How to Succeed on SAT Subject Tests

Learning to succeed on the SAT often means learning to succeed on the SAT Subject Tests, too, which can feel like a lot of extra pressure. Luckily, SAT Subject Tests are optional, which means students can prepare and succeed by focusing on areas of their choosing. There are 20 different subject areas offering tests, and each is only one hour.

Students might choose to take an SAT Subject Test to improve their academic portfolio, test out of some college courses, or stand out in scholarship competitions. If you’re interested in taking one or more of these SAT Subject Tests, it will be important that you know how to approach them, improving your chances to succeed.

1. Choose your SAT Subject Tests carefully

If you know that you struggle with a particular subject, it may not be a wise idea to take an SAT Subject Test in it (assuming it is not required by your college). If you don’t have specific requirements for subject testing, choose exams that complement your course of study and show your expertise well.

 Topic  SAT Subject Tests offered
 Mathematics  Math Level 1, Math Level 2
 Science  Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics
 English  Literature
 History  U.S. History, World History
 Languages  Spanish, Spanish with Listening, French, French with Listening, Chinese with Listening,  Italian,  German, German with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Japanese with Listening,  Korean with  Listening
Above data comes from the College Board website.

Avoid those that are irrelevant to your study or that will otherwise show a lack of preparedness.

[RELATED: Should I Take SAT Subject Tests?]

2. Think about your SAT Subject Test timeline

While SAT Subject Tests are available to you many months of the year, you’ll want to put a little more thought into your timeline, rather than just assuming you can conveniently take the exams whenever you wish. Allow yourself enough time to retake the subject tests if necessary, but also try to schedule them late enough into your accompanying studies that you are fully prepared. If possible, take the test when you’re near the end of a corresponding class.

3. Practice makes perfect on SAT Subject Tests

Of course, no exam prep is complete without a number of practice tests. This is true for the SAT Subject Tests as well. While your high school classwork will act as great preparation for the subject tests, they’re not the only things you need to do.

Work with the specific subject test, making sure the practice exams you choose are from the current version of the test. At the end, go through the results carefully, which will give you a better understanding of the test and your learning process. Narrow down where specifically you struggle and then focus your attention and following SAT Subject practice tests there.

4. Work smarter, not harder

While there are a number of different SAT Subject Tests, they all follow similar scoring systems. Each correct answer earns the test-taker one full point, while incorrect answers subtract a partial point. If you’re struggling to come up with an answer, feel free to skip a question, making a note that you’ll need to later return to it.

For questions you simply don’t know, try to work backwards, eliminating possible answer choices until you come up with a reasonable decision.

5. Look into SAT Subject Test requirements

Every SAT Subject Test requires a different set of supplies, so make sure you look into each one’s details so you’re familiar with the equipment required, as well as the format. Some tests require headphones and a CD player while others might require nothing. Knowing what you need will be crucial to your success on the SAT Subject Test of your choosing, so don’t come unprepared.

6. Create a great study space

Having a great spot to study can really help your prep process. Create a space that is conducive to your learning style and well stocked with the appropriate study materials, which might include the following:

  • headphones
  • a graphing calculator
  • highlighters
  • extra pens and pencils
  • notebooks

Knowing that you’ve got an effective place to learn can help motivate you to put in the hours of study you’ll need to ace your SAT Subject Test(s)!


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