SAT Subject Tests / SAT II

You can take Subject Tests to show competency in a subject, and a few schools require 1-3 tests for applying. It’s a good idea to take them in different buckets i.e. one math, one science, one history. They’re usually more straightforward than the SAT - you just learn the material and answer the questions. It helps to take an AP course in the corresponding subject, but many folks attend awful high schools where that’s no help. Nonetheless, prep books can get you to pretty stellar scores in almost all the subjects.

The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, 2nd ed provides an actual, previously administered test for all the subject tests, so it is a must buy. The actual advice is forgettable but they do provide answer explanations which are helpful. For the subject tests the focus is on content/knowledge so it’s hard to do well without knowing the material, but like the SAT, understanding the test format and knowing what topics/questions come up is a big help. The book also provides a scoring scale for each test so you can understand how many you can miss and still get a certain score.

The scoring is the same as on the SAT. Below we discuss the details.

SAT II Percentiles

The College Board publishes percentiles, which gives you an idea of how well people do on the exams. This helps temper expectations - if an 800 in Math Level 2 is 85th percentile, then your “perfect math score” is pretty great but not mindblowing. Similarly, over half the people who take the Chinese exam get a 790 or 800.

On the flip side, less than 10% of test takers get a 750 or higher on the Literature test. When deciding what tests to take, check out the percentiles to set expectations. In general, 750+ is good for any subject, but an 800 can be incredible or just pretty great depending on the subject.

Literature

Much tougher than the SAT CR section. The passages are more difficult and the questions are more esoteric. Fluency in pre-20th century English is a huge benefit. Some basic knowledge of literature terms is required. Getting a score of 800 is very difficult.

Because of the number of practice tests that it contains, The Kaplan Book is a good resource.

Percentile 800 is the 99th percentile; 790 is the 99th percentile.

Curve ~60 questions

  • -2 onward: 800
  • -3/-4: 790
  • -5: 780
  • -6: 770
  • -7: 760
  • -8/-10: 750
  • -9: 740
  • -10: 730
  • -11/-12: 720
  • -13/-14: 710
  • -15: 700

Recommendation Skip this test unless you’re terrific at literature. Hard to get a perfect score on.

US History

Supposed to be slightly more detail-oriented than the AP US History exam. The AMSCO Book is the best resource for the AP US exam and for the subject test, but it is quite long. If you’re short on time, then AP US History Crash Course is a great resource. I pretty much only used the Crash Course book and got an easy 5 on the AP exam and a 780 (or 790, I forget) on the subject tests with very little effort.

Finally, the College Board book provides two real exams for US & World History. Definitely worth a buy for the practice.

Percentile 800 is the 98th percentile; 790 is the 97th percentile.

Curve 90 questions

  • -10: 800
  • -11: 790
  • -12/13: 780
  • -14: 770
  • -15: 760
  • -16/-17: 750
  • -18: 740
  • -19/-20: 730
  • -21: 720
  • -22/-23: 710
  • -24/-25: 700

Recommendation Many students double up on AP US History + SAT US History. If you’re in that position, go for it. If not, it’s still a pretty manageable exam since US students learn a lot of this throughout the years. Generally considered one of the easier SAT Subject Tests to do well on.

World History

Tough exam due to the large amount of material covered, but the curve is generous. Similar to SAT US History, the subject tests tend to focus more on facts rather than the broad analysis you’d expect on the AP exams.

Finally, the College Board book provides two real exams for US & World History. Definitely worth a buy for the practice.

Percentiles 800 is the 97th percentile; 790 is the 96th percentile

Curve 95 questions

  • -18: 800
  • -19/20:790
  • -21: 780
  • -22/23: 770
  • -24/25: 760
  • -26: 750
  • -27/28: 740
  • -29/30: 730
  • -31/31: 720
  • -32: 710
  • -33/34: 700

Recommendation Most people opt for US History. Do this if you’re taking the AP class and/or have a better knowledge of world history.

Math Level 1

This test assumes knowledge up to Algebra II. Frankly, skip this exam. Students applying to top schools take Math Level 2, and this test has a harsh curve. The material is pretty similar to SAT Math, so you’re not actually providing a new data point here.

Math Level 2

Great curve, covers some pre-calc material. It’s not hard to prepare for this. Barron’s SAT Math2 book is the best resource here. The book and exams are way tougher than the actual tests, so if you’re doing well with that book, you will crush the exam.

Sparknotes and Khan Academy have some good practice tests/questions, and the Princeton Review book has realistic questions as well. Finally, the College Board SAT Math I/II book has two real practice tests which make it a must buy.

Percentiles 800 is the 89th percentile; 790 is the 86th percentile.

Curve 50 questions

  • -7: 800
  • -8: 790
  • -9: 780
  • -10: 770
  • -11: 760
  • -12: 750
  • -13: 740
  • -14: 730
  • -15: 720
  • -16: 710

Recommendation This is a great exam to take if you’re mathematically inclined. Even if you’re not, some hard work can get you in good shape to score really well here.

Biology E/M

You can take either the Biology - Ecological or Biology - Molecular test. The first 60 questions are the same on both tests and the last 20 differ based on what you picked. The material is comparable to the AP test. Bio-E has a slightly easier curve but they’re both pretty much the same, so take whatever you prefer.

The Princeton Review book is considered a solid resource.

Percentiles 800 is around 98th percentile; 790 is around 96th percentile.

Curve Biology E: 80 questions

  • -3: 800
  • -4: 790
  • -5/-6: 780
  • -7/-8: 770
  • -9: 760
  • -10/-11: 750
  • -12: 740
  • -13/-14: 730
  • -15/-16: 720
  • -17/-18: 710
  • -19/-20: 700

Biology M: 80 questions [A little bit more lenient than E, but around the same. -20= 700, -3= 800]

Recommendation Great to pair with the AP class.

Chemistry

This exam is a little easier than AP Chemistry. The curve is okay, not great, and you’ll be expected to have a good understanding of broad concepts and specific details. Chem also has true/false questions - not too bad, but something to be aware of.

As usual, the Princeton Review and Barrons ar ethe best review books.

Percentiles 800 is the 93rd percentile; 790 is the 91st percentile.

Curve 85 Questions

  • -3: 800
  • -4/-5: 800-790 [varies]
  • -6/-7: 780/790
  • -8/-9: 770
  • -10/-11: 760
  • -12/-13: 750
  • -14/-15: 740
  • -16/-17: 720
  • -18/-19: 720
  • -20/-21/-22: 710
  • -23/-24/-25: 700

Recommendation This is a pretty manageable exam - just review the material thoroughly.

Physics

There’s no calculus on the exam so it’s similar to AP Physics B, but not as in-depth. Nonetheless, there are a few new topics that aren’t in AP Physics B/C, so review the content. The curve is great but it is tough to “cram” for this exam as you need to actually understand a lot of the concepts.

The Princeton Review and Kaplan books are both great for content and have some good questions.

Percentiles 800 is around 90th percentile; 790 is around 88th percentile.

Curve 75 questions

  • -12: 800
  • -13 to -15: 800-790
  • -16/-17: 780
  • -18/-19: 770
  • -20: 760
  • -21/-22: 750
  • -23: 740
  • -24/-25: 730
  • -25: 720
  • -26/-27: 710
  • -28/-29: 700

Recommendation Definitely take this if you’re good at physics. The curve is very generous and the material is neat. If you haven’t done physics though, it’s hard to study for this exam independently.

Languages

There are various language tests, each with a version that has a listening component. The curves are messy because a lot of native speakers take them. If you are a native speaker, DO NOT take the exam for your language. It doesn’t really tell the college anything about you and some schools explicitly ask you not to.

If you’re not a native speaker, the exams are generally tough. Look through the college board website for sample questions to get a sense of the exams.