The Secret Test (?)

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: April 8, 2013

They often turn out to be one of those secrets regarding college admissions that parents are completely unaware of—and guidance counselors forget to reveal: the College Board’s SAT Subject Tests.

WHAT are they?

These one-hour, multiple-choice exams test a student’s knowledge in specific subject areas within English, math, science, history, and foreign languages. Highly selective colleges may require a student to submit the results from two or three such tests in addition to SAT or ACT scores. (Students who are more successful in college admissions tend to submit far more than the minimum number required.) Interestingly, certain universities accept the ACT results in place of the SAT and subject tests! ALWAYS check the college admissions websites to learn about admissions requirements.

WHEN are they given?

Not all SAT Subject Tests are given on all the national SAT test dates. In fact, some tests are given only once or twice during the year. Check out the College Board website at for the latest information.

Students cannot take SAT Subject Tests on the same day as the SAT. But when they do show up for their SAT Subject Tests on a specific test date, students may take up to three Subject Tests in the testing time allotted. And, they can change their mind about which SAT Subject Tests to take right up until the time of the exam!

WHY take a Subject test?

Stand out. The best time to take a test is right after an AP exam (assuming that there is a Subject Test in that particular subject), or in the case of the Subject Tests in math, as soon as possible after taking precalculus. Why? Timing is everything: show your academic prowess to an admissions office! Because it’s a national, standardized test, you’re compared to peers across the country, and a college which doesn’t even require such test scores may view your results positively. Differentiate yourself from the masses of applicants.


SAT Subject Tests are scored on the same 200-800 scale as the SAT. Percentile scores for Subject Tests are misleading because they often indicate a skewed testing population. For example, only 27,000 students take the Physics test each year, so it is logical to assume that most are quite good at Physics. The percentile, not the scaled score, is truly the most important number on the SAT Subject Test report, as it compares you to your peers taking the same test.

Preparation required?

You bet! Don’t rely on preparing for an AP or final exam to get you ready for these tests. Your school curriculum will not necessarily cover 100% of the material that’s tested on a Subject Test, and your timing and test-taking strategies will need practice with actual exams. Call us for expert help! Our students have Scored At The Top on these important college-admission tests!


The sixty-minute tests break down this way:


 Subject Test

# of Q’s




Tests your ability to read and interpret poetry (50%) and prose (50%). You do not have to identify works or authors, but you should be familiar with basic literary terminology.

U.S. History


Covers U.S. history from pre-Columbian to present. However, 80% of the exam covers 1790 to the present.

World History


Measures your understanding of world cultures and historical techniques. The exam covers pre-history to the present and is global in scope.

Math Level 1


Covers math from algebra through basic trigonometry. The questions are generally easier than those on the Level 2, but the Level 2 is scaled more leniently.

Math Level 2


Increased emphasis on functions and trigonometry. Topics not on the Math 1 include log, inverse trig, recursive, periodic, and parametric functions, 3-D coordinates and more extensive trigonometry, conics, and statistics. A strong performance in a pre-calc course is a recommended prerequisite.

Biology E/M (Ecological/



The Biology-E and -M tests share the first 60 questions, but then branch off with a choice of either a 20-question ecological biology (E) section or a 20-question molecular biology (M) section.



Covers structure and states of matter, reaction types, stoichiometry, reactions, thermodynamics, and descriptive and laboratory chemistry.



Mechanics is the largest component followed by electricity and magnetism, waves, thermodynamics, and modern physics.

Chinese w/ Listening



Language Tests

In general, the language exams cover usage and structure, vocabulary-in-context, and reading comprehension.


Languages with Listening

The languages with listening include 20 minutes of multiple choice questions about audio selections followed by 40 minutes of written multiple-choice questions.


Language Preparation

Most students find that they need three to four years of high school-level study to perform well on these exams. Some native speakers express a preference for the listening tests. Note that not all tests are given on all dates. November is the only test date for listening tests.





French w/ Listening




German w/ Listening




Japanese w/ Listening


Korean w/ Listening




Modern Hebrew




Spanish w/ Listening



Topics: Test-Prep

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