Taking the SAT Subject Tests – Why? And What’s a Good Score

An SAT II Overview

Colleges are increasingly valuing the SAT II Subject Tests. To them, these specific subject exams demonstrate your actual understanding of a subject area, meaning how well you have learned each subject and how prepared you will be for college level courses.

People who don’t consider themselves great test takers, just say Ugh.

The real bottom line: colleges like the SAT II exams because – like all standardized tests – they make the admissions job easier.

When tests are standardized, colleges can easily use them to compare you to other high school students nationwide. Hence, the SAT II. Colleges believe (often quite rightly) the grades you get in high school don’t offer an as accurate measurement. Some high schools are more difficult than others, some teachers are harder graders than others, some students earn extra credit for cleaning out test tubes, all these possible factors leave equally talented students receiving different grades. Standardized tests are the great equalizer.

The tests include: Literature, U.S History, World History, Mathematics Levels I and II, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Japanese and Korean.

Not all schools require them, so you should check the universities requirements before registering for any SAT II tests.

Each exam is one hour in length. But make sure you study for them more than an hour.

The scores range from 200-800 as in the SAT I.

Taking the SAT II exams

These tests aren’t easy. The best time to take one of the SAT II tests is right after you’ve finished a year long course in that subject. This way the subject matter will still be fresh in your mind. Some exceptions would be if you plan to take the test in Writing, Foreign Language, or Literature. Then you’d want to take the test after the highest level class you plan to take. Of course, there is no point in taking SAT II tests after November of your senior year, everything should be into the college admissions way before then. The only reason to take them this late would be if the colleges you’re applying to use the SAT II for placement purposes.

For the SAT II, you should prepare yourself like you would for the SAT. Get familiar with the format of the tests. Take old exams for practice if you can.

The test dates for SAT II Subject Tests are usually in October, November, December, January, May, and June. However, not every subject test is offered on each of the test dates. To check when the tests you want to take are offered, refer to the College Board website at www.collegeboard.com

International College Counselor Tip: You can take up to three Subject Tests on the same day, but I don’t recommend it. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of these exams. It’s going to be one brain-challenging hour of you life. The ETS won’t let you take the SAT I and the SAT II tests on the same day even if both are offered on the same day.

What do The SAT II Scores Mean?

They can mean different things as the average score varies widely from test to test. In any given year, It’s all about who is taking the tests. Only the top students are taking these tests now because only the most select schools are asking for the scores. This also makes it impossible to compare the tests directly across the different subjects.

The way to think about these scores is that they are part of the student’s story. So, if the student says they are fabulous at math, they should do well on the math subject test. If the student is just a “good” student with nothing really outstanding- these scores speak to that fact.

Here are all the 2008 median scores of college-bound seniors according to the College Board, the wonderful folks who bring you these tests:


Literature: 580

History and Social Sciences

United States History: 597

World History: 584


Mathematics Level 1: 599

Mathematics Level 2: 644


Biology – Ecological: 593

Biology – Molecular: 630

Chemistry: 635

Physics: 650

Language Tests

Chinese with Listening: 763

French: 620

French with Listening: 624

German: 620

German with Listening: 601

Modern Hebrew: 646

Italian: 671

Japanese with Listening: 693

Korean with Listening: 760

Latin: 624

Spanish: 640

Spanish with Listening: 647

If you have any other college admissions questions for a college counselor, I’d be happy to answer them. I work with international students (9 countries and counting!) as well as those in the U.S. Please write me here or at my personal email which can be found on my International College Counselors college counseling website.

Mandee Heller Adler, Founder and Principal of International College Counselors


By the way, my college advising company is opening a new branch of International College Counselors in NYC so now you can visit our college advisor NYC as well.