Understanding Subject Tests and College Admissions

Subject tests are hour-long multiple choice tests, administered by the College Board, that test your mastery in a subject area. They are available in five areas:

  • English (Literature)
  • History (World and U.S.)
  • Math (Level 1 and Level 2)
  • Science (Ecological or Molecular Biology, Chemistry, and Physics)
  • Languages (Chinese, French, German, Spanish, and Hebrew)

The scoring for a subject test is the same as for the SAT Reasoning Test: 200-800. Selective colleges use subject test scores for admissions purposes and/or for placement in college courses. Some colleges accept your ACT scores in place of subject tests - another good reason to take the ACT. Check college Web sites to determine which ones substitute ACT scores for subject tests.

The best time to take a subject test is after you complete a year's course in the subject. For example, if you take AP Biology in your junior year, then you should take the SAT Biology subject test in June, after you have completed the course. Since the subject tests are based on your high school curriculum, you can prepare for them; studying definitely helps in achieving a respectable grade.

If you aren't sure whether you're applying to a college that requires them, you can still plan on taking the subject tests in courses where you have taken honors or accelerated courses or in areas where you believe your strengths lie. Colleges that don't require a subject test don't count them, but they see that you have challenged yourself by attempting the test. If you don't do well on these tests, the colleges that don't require subject tests won't hold it against you. As with the SAT, you can repeat these tests as necessary to raise your score and then send those scores to the colleges that require them.

A few colleges that do require subject tests are

  • All Ivy League Colleges (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale)
  • Boston University
  • Brandeis University
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Connecticut College
  • The Cooper Union
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • New York University
  • Pomona College
  • Rice University
  • Tufts University
  • University of California
  • University of Virginia
  • Washington & Lee University
  • Williams College