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Should you take SAT subject tests?

Students testing
Students testing

What is an SAT Subject Test? And should you sit for one (or more) of these exams, in addition to the ACT and/or the SAT?

Because SAT Subject Tests, of which there are 20 exams in the broad fields of English, foreign language, history, mathematics, and science, do not replace the more common ACT and SAT in an admissions package, you must devote additional preparation and test-taking time to this endeavor if you choose to pursue it. Each exam is a single hour in length and assesses your knowledge of one content area. Subject Tests are administered by the College Board and they are available multiple times throughout the year. Keep in mind, however, that not all exams are offered on all test days.

Still uncertain about whether SAT Subject Tests might be right for you? This is a natural and common concern. However, there are three key considerations to ponder as you make your decision:

1. Your prospective college or university requires (or awards credit for) subject tests
If you hope to matriculate to an institution such as Amherst College or Cornell University, you must sit for SAT Subject Tests. On average, schools that require them request two to three exams, with the specific content dependent upon your intended major. Certain institutions also offer class credit or waive basic course requirements for strong Subject Test scores. If just one college or university on your “prospectives” list falls into this category, sit for the exams—doing so will benefit all of your applications.

2. Your academic experience includes subject matter that is not clearly reflected elsewhere in your application
Perhaps you are autodidactic, or you gained deep knowledge of a subject like biology, chemistry, or physics through an internship or summer camp. Maybe your first language is Chinese or Spanish. While you can discuss these experiences in your personal statement or note them in the appropriate section of the Common Application, a high mark on a Subject Test is a direct signal that you excel in a given field. In this instance, it is absolutely wise to register in the appropriate content area.

3. Your application to a school is contingent upon acceptance into a specific college or concentration
Certain high school seniors know precisely which academic area they wish to study. They intend to become architects or veterinarians, and they realize this by June of their junior year—or earlier! If this describes you, SAT Subject Tests are an ideal platform for demonstrating your faculty in the subject(s) you wish to major in. This may be especially true if your prospective colleges or universities are competitive. A solid mark on a Subject Test suggests you can handle the rigor of the program.

If you wish to augment your application with SAT Subject Tests, hurry! The final exam date for 2014 is June 7th. Best of luck!

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