How Many SAT Subject Tests Should I Take

Decisions, decisions! Not only must you decide which Subject Tests to take, but you must also decide how many Subject Tests to take. In this guide, we’ll go over the most important factors to consider when signing up for Subject Tests, so you can feel confident in your decision.


UPDATE: SAT Subject Tests Are No Longer Available

The College Board announced in January 2021 that no further SAT Subject Tests will be provided in the United States, effective immediately. SAT Subject Tests will be phased out globally in June 2021. Subject tests on the SAT are no longer available.

Many students were understandably perplexed as to why this announcement came so late in the school year and what it meant for future college applications. More information about what the end of SAT Subject Tests means for you and your college applications can be found here.


What is the optimal number of SAT Subject Tests to take?

This isn’t as simple a question to answer as you might think; there are several factors to consider. To make things easier for you, we’ll go over all of the important questions you should ask yourself.


#1: What are the admissions requirements for the colleges to which you are applying?

The requirement of your colleges is the most important element in answering this question. Subject tests are required by schools in the amounts of zero, one, two, or three. Two Subject Tests are usually required by the most selective schools. One exception that comes to mind is Georgetown, which wants to see three.

 Learn more about SAT Subject Test Scores for Ivy League and other selective schools by clicking here.

If a college requests two, you should probably send no more than two. If you take more classes than are required, the college should consider your highest grades. It will also take your highest score into account if you take the same test more than once, but it may appear less strong to admissions officers if they see you took several attempts to achieve a certain score.

Aside from the required number of Subject Tests, you should also find out if the colleges to which you’re applying have any specific requirements or expectations for which ones you take. Subject Test requirements may differ depending on the academic program. An engineering program, for example, is likely to be interested in math and science. To apply to technical schools such as MIT and CalTech, you must take one math and one science Subject Test.

Check out our comprehensive list of all the colleges that require, recommend, or take into account the SAT Subject Tests. Remember, even if a college “recommends” but does not require the tests, taking them is still a good idea! It demonstrates that you are putting in extra effort and challenging yourself, as well as demonstrating your academic strengths.

Furthermore, many colleges value Subject Tests as a somewhat goal measure of your learning. While high school classes and grading systems differ by state, the SAT and SAT Subject Tests are a nationally recognized standard designed to assess students’ academic knowledge on a level playing field.

Once you’re certain about your colleges’ requirements, you can consider your strengths and interests.


#2: What subjects are you well-versed in?

Are you fascinated by the process by which plants convert sunlight into food? Do you enjoy learning about population flows in ecosystems? Are word puzzles entertaining brain teasers, or would you rather read Jane Austen and Mark Twain?

By the way, if you answered “yes” to any of the preceding questions, my Subject Test recommendations would be Biological Molecular, Biology Ecological, Math, and Literature, in that order!

Consider what you know, what you enjoy, and what subjects you excel at. Subject Tests are your chance to demonstrate that you’ve studied and gained significant knowledge in a specific area. Choose wisely so that you not only receive a high score to add to your application, but also add another aspect to the story of who you are and what you enjoy.

Check out our expert guide, Which Subject Tests Should You Take, for more information.

If you believe you excel in multiple subjects, you might want to take three tests in one day (the maximum, unless there are Listening tests included). Then, if you have time, you can select your highest scores and send them to your colleges. However, you don’t want to stress yourself out or waste time studying for a test that you don’t need. When Harvard says it wants two tests, it means two tests, not four!

Check out the full breakdown here to study what constitutes a good score on each Subject Test.

Another important element to consider when selecting and preparing for the Subject Tests is the amount of time you can realistically devote to studying.


#3: Do You Have Enough Preparation Time?

As I previously stated, there is no need to overcommit and go above and beyond. Thousands of applications are being reviewed by admissions officers. They’d like to see the number they need or recommend: neither more nor less.

You may believe that taking three will benefit you because you can take up to three in one day. If this is the case, make sure you have a well-thought-out study strategy in place. You don’t want your prep time to interfere with your studies for the general SAT, AP exams, or finals.

At the same time, Subject Test and AP prep can sometimes overlap so closely that you can kill two birds with one stone. In light of all the other tests you have to take, when should you schedule the Subject Tests? Click here for advice and strategies on selecting SAT Subject Test dates for 2015 and 2016, as well as creating an effective study schedule.


To Summarize…

How many SAT Subject Tests should you take? Most selective schools allow two Subject Tests, but check with your school of choice to confirm and learn about any special requirements. Some schools require specific tests, while others want to see a variety of subjects, and still others vary according to the program you’re applying.

While you may believe that the absence of a Subject Test requirement exempts you from taking them, your school may still recommend them. Let’s just interpret “recommends” as “requires” for the sake of argument. Unless you have a compelling reason or the tests are prohibitively expensive*, you should follow your school’s “recommendation” and submit your results.

* If your financial situation makes it complicated for you to take the tests, speak with admissions officers and see if you qualify for a SAT fee waiver.

What Comes Next?

The Subjects Tests are all one hour long, but the amount and kind of questions you must answer in that hour depend on test. Check out this article for a breakdown of precisely “how long” each test is.

Find answers to all of your questions about “What are the SAT Subject Tests?” here for more information on the differences between the tests.

Do you know if you’re going to take the SAT or the ACT? This article provides a detailed technical breakdown of the differences between the two tests so you can choose which is best for you and your college applications.