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Choosing the Right SAT Subject Tests


During the test preparation process, the sheer number of tests and test dates can be overwhelming. Here at AJ, we have an expert knowledge of college entrance exams and can help you navigate the journey. Here’s a brief guide to one test (the SAT Subject Test, or SAT II) and how students can choose the right ones for them.


Unlike the SAT, which is broad and covers many skills and content areas, the SAT Subject Tests focus on specific subjects taught in school. Because students are already preparing for finals at the end of the junior year, May and June are ideal months to take the SAT Subject tests. Acing the SAT Subject tests is a great way to show what you’ve learned throughout the year.

There are 20 SAT Subject Tests, each of which is an hour in length, scored from 200-800, and comprised entirely of multiple choice questions. You can take up to 3 tests per test date, but we often find that 1-2 is ideal due to potential test day exhaustion.

Factors to Consider in Choosing a Test

You can see a complete list of SAT Subject Test offerings here. The best way to see which SAT Subject tests are right for you is to take practice tests and score them. Here are a couple of key guidelines that can help along the way.

1. College Goals

Admission requirements around SAT Subject Tests vary widely among colleges. Many elites schools require or recommend 2-3 SAT Subject Tests. Examples include Brown University, Georgetown University, Caltech, Rice University, and Tufts University. You can find specific requirements on every school’s website, so it’s a valuable exercise to sit down and make a list of what your student will need to include in the application. If even a couple of your student’s top choices require or recommend SAT Subject Tests, it will be wise to have him or her pick exams and schedule a test date.

2. The Student’s Strengths and Coursework

AP courses often translate well to the SAT Subject Tests, so if, for example, a student is excelling in AP Biology and AP English Language & Literature during her junior year, the SAT Biology and SAT Literature should be strong contenders for a May or June test date.

Keep in mind that, while the AP’s and SAT’s often have much content overlap, there are certainly differences, and the formats are quite different. AP Exams rely more on essays and long-form responses as opposed to the strict multiple-choice format of the SAT’s. Thus, it’s important to be strategic and plan on preparing for both the AP and SAT separately towards the end of the course.

3. Coachability

In addition to any solid AP coursework or obvious subject test affinities, we find that the Math II and Literature exams are great choices for many students. A junior who has taken or is taking pre-calculus will have completed all necessary coursework for both exams.

Furthermore, these exams are especially coachable and strategic in nature, and our students have historically seen a great deal of success and improvement on these exams. For example: while we have an excellent record of success with all of the subjects, our biggest score increases come from the Math Level 2 SAT Subject Test, with many students improving over 100 points.


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How to Prepare for the Tests

AJ Tutoring knows the SAT Subject Tests with a degree of expertise bordering on obsession. Luckily for students, a minimalistic approach focusing on a few key test-taking strategies, a series of full-length practice exams, and a targeted content review can work wonders in maximizing performance on test day.

Our SAT Subject Test Students typically complete 3-4 sessions of 1.5 hours each. They start with an hour-long practice exam which serves as a jumping off point for a highly customized preparation beginning with session #1. In a 1-on-1 format, the tutor will observe the student’s strengths and weaknesses and tailor the instruction to fit his or her needs, assigning practice, reviewing gaps, and coaching on question evaluation as they go.

You can learn more about our preparation process here.

Please reach out to us today to make a test prep plan for your student!


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