Do You Need to Take Subject Tests?

Do You Need to Take Subject Tests?

The Admissions Game - Future college students will have to decided which test will provide greater chance of acceptance.

Mark L. Fisher

Mark L. Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants ( and a consultant for the College Planning Institute (

Dr. Mark Fisher
Dr. Mark Fisher

For months, juniors and seniors have been taking the SAT or the ACT. Either will suffice for almost every four-year college that requires an entrance exam. Yes, some colleges are test-optional now.

Tutoring agencies have been busy helping some students prepare for these tests, which certainly play a role in the college admissions process. Other students have used online prep courses.

Also occupying students’ time are AP exams, for which, in most cases, the students have taken AP subjects.

But don’t forget the College Board Subject Tests, for which you can sit Saturday, June 3, or Sunday, June 4.

What subjects are tested? Literature, U.S. history, mathematics Levels 1 and 2, biology (ecology or molecular), chemistry, physics, French, German, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Spanish and Korean with listening (new).

You can take up to three Subject Tests on one day. But do you need to take those tests?

The answer lies in the colleges that interest you. At one time, most of the top academic colleges wanted three Subject Tests. But then the Writing Subject Test found its way into the regular SAT. After colleges realized the change, they tended to require two Subject Tests.

Now there are a variety of options, depending on the college. About 40 highly ranked colleges require the Subject Tests, and about 60 recommend them.

If a college recommends a Subject Test and you can do well, take the test. What about colleges that will accept the tests if taken. Again, can you do well on them?

The original purpose of Advanced Placement tests was what the name says: advanced placement if you scored high enough on the 1-to-5 scale to meet a college’s standards. Some colleges want a 4 or 5 to grant advanced placement.

The Subject Tests are used more in the admissions process, like grades and the SAT or ACT.

Occasionally, the ACT alone will meet the criteria when a school wants the SAT and two Subject Tests. Then there are colleges that require specific Subject Tests for a major. An example would be an engineering major.

But why Subject Tests?

High schools give grades of A, B, C, D or F at the end of courses. Let us visualize different situations. High School 1 (HS1) is much harder than HS2. A student in HS1 who has a B could know much more than a student in HS2 who has an A.

Having each student take the Subject Test will show colleges which student knows more.

A similar situation can exist within a high school. Students know there are differences in teachers and how they grade.

How many Subject Tests may you take? While no more than three tests can be taken on a given day, you can take other tests another time. If a college wants two Subject Tests, it usually will take your top two scores.

Which tests should you take? First, take a test in a subject in which you excel. Second, if a college wants a specific test, you must take it.

Here are examples of Subject Test criteria:

  • University of Rochester — SAT or ACT, plus two or more results from the SAT Subject Tests, AP exams or IB exams.
  • Vanderbilt — SAT or ACT. Will consider Subject Tests if submitted. School of Engineering applicants should strongly consider taking the math Level 1 or 2 Subject Test.
  • University of Miami — SAT or ACT. The Honors Program in medicine requires minimum scores of 600 on a math Subject Test and a science Subject Test.
  • Stevens Institute of Technology — SAT or ACT. Subject Tests in math (1 or 2) and either chemistry or biology are required for accelerated medical program.
  • Johns Hopkins — SAT or ACT. Subject Tests are a way to demonstrate an academic strength; engineering applicants encouraged to submit math Level 2 and one science.
  • Boston College — SAT or ACT. Subject Tests may highlight a talent in a specific area.
  • University of Georgia — SAT or ACT. Certain applicants are recommended to submit SAT Subject Test scores.
  • University of Pennsylvania — SAT or ACT. Any two Subject Tests are recommended for arts, humanities and social science applicants. STEM applicants are strongly encouraged to take math Level 2 and a science Subject Test. Physics is recommended for engineering applicants. Math Level 2 is recommended for business applicants. Nursing applicants are encouraged to take a science Subject Test, preferably chemistry.

Under no circumstances treat the examples above as current. Purposely, I did not verify the above because you need to study the admission requirements of each college to which you may apply. That is your responsibility as a high school student.

Now research each of your potential colleges for their admissions requirements as far as testing is concerned.

Note that the Subject Tests are given at the same time as the SAT on a given day. Therefore, if you are going to take the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests, scheduling becomes more important. You can’t sit in two different testing rooms at the same time.

Also, while there are 20 SAT Subject Tests, you must study what tests are given on what date. For example, the Modern Hebrew test is administered only in June.

The deadline for the testing June 3 or 4 (Sunday for religious reasons) is May 9. That is soon.

Mark L. Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants (www.fishereducationalconsultants) and a consultant for the College Planning Institute (

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