longer. Visit the College Board website for more information or to register for tests.

Inspirica’s Approach

The SAT Subject Tests are shorter than the other standardized tests we tutors and cover fewer topics but in much greater depth. Prep programs are therefore usually short, often no more than four to six weeks, with only the science tests usually requiring multi-month programs. When students plan to take these tests in conjunction with their Advanced Placement (AP) Tests , however, preparation tends to be longer, with programs usually beginning in February or March and continuing through the May, June, or August test dates.

In sessions, tutors begin with a brief overview of all the main content areas covered by the test, then use the results of a diagnostic test to focus in on specific problem areas. In the early sessions, work focuses on understanding the role of the structure of the test in test scores, including the roles of timing, question sequencing and skipping, and the importance of avoiding the penalty for guessing incorrectly. As students become more comfortable with the test’s structure, tutors spend more time on specific content areas, grounding practice in official published test questions as often as possible.

The best time to take an SAT Subject Test is at the end of the school year in which a student took the subject, maximizing the likelihood that the information will still be fresh in each student’s mind. Because each school system and each teacher offers their own take on each subject, no student comes in having covered every topic in school that will on the test. New concepts will therefore often be covered in tutoring sessions, each of which will require additional study between sessions.

Prep will also include a number of practice tests using official materials. Although these tests can be taken at one of our testing centers, because they are each only one hour in length, most students find it more convenient to take these tests at home. Your tutor will work with you to determine the best schedule for taking these tests prior to your first official test date.

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