Typically a rite of passage when applying to college is taking one of the standardized college entrance exams, usually the SAT or ACT. Historically when you took the SAT (which stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test) you were taking what was officially called the SAT I. SAT II were the specialized tests you could add on for subjects like, math, writing, biology, history, and foreign language, just to name a few. These secondary tests became known as simply the SAT subject tests for short.

However, most colleges required that students take (in addition to the SAT I) the SAT subject tests in writing and math, because they wanted to see how much academic knowledge (beyond the minimum standards) a student actually possessed. And if you wanted to get into a specialized college program then you had to sign up for even more SAT subject exams to increase your chances of getting accepted. For example, if you were applying to a pre-med or pre-law program, then most likely you took the SAT subject test in biology (for pre-med) or the U.S. history SAT subject test (for pre-law), whether the schools required those tests or not.

But in 2005 all that changed, making it a little harder now to decide if you actually need to take any additional SAT subject tests when you take the SAT I. That’s because as of Fall 2006 the SAT I test rolled in the old SAT II subject tests for writing and (for most of) math. And to make matters even more confusing, they continued to offer the SAT II writing and math tests. So the question comes up, do you still need to take those extra writing and math SAT subject tests in order to boost your chances of getting into the college of your choice? In fact, of all the SAT subject tests offered, which ones should you take?

Finally, An Answer!

First and foremost, find out what the colleges (and degree programs) to which you are applying require. Some of them come right out and tell you which tests you need to take to even be considered for their schools. However, don’t stop there. If you are really good at one or more subjects for which there are SAT subject tests, then by all means take them! Doing well on these tests (even if they aren’t required) will only make your college application look better. For example, if you’re fluent in French, then take the SAT French subject test. Or if you’re a whiz at physics, sign up for the SAT subject test in physics. However, DON’T sign up for these extra subject tests unless you think you’ll do well in them. You don’t want your overall SAT score to go down because you tanked on one of the subject tests.

But what if the college you’re applying to requires only the SAT I? Do you still sign up to take the SAT subject tests in writing and math? Again, ONLY if you think you’ll do well on them. Now that the SAT I test includes much of the old SAT II writing and math questions, many colleges don’t require the additional writing and math subject tests anymore. BUT if you sailed through math in high school, exhausting all the math courses they had to offer (and got As) then by all means, take the SAT subject test in math. A good score can only help your chances of getting accepted to the school of your choice.

The Downside

There is an extra cost to taking SAT subject tests, in addition to the $49 it costs to take the SAT I test. So if you don’t need the subject tests (and you don’t think you’ll do well enough on them to increase your overall score) you may want to forgo the extra subject tests altogether—UNLESS the college to which you’re applying requires you take them.

Also, there’s the time issue. The subject tests each take about an hour, and in most cases can be taken on the same day you take the SAT I test, however, that’s not always the case. So either make sure that you have enough time on your SAT I test day to take the additional SAT subject tests, or schedule them on another day (which means you have to go back to the test center at a later date).

There’s no doubt that today’s SAT I test is harder than the SAT I test your parents took way back when. However, the flip side of that is you don’t have to take a bunch of add-on tests, unless you think they can help you get in. Hey, we’ll take simplifying the college application process anywhere we can get it!

Have you taken one or more of the SAT subject tests? If so, share your experiences and if you thought it helped you get into the college of your choice.

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