What Is the SAT II and Do I Need to Take It?

“Oh great,” you think, “there’s more than one SAT I have to take?”

Not so fast. SAT IIs or SAT Subject Tests, as they’re officially called, are not a standard requirement like the SAT or ACT for college admission. While some schools do require you to take one or more of them as part of their admission criteria, others only recommend rather than require the tests, and others don’t consider the tests at all. Furthermore, Subject Tests can actually be a boon to your application and may even help you receive college credit.


What are the SAT Subject Tests?

Unlike the regular SAT, which lasts more than three hours and tests your math, writing, and reading ability, each SAT Subject Test lasts one hour and only tests a single subject. The tests evaluate your comprehension of a subject you may have studied in high school, such as biology, French, or U.S. history. There are 20 tests that span five subject areas: English, history, language, mathematics, and science. (See here for a full list of the SAT Subject Tests and test dates.)

It’s up to you which, if any, SAT Subject Tests you take, though a school’s admission requirements may dictate which test or tests you need to take. You can take up to three subject tests in one sitting, but you cannot take a subject test the same day you take the regular SAT.


Why take a SAT Subject Test?

Obviously, you’ll need to take a SAT Subject Test if the school you wish to apply to requires one. For example, MIT requires all applicants to take one of the two Math SAT Subject Tests as do a few other schools and many engineering majors.

However, even if the schools you’re applying to do not require subject tests, you should still consider the tests for a few reasons. Many schools, such as UCLA, Princeton, and the University of Virginia strongly encourage students to take one or more Subject Tests, and many other schools note that while an SAT Subject Test is not required, the school will consider any Subject Test results in their admission decision.

SAT Subject Tests provide additional evidence of how prepared you are for the challenges of a college curriculum. This isn’t necessarily bad news for you. If you did particularly well in a high school class, taking an SAT Subject Test in that same subject could be a great opportunity to strengthen your application by demonstrating your proficiency. In this regard, SAT Subject Tests are particularly useful if you weren’t able to take an AP or IB class in a subject you excel in.

Also like AP or IB tests, SAT Subject Tests can be used to earn college credit or advanced placement within college courses. For example, acing the SAT Spanish Subject Test may help you knock off a semester of language classes if the college you attend has a foreign language requirement and you may even earn college credit for the introductory class you got to skip.


Do your research first

Before you decide to take an SAT Subject Test, check the test requirements of the schools you plan to apply to. Schools will list which, if any, Subject Tests are required, and they’ll often be candid about the importance of Subject Tests in admission decisions.

If it looks like you aren’t required to submit Subject Test scores, check to see if you can earn college credit or place higher in a college courses that may correspond with your prospective major. This could help you save on your college tuition or take another class you’re interested in. However, if Subject Tests are neither required, encouraged, nor accepted for credit or advanced placement, then the tests are likely not worth your extra expense or time.