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SAT Subject Tests vs. AP Exams


We’re quickly approaching AP test season, as well as the May and June SAT dates, which are primary for the SAT Subject Tests! At AJ, our test prep tutors are experts in AP test prep and SAT Subject test prep and help hundreds of students each year get ready for test day.

This post introduces a lot of questions about how students, especially (but not exclusively!) juniors, should prepare for these tests, and what the major differences are between them.

Major Differences Between the Tests

There are several differences between AP and SAT Subject tests that are important to keep in mind.

Subjects Covered

There are far more APs than there are Subject Tests. Here is a side by side comparison:

APSubject Tests
Calculus AB
Calculus BC
Math 1
Math 2
English Language
English Literature
Social Sciences
World History
US History
European History
US Government
Comparative Government
Art History
Human Geography
World History
US History
Natural Sciences
Physics I
Physics C: Mechanics
Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
Environmental Sciences
Biology (Environmental or Molecular)
Spanish (Literature)
Modern Hebrew

Additionally, there are no subject tests for computer science, psychology, or the arts, while there are two AP Computer Science tests, one in psychology, and tests in art history, music theory, and several kinds of studio art.  


Each AP test is taken at a specific date in the first half of May — you can see all of those dates here.

On the other hand, the SAT Subject tests are offered on Saturdays, like the regular SAT.  However, not every subject test is offered on every date – the June and November dates offer the most tests. You can find the schedule here.

It’s important to keep in mind subject tests when putting together an SAT schedule; students can take up to three subject tests at once, but cannot take them on the same date as the regular SAT.  

Format & Content

The AP Tests generally combine a multiple choice section with a free response section (this can be an essay, extended analysis, etc.) and are about 3 hours long.  The SAT Subject tests are only multiple choice questions and are just an hour long.

Even when an AP Exam and an SAT Subject Test have the same title, the content is often somewhat different. AP’s tend to focus on a few core topics and require more critical thinking about those topics whereas the subject tests require a broader knowledge base but are more based on memorizing facts.  

What does this mean for test preparation?  

Because subject tests and AP’s are similar but not identical, AJ Tutoring’s test prep strategy for students who are taking both is very similar to our strategy for students who are taking both the SAT and ACT – we treat the two preps as separate, but try in most instances to complete them with the same tutor. That way, the tutor will know going into the second prep where a student’s content gaps are, and will already have a good idea of the student’s learning strategy, but will carefully differentiate between strategies that work well on one test, and those that work well on the other.  A common prep schedule is to do four sessions (1.5 hours each) for an AP test, and subsequently three or four sessions for the corresponding subject test. Doing the prep for the AP will often help a student do better on the subject test than he or she would without the AP prep, and generally the schedule works out best to take the subject test (in June) after the AP test, since not all subject tests are offered in May, and the May SAT date falls between the two weeks of AP’s, meaning students are often already busy studying for multiple AP’s.

If you’d like to learn more and get your student started with SAT and AP prep, please give us a call today!

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