By: Caroline Koppelman
There are a few ways to answer this question. The general advice we give is that you should take as many tests as you can in the subjects you excel in. If you feel comfortable you should take at least one humanities SAT II and one STEM SAT II. Of course there are always students who take two humanities or two STEM tests and still gain admission to top tier schools, but generally it’s a good idea to have one of each.
You want to take tests in subjects you’re currently enrolled and achieving in. If you’re doing well in an AP class this would be a great option. AP tests are generally in the beginning of May and much of the material you’ll need to study will also be the SAT II material. By taking both around the same time you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.
But, the more specific answer to this question depends on what grade you’re in. If you’re a freshman, you have a lot of time to really think about these tests and choose the ones that call to you the most. You’re not in a pressurized time crunch. The most common test for freshmen to take is the Biology SAT II (either one is fine). But, we have some students who have also taken the World History test. We wouldn’t recommend taking both as a freshman unless you’re doing well in both. It’ll be incredibly advantageous to get at least one out of the way before the senior year rush.
By sophomore year many students are in AP classes. If you’re enjoying particular APs, you should take the SAT II in that subject. Take the June SAT II so that you don’t have to duplicate studying efforts. Sophomore year is an excellent time to take the SAT IIs even if you aren’t in AP classes. Chemistry or physics (depending on the school) are popular options. Junior year gets incredibly hectic with standardized tests, so it’s often a great stress reliever to get them out of the way sophomore year.
However, if you haven’t taken any tests by junior year, now is the time. DO NOT wait until senior year to do it. Think about which areas you’re going to be highlighting in your college applications. If you’re applying to all liberal arts schools or the college of arts and sciences at large universities, it’s still a good idea to diversify your SAT IIs. This may seem intuitive, but if you’re going to write about the math major in a college application, you should definitely take a math SAT II, and preferably the highest level math exam (Math 2).
If you’re applying to a specialized program, an engineering or business school, for example, you will most likely have specific SAT II requirements. Check those sooner rather than later. Most engineering schools want to see a physics subject test.
DO NOT make an excuse for yourself so that you take the tests in the fall of your senior year. You’ll be more stressed than you can imagine and the information won’t be fresh. If you’re in that worst-case scenario situation and you have to take a test in your senior year, do it in the fall and make sure you study the subject you’re taking during the summer. You might have to send your send your scores directly to the school: check here.
For students who speak a second language fluently, or studied in school, taking a language SAT II can be a good way to boost your scores.
SAT IIs are a vital and often overlooked component of the application process. But as long as you get them done early, they should be one of the least stressful facets.