What You Need to Know About SAT Subject Tests

*The importance of the College Board’s Score Choice policy*

• What Are SAT Subject Tests?

• How Many SAT Subject Tests Should You Take?

• How Are SAT Subject Tests Scored?

• How Do You Register for an SAT Subject Test?

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Since you are reading this book, it is likely that you have already decided to take the SAT Subject Test in Math Level 1; at the very least, you are seriously considering taking it. Therefore, you probably know something about the College Board and the tests it administers to high school students: PSAT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests. In this short introductory chapter, you will learn the basic facts you need to know about the Subject Tests. In the next chapter, you will learn everything you need to know about the Math Level 1 test in particular.

In 2009, the College Board instituted a Score Choice policy for all SAT Subject Tests, as well as for the SAT. What this means is that at any point in your high school career you can take (or even retake) any Subject Tests you want, receive your scores, and then choose whether or not the colleges to which you eventually apply will ever see those scores. In fact, you don’t have to make that choice until your senior year when you are actually sending in your college applications. Suppose, for example, that you take the Biology test one year and the Chemistry test the following year. If you earn very good scores on both exams, then, of course, you can send the colleges both scores; if, however, your Chemistry score is much better than your Biology score, you can send the colleges only your Chemistry score and the colleges won’t even know that you took the Biology test. Similarly, if you take the Math Level 1 test in June and retake it in November, you can send the colleges just your higher score and they will never know that you took it twice.


Each SAT Subject Test is an hour-long exam designed to test your knowledge of one specific course that you studied in high school. The following chart lists all the SAT Subject Tests that the College Board offers.





Social Studies

World History


United States History


Math Level 1


Math Level 2







Foreign Language


















Each of these tests consists entirely of multiple-choice questions. The number of questions ranges from 50 on the Math 1 and Math 2 tests to 95 on World History.

Why Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?

Not every college and university requires you to submit SAT Subject Test scores as part of the admissions process. So if you knew with certainty that you were applying only to schools that do not require their applicants to take Subject Tests, you would not have to take any.

However, when you are in ninth-, tenth-, or even eleventh-grade, it is impossible for you to know exactly which schools you will be applying to in the fall of your senior year. Also colleges and universities that don’t currently insist that applicants submit scores from SAT Subject Tests may change their policy. In the past few years, many colleges that previously had not required applicants to take Subject Tests have begun requiring them. Therefore, most students—and certainly all good students— should plan on taking some Subject Tests.

Another reason for taking SAT Subject Tests is that even colleges that do not require them for admissions may use them for placement purposes. Often, if you have a good score on a Subject Test, you may be exempted from taking an introductory course in that area and be able to take a more interesting elective.

Finally, remember that because of Score Choice, you are at no risk. If you take a Subject Test and don’t get a score you are happy with, you never have to submit it.

How Many SAT Subject Tests Should You Take?

No college requires applicants to submit scores from more than three SAT Subject Tests, but many schools—including almost all of the most competitive ones—do ask for two or three. Consequently, most students should plan to take at least two Subject Tests and very strong students should take at least three. You should know, however, that many students take more than three, some as many as six or seven. They do this because the Score Choice policy allows them to send whichever scores they like. So they can pick their best two or three scores from among all the tests they have taken. Or, if they have really good scores on more than three tests, they can try to really impress the admissions officers by submitting scores from four, or five, or even more tests. A good guideline is that you should take an SAT Subject Test in any subject in which you feel you can earn a high score. On any test date, you may take one, two, or three Subject Tests, but you may not take any in the month you take the SAT.

When Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?

Most SAT Subject Tests are given six times per year: in January, May, June, October, November, and December. By far the most common month in which to take a Subject Test is June, at the end of the year in which you study the subject on that test. For example, you certainly should not take a history or science Subject Test in December or January of the year you are taking the course—at that point you will have covered less than half the year’s work. Also, taking one of those tests in the fall after your course is over makes no sense when you have not looked at the subject for several months. The exceptions to this general rule are the Math Level 1 test, which you can take any time after you have completed three years of high school math, and the foreign language exams, which you should put off until you have completed as many years of study as possible.


Two types of scores are associated with SAT Subject Tests: raw scores and scaled scores. Your raw score, which you do not receive, is calculated by giving you 1 point for a correct answer and deducting  point for an incorrect answer. Suppose, for example, that when you take the Math Level 1 test you answer 42 of the 50 questions and omit the other 8. If, of the 42 questions you answer, 38 are correct and 4 are incorrect, your raw score will be 37 (38 points for the 38 correct answers minus  point for the 4 wrong answers). Your raw score is then converted to a scaled score between 200 and 800. Only the scaled score is reported to you (and to the colleges to which you apply). Each test has its own conversion chart. See SAMPLE MATH 1 CONVERSION CHART for the Math Level 1 test.

The method of scoring described in the preceding paragraph is the basis for understanding when you should guess while taking a Subject Test. Be sure you read the explanation in the next chapter of when to guess on the Math Level 1 test. In fact, read it twice. It is critically important that you know why wild guessing does not hurt you and why educated guessing can improve your score dramatically.

What Is a Good Score on an SAT Subject Test?

Obviously, different students will have different answers to this question. Many students would be thrilled with any score above 600. Others might not want to take a test if they felt they could not earn at least a 650 or 700. For most Subject Tests, the average score is between 580 and 600. On those tests, therefore, any score in the 600s is well above average and scores in the 700s are excellent. The average scores for Physics and Math 2 are somewhat higher—in the mid 600s. Remember, if your score on a particular test isn’t as high as you would have liked, because of Score Choice you don’t have to submit it, as long as you have at least two or three that are higher.

Important Reminder

Be sure to check the College Board’s web site for the latest documentation you need to register for and bring to the actual test.

How Can You Tell How Well You Will Do?

Of course, you cannot know for sure. However, here is a way to get a good sense of your potential. About six weeks before the test, get a copy of the Barron’s review book for that subject and study it for several weeks before the test date. You should also buy a copy of the College Board’s bookThe Official Study Guide for all SAT Subject Tests and take the practice test in each subject for which you are planning to take a Subject Test. Give yourself exactly one hour for each exam. Reviewing the subject matter and taking practice tests should enable you to raise your score by 50–100 points or even more and help you to reach your goal.


You can get a registration form in your school’s guidance office and mail it in. However, most students register online. To do that, just go to the College Board’s web site——and follow the simple directions.

If you register by mail, an admissions ticket will be sent to you between ten days and two weeks before your test. If you register online, you can print out your admissions ticket as soon as you have completed your registration.

What Should You Bring to the Test Center?

The night before you are scheduled to take any SAT Subject Test, assemble the following materials:

• Admission ticket

• Photo ID

• Several sharpened No. 2 pencils with erasers (do not assume there will be a pencil sharpener in the test room)

• Your calculator—if you are taking either Math Level 1 or Math Level 2

• Spare batteries or a backup calculator

• An easy-to-read watch or small clock to keep on your desk during the test. (You may not use the clock or stop watch on your cell phone.)