When Should I Take SAT Subject Tests?

By: Caroline Koppelman

It was her summer going into senior year and Jillian was making her college list. She considered location, school spirit, which programs best fit her intended major, and whether or not they were on the common app, but it never crossed her mind to see if they required SAT subject tests, or SAT IIs. Jillian started filling out her apps and decided to apply to Cornell early decision. Jillian loved the idea of being in Ithaca and really pictured herself going to Cornell. When she was perusing the requirements, Jillian realized that she needed to send two SAT II scores to the admissions office. This seemed like it would be an easy task, but Jillian realized that the subjects she would have wanted to take exams for were on topics she had covered years ago.

This dilemma is common for people going through the college application process. And it is one you never want to run into, which is why you should take your subject tests directly after the related course that you’ve completed in school. Jillian was planning to be pre-med and should have taken her biology subject test right after freshman year when she had finished taking bio. In the summer before her senior year, she hadn’t taken any SAT IIs. Although there are some SAT II subjects that are easier to take without as much prep (Math I and II), you still are aiming to get a high score so it’s best to take them while the topics are fresh in your memory.

For humanities subjects like US history and the literature exam, the tests are definition heavy. You want to have a fresh memory of the content you learned in those classes so that you can recall it all during the exam. Since it is a subject-based test, the SAT II is more detailed and concise than the regular SAT. While the SAT tests multiple topics in specific genres such as math, reading and writing, the SAT II is focused on one subject matter and can therefore be more specific in its questions.

We recommend that students take the SAT II after completing specific courses even if they end up not applying to schools that require them. Taking your SAT II even if college isn’t even on your radar yet will be helpful down the line. If you did well at chem in sophomore year, then take your subject test in June. It will be one less thing you have to do your senior year. If you score well, the SAT II will be an additional part of your application that you can send to schools to show them that you have excelled outside of your classroom in a specific subject. 

In the end, there’s no harm in being well prepared for the college process. You don’t want to be in Jillian’s situation, finding out you need to send SAT II scores to your favorite college that you haven’t taken. If you take your SAT IIs immediately following the class and you’ll save yourself time and stress when it comes to the college application process.