Subject Test Prep: An Overview of the Subject Tests

The Foundation of SAT Subject Test Prep: The Essentials of the 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. This means that SAT Subject Test prep can be an important step in your college application process. These tests are 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. SAT Subject Test prep 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, we will introduce you to the SAT Subject Test format, scoring, and Inspirica’s approach to SAT Subject Test prep overall. 

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 of the SAT Subject Tests

While each SAT Subject Test is different, each is exactly an hour long. The tests also vary in number of questions, but most have between 50 and 80 questions. This means that you may have less than a minute per question; therefore, you should always remember that a given SAT Subject Test’s format is part of its difficulty. Most Subject Tests are structured as traditional multiple-choice exams, but several of the tests 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. 

SAT Subject Test 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
  • 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.

Score Reporting

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.

SAT Subject Test Registration and Test Dates

The College Board offers six administrations for SAT Subject Test dates annually, almost always 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 out their testing calendar and SAT Subject Test registration well in advance.

Students can register for as many 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 later tests of the day. On test day, you may choose to take your tests in whichever order you like, which will be part of the strategy you discuss with your tutor. 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 about subjects offered and SAT Subject Test registration.

Inspirica’s Approach to SAT Subject Test Prep

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 on specific problem areas. In the early sessions, work focuses on understanding the role of SAT Subject Test’s formatting 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.

SAT Subject Test 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.

Get Started with SAT Subject Test Prep Today

To learn more, schedule a free phone consultation with our Program Coordinators today!

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