How to Choose Your SAT Subject Tests


How to Choose Your SAT Subject Tests

There are so many standardized tests to plan for when you are applying to colleges. Got your SAT or ACT score right where you want it? Ready to report some decent AP scores? Great! Now it’s time to choose your SAT subject tests — also called SAT II’s.

SAT subject tests are on a specific topic, giving you a chance to showcase your specialization or knowledge in a certain field. This application requirement can sneak up on you! Not all schools require SAT subject tests, and some require more than others. While you need to plan ahead for your SAT II's, there are some effective ways you can check these off your list. Standardized testing is nobody’s favorite activity, but I’m going to suggest ways to choose your SAT subject tests as painlessly as possible.

What subject tests can you choose from?

In order to choose your subject tests, you first need to know which SAT subject tests are available in the first place. You can choose from 20 different subject tests offered by the College Board. They are:

  • Biology (Ecological)
  • Biology (Molecular)
  • Chemistry
  • Chinese with Listening
  • French
  • French with Listening
  • German
  • German with Listening
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Literature
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening
  • Math 1
  • Math 2
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Physics
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening
  • US History
  • World History

Follow the APs

If you are in AP classes, you can maximize your study effectiveness by registering to take the corresponding SAT subject tests. I suggest either taking your SAT II's in May and your studying will help your AP scores, or take them in June and the AP studying will help your subject test scores. Kill two birds with one stone - take advantage of your hard work in your APs to prepare you for your SAT subject tests!

Here’s a list of the APs that most closely line up with SAT subject tests:

  • AP Calculus: Math 1 or Math 2 SAT II
  • AP US History: US History SAT II
  • AP Biology: Biology SAT II
  • AP Chemistry: Chemistry SAT II
  • AP Physics: Physics SAT II
  • AP English Literature and Composition: English SAT II
  • AP World History: World History SAT II
  • AP Chinese Language and Culture: Chinese with Listening SAT II
  • AP French Language and Culture: French, French with Listening SAT II
  • AP German Language and Culture: German, German with Listening SAT II
  • AP Italian Language and Culture: Italian SAT II
  • AP Japanese Language and Culture: Japanese with Listening SAT II
  • AP Latin: Latin SAT II
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture: Spanish, Spanish with Listening SAT II

Even if you’re not in AP classes, you should have classes which correspond with the different subject test options. The classes you’ve taken will be a pretty straightforward indicator of which SAT subject test they’re similar to. If you’re confused, you can always ask your college counselor or classroom teacher.

Follow your strengths

Take subject tests in the academic areas where you excel! There is a lot of internet chatter about taking a mix of science and humanities tests. In my admissions experience, this balance doesn’t really matter. In fact, if you express a certain academic interest, I'm going to expect you to take the corresponding SAT subject test. If you are planning to be an English major and your essay is about your love of literature, I’m going to assume you'll take the English exam.

Not only will I presume that you're going to take those subject tests, but I'm also going to expect that you will perform well. If you are applying to engineering programs, I’m going to assume that math and science are your strengths and you should show strong scores on these subject tests. Use your SAT subject tests to bolster your expertise in your field of interest.

Not quite sure what you want to pursue in college? The specific SAT subject tests that you take don't really matter in this case - just pick the tests where you think you'll perform the best. What matters most is getting the highest score you can.

Follow the minimum requirements

Do not overdo it. There is no reason to take more than 2 subject tests (unless you are applying to Georgetown) - 2 is plenty. Using all of your time preparing for additional subject tests does not make you a more interesting candidate. Check 2 (3 if you must) off your list, and get back to doing activities that add depth and meaning to your application!

Follow major/program requirements

If you’re applying for a certain program or major, or to a specialized university, they might have specific SAT subject test requirements. For example, all MIT applicants must submit scores from one math and one science subject test. CalTech applicants are required to submit Math 2, plus one science subject test. You must carefully read through the testing requirements of the schools you’re applying to and ensure you’re taking the right tests.

If you’re applying to a liberal arts school, you might like to show admissions officers that you are knowledgeable in different academic areas, such as Literature, Spanish, and Math. Some schools, such as Wesleyan University, use SAT subject tests to determine your placement in different courses.

The most useful thing that SAT subject tests can do is help you apply to a dream school that requires coursework you have not completed. The University of California system is a great example. These awesome schools share a stringent list of academic requirements but will sometimes accept subject test scores in exchange.

If you’re bilingual (or trilingual!)

If you learned a second language for school or as a hobby because you are interested in a foreign culture for example, the language SAT subject tests are a great way to demonstrate your skills as well as check off a subject test.

Bilingual students who do not have two years of high school foreign language, for instance, can complete the language requirement with the SAT II in their native tongue. I typically don’t recommend that native speakers take their corresponding subject test— admissions officers see you. But in this example, an 800 on the subject test of your language demonstrates your proficiency and will be accepted as evidence in lieu of 2 years of a high school foreign language. If you have a unique situation that you hope SAT II’s can help you smooth over, I suggest confirming with each school’s admissions office.

On the flip side, if you’ve only learned the basics of a language over just a few months without much exposure or practice, taking a language test might not be the best for you.

Timeline for SAT subject tests

You might be asking yourself, when is the best time for me to take the SAT subject tests? Most students choose May or June, right after their finals when the course material is fresh in their minds. You don’t have to take them in your junior year; you can even take them your freshman or sophomore year if you believe you’re ready. This also helps you have plenty of time to receive the score, and decide whether you want to retake the test before sending it to a college. If you’re not prepared before the summer, you can also take them in October (or even November) of your senior year. However, to stay on the safer side, take the SAT subject tests earlier.  

Below is a list of upcoming test dates, their last and late registration deadlines (late registration comes with a fee), and the date the scores are released. Please note: subject tests are not offered on all SAT test dates, and the specific subjects tested vary by date. For instance, the language with listening tests are only available in November, so you should plan accordingly.

Test Date Subjects Available Last Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline Scores Released
May 4 2019 Literature, US History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish April 5, 2019 April 24, 2019 May 17, 2019
June 1, 2019 Literature, US History, World History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin May 3, 2019 May 22, 2019 July 10, 2019
August 24, 2019 Literature, US History, World History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish July 26, 2019 August 14, 2019 September 6, 2019
October 5, 2019 Literature, US History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish September 6, 2019 September 25, 2019 October 18, 2019
November 2, 2019 Literature, US History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish, French with Listening, German with Listening, Spanish with Listening, Chinese with Listening, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening October 4, 2019 October 23, 2019 November 15, 2019
December 7, 2019 Literature, US History, World History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish, Latin November 8, 2019 November 27, 2019 December 20, 2019
May 2, 2020 Literature, US History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish April 3, 2020 April 22, 2020 May 15, 2020
June 6, 2020 Literature, US History, World History, Math I, Math II, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin May 8, 2020 May 27, 2020 June 19, 2020

You can change which test or how many tests you take on the day of, as the tests are all included within the same booklet. You can change your exam subject without an additional fee, unless you take a language with listening test. Give yourself plenty of time to study and prepare as well. Students usually take SAT subject tests only once, so unless you really need to, don’t spend too much time or money on several sittings.


Your choice of SAT subject tests should not be arbitrary. Think about what your best subjects are, what you’re prepared for, how the subjects relate to your future goals, and what you want the admissions officers to know about your interest areas. Stay ahead of college deadlines and plan to take them in advance (if possible).

The subject tests are a pain, but keep it simple and get them off your plate as soon as you can. If you take AP US History in 9th grade, go ahead and take the SAT II in US History. You’ll be glad you did! If you’re in 11th grade and haven’t taken any yet, don’t overthink it. Take the tests where you expect to get your highest scores with minimal extra effort. Other parts of your application need your attention more! If you weigh all your options and play to your strengths, you can choose the right SAT subject tests without any hassle.


I am an internationally produced playwright and novelist with 26 years of experience in Ivy League admissions. I earned my MFA from the University of Iowa Playwrights’ Workshop and was a Senior Fellow in playwriting at Dartmouth College, where I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude.

I received a grant from the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays, a project in cooperation with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. My debut fantasy novel LightLand, published by Scholastic/Orchard Books, earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

I live with my husband and children in a Connecticut farmhouse.

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