SAT Subject Tests

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SAT Subject Tests
Cover of booklet describing, and giving sample questions for, each of the tests offered
TypePaper-based standardized exam
Developer / administratorCollege Board
PurposeAdmission to undergraduate programs of universities and colleges
Year startedc. 1950
Year terminated2021
DurationOne hour
Score / grade range200 to 800
Countries / regionsUnited States

SAT Subject Tests were a set of multiple-choice standardized tests given by The College Board on individual topics, typically taken to improve a student's credentials for college admissions in the United States. For most of their existence, from their introduction in 1937 until 1994, the SAT Subject Tests were known as Achievement Tests, and until January 2005, they were known as SAT II: Subject Tests. They are still commonly known by these names. Unlike the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) that the College Board offers, which are intended to measure general aptitude for academic studies, the Achievement Tests are intended to measure the level of knowledge and understanding in a variety of specific subjects. Like the SAT, the scores for an Achievement Test range from 200 (lowest) to 800 (highest).

Many colleges used the SAT Subject Tests for admission, course placement, and to advise students about course selection. Achievement tests were generally only required by the most selective of colleges.[1] Some of those colleges named one or more specific Achievement Tests that they required for admission, while others allowed applicants to choose which tests to take. Students typically chose which tests to take depending upon college entrance requirements for the schools to which they planned to apply.

Fewer students took achievement tests compared to the SAT. In 1976, for instance, there were 300,000 taking one or more achievement tests, while 1.4 million took the SAT.[2] Rates of taking the tests varied by geography; in 1974, for instance, a half of students taking the SAT in New England also took one or more achievement tests, while nationwide only a quarter did.[3] The number of achievement tests offered varied over time.[4][2] Subjects were dropped or added based on educational changes and demand. In the early 1990s, for instance, Asian languages were added so as not to disadvantage Asian-American students, especially on the West Coast.[1]

On January 19, 2021, the College Board discontinued Subject Tests. This was effective immediately in the United States, and the tests were to be phased out by the following summer for international students.[5]

Tests in the 2010s[edit]

There were 20 different tests in 2020, the last year in which subject tests were offered, 12 of them in foreign languages. Examinees were required to bring an acceptable calculator to take the Mathematics tests (calculators were not permitted on any other test) and a CD player to take the language with listening tests.[6][7][8]

Test Subject Mean score (2016)[9] Standard deviation (2016)[9] Number of students (2016)[9] Notes
SAT Subject Test in Literature Literature 599 122 57,761
SAT Subject Test in United States History U.S. History 624 115 66,967 Formerly American History and Social Studies
SAT Subject Test in World History World History 615 109 15,542 Formerly European History and World Cultures
SAT Subject Test in Mathematics Level 1 Mathematics 599 116 66,058 Formerly Math I or IC. Basic algebra and geometry such as monomials, polynomials, and the Pythagorean theorem were assessed in the beginning of the exam before progressing into basic trigonometry, algebraic functions, elementary statistics and a few miscellaneous topics.[10]
SAT Subject Test in Mathematics Level 2 Mathematics 690 101 145,140 Formerly Math II or IIC. Consisted of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, functions, statistics and a few miscellaneous topics. 20% of all test takers reportedly attained the highest score, 800.[11]
SAT Subject Test in Biology E/M Biology 616 (E)

647 (M)

114 (E)

110 (M)

72,196 in total,
31,965 (E)
40,231 (M)
Students had a choice of taking either an ecological ("E") or molecular ("M") biology oriented test.
SAT Subject Test in Chemistry Chemistry 668 104 71,173
SAT Subject Test in Physics Physics 667 104 56,751
SAT Subject Test in Chinese with Listening Chinese 761 66 4,925
SAT Subject Test in French French 634 121 6,800
SAT Subject Test in French with Listening French 664 113 1,533
SAT Subject Test in German German 636 124 621
SAT Subject Test in German with Listening German 629 121 479
SAT Subject Test in Modern Hebrew Modern Hebrew 614 145 344
SAT Subject Test in Italian Italian 677 114 488
SAT Subject Test in Japanese with Listening Japanese 704 116 1,317
SAT Subject Test in Korean with Listening Korean 764 64 1,891
SAT Subject Test in Latin Latin 632 109 2,483
SAT Subject Test in Spanish with Listening Spanish 660 108 2,914

Every test was a one-hour timed test. Historically, the exception to the one-hour time was the writing test, which was divided into a 20-minute essay question and a 40-minute multiple-choice section. The writing test was discontinued in January 2005.

Tests discontinued earlier[edit]

These were discontinued after January 2005 when the SAT II in Writing was incorporated into the SAT.

Tests in the 1970s[edit]

There were 17 different tests for the 1971–1972 school year:[4][12]

Test Mean score Notes
Achievement Test in American History and Social Studies 486
Achievement Test in Biology 524
Achievement Test in Chemistry 575
Achievement Test in English Composition 512 sometimes had an essay component
Achievement Test in European History and World Cultures 520
Achievement Test in French 524/539 offered with listening component on some testing dates
Achievement Test in German 525/534 offered with listening component on some testing dates
Greek Achievement Test classical language (offered by arrangement)
Achievement Test in Hebrew 573 modern language
Achievement Test in Italian 542 always offered with listening component
Achievement Test in Latin 520 classical language
Achievement Test in Literature 523
Achievement Test in Mathematics Level I 543 for students with three years of college preparatory math
Achievement Test in Mathematics Level II 668 for students with four or more years of modern college preparatory math
Achievement Test in Physics 587
Achievement Test in Russian 531 always offered with listening component
Achievement Test in Spanish 513/526 offered with listening component on some testing dates

Scoring and admissions[edit]

Each test was scored on a scale of 200 to 800; however, on some tests, it was impossible to get a 200. For example, if someone got every question wrong on the Mathematics Level 2 test, they could receive a score of 310, depending on the test-specific curve.[13] An exception was the ELPT, which was scored on a scale of 901 to 999. In addition, the foreign language tests that had both reading and listening components gave subscores for each in the 20 to 80 range.

Prior to the first administration of the new SAT Reasoning Test (which included the writing section) in March 2005, some highly selective colleges required applicants to take three SAT Subject Tests, including the writing test and two other tests of the applicant's choosing, in addition to the SAT. However, when writing became a standard component of the SAT Reasoning Test, most selective colleges recommended applicants submit scores for any two SAT Subject Tests. Engineering schools might recommend or require Chemistry or Physics and Math Level 2.[14][15][16][17][18] No schools required three Subject Tests and Georgetown was the only remaining school to 'strongly recommend' taking three Subject Tests.[19]

The California Institute of Technology, which previously required subject tests, no longer required or considered them as of 2020.[20]

Schools also varied with regard to their SAT Subject Test requirements of students submitting scores for the ACT in place of the SAT: some schools considered the ACT an alternative to both the SAT and some SAT Subject Tests, whereas others accepted the ACT but required SAT Subject Tests as well. Information about a school's specific test requirements could typically be found on its official website.

In October 2002, the College Board decided to drop the "Score Choice" option for exams, due to the fact that it disproportionately benefited wealthier students taking the exam who could afford to take it multiple times. Score Choice meant that scores were not released to colleges until the student approved the score after seeing it.[21] However, the "Score Choice" option was reinstated as of the March 2009 test, allowing test takers to again choose whether or not to send scores.[22]

Answer sheet[edit]

The answer sheet had room for 115 answers; however, no test had more than 95 questions. 1–100 were standard multiple-choice bubbles and 101–115 were for 'relationship analysis questions', which were only used for the chemistry exam. The biology test was the only test to use answers 96–100; questions 1–60 were common to both the E and M tests, in addition, the E used 61–80, and the M used 81–100.


The subject tests and the optional SAT essay were discontinued on January 19, 2021, for U.S. students and in June 2021 for international students. This was done as a response to changes in college admissions due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education.[23] The discontinuation was also due to preference for Advanced Placement courses and its exams.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gordon, Larry (November 1, 1990). "Major Changes Adopted in SAT College Exam". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ a b Daubenmier, Judy (October 10, 1976). "Many Like Idea of Essay Section in College SAT". The Cedar Rapids Gazette. p. 10A – via
  3. ^ Worsham, James (November 20, 1974). "College Board scores up for Bay State, N.E. students". Boston Evening Globe. p. 41 – via
  4. ^ a b A Description of the College Board Achievement Tests 1971–1972. Princeton, New Jersey: College Entrance Examination Board. 1971. pp. 7, 59.
  5. ^ Nick Anderson, College Board is scrapping SAT's optional essay and subject tests, The Washington Post (January 19, 2021).
  6. ^ "Test Day Checklist". Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  7. ^ "Calculator Policy". Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  8. ^ "CD Player Guidance". Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  9. ^ a b c "SAT Subject Tests Percentile Ranks 2016 College-Bound Seniors" (PDF). The College Board. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  10. ^ "Math 1 - SAT Subject Test Math Level 1 Practice Questions".
  11. ^ "Math 2 - SAT Subject Test Math Level 2 Practice Questions".
  12. ^ Your College Board ATP Report. College Entrance Examination Board. 1971. pp. 10–11.
  13. ^ Real SAT Subject Tests
  14. ^ "Prospective Freshman FAQ". Berkeley Engineering. University of California – Berkeley. Retrieved 16 October 2013. Engineering applicants are also strongly encouraged to take the SAT Subject Test in Math Level 2 and a SAT Subject Test in science (Biology E.M., Chemistry or Physics) in order to be as competitive as possible.
  15. ^ "Standardized Test Requirements & Policies". Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 16 October 2013. CIT: Carnegie Institute of Technology / Two SAT Subject Tests: Math Level I or II, Physics or Chemistry
  16. ^ "Instructions & Preparation". Duke University. Retrieved 16 October 2013. Applicants to the Pratt School of Engineering who take the SAT must take one SAT Subject Test in Mathematics (level 1 or level 2). Applicants to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences who take the SAT may take any two SAT Subject Tests.
  17. ^ "Tests & Scores". Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Retrieved 16 October 2013. In addition, we require two SAT Subject Tests: one in math (level 1 or 2), and one in science (physics, chemistry, or biology e/m). We do not have a preference as to which science you take or which level math you take.
  18. ^ "Stanford: FRESHMAN APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS, 2013 – 2014" (PDF). Stanford University. Retrieved 16 October 2013. SAT Subject Tests: ...Recommended but not required
  19. ^ Safier, Rebecca (2 August 2018). "Complete List: Colleges That Require SAT Subject Tests". PrepScholar. Complete List: Colleges That Require SAT Subject Tests
  20. ^ "Standardized Tests". Caltech. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  21. ^ Schoenfeld, Jane (24 May 2002). "College board drops 'score choice' for SAT-II exams". St. Louis Business Journal.
  22. ^ "Score Choice™: SAT Score-Reporting Policy". College Board.
  23. ^ Aspegren, Elinor. "Adjusting to 'new realities' in admissions process, College Board eliminates SAT's optional essay and subject tests". USA TODAY.
  24. ^ "College Board Will No Longer Offer SAT Subject Tests or SAT with Essay – College Board Blog".

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