Students are very familiar with the SAT and ACT standardized tests, which assess the literacy, numeracy, and writing skills of high school students preparing for post-secondary education. But did you know that College Board also previously offered smaller standardized exams tailored to different areas of study, called SAT Subject Tests?
These SAT Subject Tests were helpful during the college admissions process for students who received high test scores in specific subjects. They were especially helpful to college applications if they could demonstrate knowledge in subjects students were planning to major in. To learn more about SAT Subject Tests and what it means to the college admissions process now that they’re gone, read on.
What Were SAT Subject Tests?
“SAT Subject Tests™ were subject-based standardized tests that were separate from the SAT® Suite of Assessments. Each Subject Test examined your understanding of the material taught in school.”College Board
Subject tests lasted one hour on test days, which lined up with SAT test days (except in March). Last year, May and June were the most popular times to take the test.
Students can take up to three separate tests on any given test day, with prior registration, of course. Scored on a scale from 200-800, these exams awarded the number of questions you got correct, minus a fraction of a point for every incorrect answer. This differs from the scoring students are used to seeing on the SAT, where points are not lost for wrong answers.
Honestly, I prefer the usual SAT scoring system because it allows for more opportunities to get questions you are unsure about correct without having to stress about losing points!
Types of Tests
Across the following five main categories, students had twenty tests to choose from:
- Languages (Listening and non-Listening, depending on the language)
There was a broad range of languages that students could choose from, as well as multiple levels of math and biology:
|Math Level 1||Chinese|
|Math Level 2||French|
|World History||Modern Hebrew|
Tutoring for the SAT Subject Tests was very similar to SAT and ACT tutor sessions, involving many practice tests and tailored exercises for different levels of proficiency.
However, for the subject tests, students only have to prepare for one or two subjects, which allows for in-depth reviews. For myself, the comprehensive reviews allowed for a much deeper understanding of what I would be tested on, which helped me feel more confident when test day arrived.
According to the majority of students, the easiest of the twenty tests were:
- Biology Ecological
- Biology Molecular
- U.S. History
- World History
I strongly agree that Math Level 2 and Physics belong off the easy-exam list, but different students have different strengths!
No More Subject Tests
In the midst of the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, College Board reevaluated its testing system.
Due to the pressures on students during this time, and the already available AP exams to assess student knowledge, College Board ultimately decided to eliminate SAT Subject Tests from its repertoire. Say goodbye to the stress of thinking about SAT Subject Test scores in addition to regular SAT scores!
Students can now focus on the SAT and ACT tests, as well as AP exams, which have become more important than ever.
“The expanded reach of AP and its widespread availability means the Subject Tests are no longer necessary for students to show what they know.”College Board
This decision gives students a much-needed break from overworking themselves and taking multiple tests to prove their competency. The SAT, ACT, and AP exams all provide a strong overview of a student’s academic abilities.
Following this removal of subject tests, some colleges will still continue accepting past scores. Students can find information regarding current mandatory college testing on individual college websites.
Since SAT Subject Test scores no longer matter as much as they might have in the past, other ways of demonstrating academic excellence have become more important, like AP exams.
Advanced Placement (AP) introduces students to college-level work in their high school classrooms. Students can also gain college credit and placement through high score achievement, depending on the university they choose to attend.
What are AP Exams?
There are 38 available AP exams in total, scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest score achievable. Similar to the SAT exam, your score is based only on the number of questions answered correctly. You won’t lose points for incorrect answers or unanswered questions. Students typically take around 3 AP exams in total, although they certainly may take less or more.
Although the exams uniquely differ, they all follow certain requirements:
- Exams range from 2–3 hours long.
- The exams consist of both multiple-choice questions and free-response questions. The free response questions range from short answers to long essay answers.
Do Colleges Care About AP Scores?
Many colleges differ in what scores they will accept as credit. For example, MIT grants credit for a score of 5 on some College Board AP exams, while both Georgetown University and Stanford University accept AP scores of 4 or 5, but only on certain exams. Some colleges have a cap on how many pre-college credits they will award students, while others allow an unlimited amount, such as Georgetown.
AP Scores are another way for college admissions officers to consider how much you learned from your AP courses during the academic school year. If your exam scores are within the 4 or 5 range, it will show universities that you can handle difficult classes while also balancing other commitments. Colleges care about this skill, because they want students who would be able to keep up with their academics during enrollment.
As you now know, there are 38 classes and exams to choose from. These classes are taught by high school teachers who are certified by College Board to teach students college-level academics.
About 80% of U.S. high schools offer AP classes, but not every high school offers every class; most high schools offer about 8 of these classes on average per year. The option to take multiple AP courses is a great way to introduce yourself to the academic life of a college student, but you should be careful not to take more classes than you can handle, as the coursework for AP is rigorous.
Listed below are the current AP courses available:
|Research||Government and Politics (Comparative)|
|Seminar||Government and Politics (US)|
|Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): 2-D Design||Human Geography|
|Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): 3-D Design||Italian Language and Culture|
|Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): Drawing||Japanese Language and Culture|
|Calculus BC||Music Theory|
|Chemistry||Physics 1: Algebra-Based|
|Chinese Language and Culture||Physics 2: Algebra-Based|
|Computer Science A||Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism|
|Computer Science Principles||Physics C: Mechanics|
|English Language and Composition||Psychology|
|English Literature and Composition||Spanish Language and Culture|
|Environmental Science||Spanish Literature and Culture|
|French Language and Culture||US History|
|German Language and Culture||Word History: Modern|
Students rank the easiest AP classes as:
- Computer Science Principles
The hardest ones are agreed to be:
- Physics C: Electricitiy and Magnetism
- Physics C: Mechanics
- English Literature
- Physics 1
- Physics 2
In my experience, both Calculus AB and BC require much attention, although they are manageable courses with enough effort! The average score across all of the AP exams is 3.03, which is the baseline of accepted credit for many colleges.
Whether you’re just finding out what AP courses are or knee-deep in U.S. History essays, make sure to keep your eye on the prize- that college credit at the end of your exam. Your hard work will truly pay off when you submit your scores to your future college and accumulate credits before matriculating!
Use all of the resources at your disposal, whether that be fellow classmates or your teachers, they’re there to help! And try your best not to cram right before the test, spaced-out studying throughout the school year is the absolute best way to go. Many test prep options are also available for most, if not all, the current AP tests, so you’re never alone if you need help preparing for the assessments.
Now, while you may be taking classes in your high school to prepare for the AP exams, an outside tutor can provide a wholly new perspective that may change the course of your score trajectory! SoFlo tutors are experts of AP who have achieved high scores and attend top universities. Check out our tutoring services for a virtual AP tutor who will help you achieve your AP goals.
About the Author
Keli Pegula is a sophomore at Dartmouth on the Pre–Med track. She’s a SoFlo tutor who scored 1480 on her SATs and 34 on her ACTs. When she’s not at school in Hanover, she might be in her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania — the town where the iconic TV show The Office is set!