The lesser known SAT Subject Tests may be required at your colleges of choice; typically, these are used by more selective colleges where they’ll want to see two tests.  Be sure you are checking all testing requirements for each school in which you are interested, so you don’t overlook these important tests if they are required.

What are They?

Really, just what they say they are.  These tests, formerly known as SAT II’s to your parents, are meant to measure achievement in high school courses.  There are 20 possible tests across 5 content areas.  They are different in nature to the SAT, which is a reasoning test.  As well as different from AP tests, which measure college level curriculum.  You’ll actually find Subject Tests to be more like your classroom tests or the ACT.

Colleges that REQUIRE (fewest schools)

Typically these are among the most selective colleges.  Harvard, for example, requires the ACT Plus Writing or the SAT and TWO SAT Subject Tests.  You can’t choose two MATH tests nor for students whose first language is something other than English can they choose their language for the test. There are sometimes other requirements such as those pursuing engineering must have a math test as one of their two tests. For most students required to take two tests, they are the tests of your choosing.

Colleges that Require BUT SUBSTITUTE ACT Plus WRITING 

Yale falls into the next category. There is a group of schools requiring SAT Subject Tests that will allow you to NOT take them if you instead submit the ACT Plus Writing.  Why would they do this? By nature, the ACT is an achievement test which is what the Subject Tests are attempting to measure. These schools feel it would be redundant to take both. Keep in mind if you choose to submit the SAT instead of the ACT, you’ll still need those pesky Subject Tests.

Colleges that RECOMMEND

It’s so tempting for a student who feels over-tested, stressed by keeping up with rigorous classes and burdened by a mountain of college applications to forego testing when it’s not required.  Mistake.  The pool of applicants is highly qualified and numerous. To set yourself apart from the crowd, I highly suggest following through with anything that is recommended by the college. This could be the subject tests or interviewing.  Northwestern falls into this category.


Northwestern’s policy is a good reminder to read the fine print.  Look for the exceptions! These can include home school students being required to take SAT Subject Tests when others are not. Students pursuing particular degrees being required when others are not.  I’m sure there are other exceptions, but these are the two most common.

The bottom-line is if a school recommends or requires, just do it! There are certainly ways to maximize your SAT Subject Test Scores.