Who should take (and prep for) SAT Subject Tests?

We all recognize the critical role that strong SAT scores play in college admissions. But what about the SAT Subject Tests? Do they make a difference in the minds of college admissions committees? Here’s what you should know.


The multiple-choice SAT Subject Tests — available in 20 different subjects spanning the liberal arts, STEM, and language — have been traditionally used by colleges as additional criteria for admission, course placement, and student advising. Although college admissions offices are tending to de-emphasize the importance of Subject Tests in an evaluation, there are still reasons to take the exam.


There are several instances when taking a Subject Test will help chances of admission:

  • Credentials don’t accurately reflect a student’s ability. Although most universities don’t require Subject Tests, they acknowledge that high test scores could be helpful in certain situations. For example, Harvard suggests that if a student believes his or her other academic credentials (AP results, IN marks, etc.) don’t adequately represent their full academic ability, Subject Tests may bolster chances of admission.
  • Applying to schools with a “fair testing policy.” Some schools have fair testing policies that allow students to use a Subject Test score or an AP score in a particular subject area instead of an ACT or SAT score. This may be a good decision if scores on either of those exams are less than stellar.
  • A student wants to highlight his or her strength in an intended major. Some colleges have very selective admissions for certain majors. Taking Subject Tests that align with a student’s intended major, to show skills in a specialized area of study, can demonstrate a strong commitment and set apart an applicant from a crowded field.

When You Should Take the Subject Tests

  • If they’re required. Obviously, if Subject Tests are required, you must take them. Many top-flight engineering programs require students to take two Subject Tests: Math II as well as a science subject test (physics, chemistry, biology).

  • If your other academic credentials are already strong. Like universities that require the Subject Tests, those that strongly recommend them fall into the group of the most selective. This means that if you don't already have high SAT or ACT scores (above 1350 or 29, respectively) to begin with, it’s probably not worth taking Subject Tests in an attempt to bolster your application. Subject Test scores are just “the icing on the cake” of already strong baseline numbers (GPA and SAT/ACT scores)

If you want to pursue a STEM major in college and are planning to take the Subject Test, the good news is that these concept-driven STEM subjects are ideal for tutoring. Savvy students start preparing for the Math II and a science Subject Test leading up to spring of their junior year, when they’ll take AP tests in those same subjects.

Contact Streamline Tutors today for more information about the best test prep plan for your student.