SAT Subject Tests: Everything You Need To Know

For many students and parents, the SAT Subject Tests represent one of the most bewildering aspects of the college admissions process. Few schools have specific requirements regarding these tests — Subject Tests are optional at many schools, and there are few guidelines regarding which ones (and how many) a student should take — but high scores on multiple SAT Subject Tests can enhance students’ credentials and increase their likelihood of acceptance to competitive universities.

If a student has demonstrated academic aptitude in any of the subject areas covered by these exams, which include Literature, US History, World History, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, and a variety of languages, it may be a good idea to sign up for a Subject Test. But where to start?

Noodle Pros Founding Tutor Brendan Mernin has been tutoring the SAT Subject Tests (formerly called Achievement Tests) for more than 30 years. As an expert on all things test-prep — and a parent himself — Brendan is uniquely positioned to demystify these specialized exams and provide information and insight. Brendan shared his vast knowledge of these tests in a recent Noodle Pros webinar, SAT Subject Tests: Everything You Need To Know. Keep reading for some of his top advice, and check out the video for Noodle Pros’ comprehensive introduction to SAT Subject Tests.

SAT Subject Tests: Tips For Parents

1. Prepping for an SAT Subject Test is different from prepping for the regular SAT. Though the Math 1 and Literature SAT Subject Tests do overlap with SAT and ACT content, the latter exams require substantially more preparation and practice than any of the Subject Tests. The Subject Tests don’t lend themselves to the same types of “cleverness” (aka smart test-taking strategies) as do the regular SAT or ACT, and they generally require more studying of specific concepts versus rote practice. While a student might take 3-6 months (or more) to prep for the SAT or ACT, prepping for a Subject Test should only take a few weeks of hard work and focus.

2. Start thinking about SAT Subject Tests early. There are two reasons for this. First, it’s best to sit for a Subject Test immediately after completing that subject in school — so if your child takes Biology in 9th grade (and earns high marks), he or she would be smart to take a Biology Subject Test immediately afterwards. Second, students will be extremely busy with extracurriculars, SAT/ACT test prep, college visits, and homework by the time they reach 11th grade. Piling two or more extra standardized tests onto an already substantial workload is likely to diminish a student’s performance in at least one of those crucial areas. Why add extra stress to 11th grade, when it’s possible to stretch Subject Tests out throughout the course of a high school career?

3. Subject Tests are especially important for students who are homeschooled, or enrolled in progressive schools that do not assign grades. If your student is homeschooled or enrolled in a grade-less school, colleges will not have a clear metric with which to judge his or her academic performance. By taking Subject Tests, that student can demonstrate academic prowess — even without grades.

4. SAT Subject Test scores range from 200-800, but students aiming for competitive schools and programs should set their goals at 700 or higher. Since most people are taking tests in their areas of expertise, score tend to range high. For example, students applying to math and engineering programs at top-tier universities frequently boast perfect 800 scores on the Math 2 SAT Subject Tests. If this is truly a student’s best subject, 770 or higher is an attainable goal.

5. In terms of content and difficulty, SAT Subject Tests mimic final exams. A student who earns high marks in a class (particularly one that is honors level or advanced in some way), will likely earn a high score on the accompanying SAT Subject Test. So if your child earns consistent A’s in History and Science, those are the Subject Tests to focus on. If he or she struggles to earn a B on a pre-calculus final, it’s a good idea to skip the Math 2 test.

Watch the video for more information about the SAT Subject Tests, detailed test-taking advice for the US History, World History, Literature, Math 1, and Math 2 Subject Tests, and a short Q&A with test-prep veteran Brendan Mernin.


Brendan Mernin is a Founding Tutor with Noodle Pros, and has been a leader in test prep and admissions since 1989. He has tutored, taught, and advised thousands of students and families worldwide; trained hundreds of teachers and tutors; and developed leading instructional content. He is Co-Founder and Founding Director of Math4Science, Inc, a nonprofit improving American math education by connecting high-quality, teacher-written math curricula with information about STEM careers. A parent himself, he understands the challenges faced by high schoolers as they enter the college admissions process, and offers unique insight to students and their families.

The best tutors. Anywhere.