Overview of SAT Subject Tests
After students sit their SAT or ACT exams, many turn their attention to SAT Subject Test preparation. Many top US universities require students to sit at least two Subject Tests in addition to their ACT or SAT exam for admission. Below you’ll find a comprehensive overview of the different Subject Tests and the preparation involved.
Math Level 1
The Math Level 1 Subject Test is in large part comprised of material students will already be familiar with from their SAT/ACT preparations, particularly if they’ve focused on the ACT. The majority of the questions on the exam are split between Algebra & Functions and Geometry. It is not necessary for students to currently be taking Maths at A-Level, although those students who aren’t will find they have a greater number of additional topics to address. Regardless, many of our students find this to be one of the least work-intensive Subject Tests to prepare for and will often choose it as their second subject if their A-Levels don’t neatly align with the list of possible Subject Tests.
Math Level 2
The Math Level 2 Subject Test not only builds on many of the topics from the Level 1 and the SAT/ACT but also includes material from more complex concepts like logarithms, trigonometry, and functions. The majority of questions cover topics from Algebra & Functions, though more emphasis is placed on the more complex concepts. While we do recommend that students are doing A-Level Maths, they do not necessarily also need to be taking Further Maths. Students who are not taking A-Level Maths but scored very highly on SAT/ACT Math could also consider taking Math Level 2.
The content on both Biology Subject Tests goes above and beyond both GCSE and A-Level curricula, so we strongly recommend that students are taking A-Level Biology if they are considering either Biology Subject Test. While they are the simplest of the three science Subject Tests for students to prepare for, they do require students to retain and recall a broad spectrum of material, ranging from cellular processes to organismal biology. Students should be aware that both tests still feature the same overall content, but the number of questions per topic will differ for each test. Biology-M places a greater emphasis on molecular biology topics such as cell energy cycles and protein synthesis while Biology-E focuses more on ecology, evolution, and diversity.
The Chemistry Subject Test also includes additional material beyond the A-Level curriculum, to such an extent that students should not consider taking this test if they are not taking A-Level Chemistry. The frequency of any particular topic on the test is fairly evenly distributed across the entire curriculum, with a slight emphasis on topics relating to the structure of matter. In addition to standard multiple-choice questions, the Chemistry Subject Test also includes Relationship Analysis Questions which test students on their understanding of how the various properties of substances influence their chemical/physical/electrical behaviours. The mark scheme for the Chemistry Subject Test is only a little more forgiving than the mark scheme for Biology-E/M, though not as forgiving as for the Physics Subject test. Students are not allowed the use of a calculator.
As with the rest of the science Subject Tests, the Physics Subject Test includes material that students taking A-Level Physics will not have been exposed to. And, as with the Chemistry Subject Test, students should only consider taking the Physics test if they are also taking A-level Physics. Students are not allowed to use a calculator, and as such, the exam tests students on how well they understand the underpinnings of each concept rather than asking them to churn out a bunch of physics-related arithmetic (similar to the Math without Calculator section of the SAT). The mark scheme is the most forgiving of all the science Subject Tests.
The Literature Subject Test is one of the more popular tests with our students, particularly with those whose A-Levels don’t have a corresponding Subject Test. Students are asked to read six to eight selections of poetry, prose (either fiction or nonfiction), or plays and then answer a series of multiple-choice questions about each selection. There is no essay component, nor is there a required reading list. The vast majority of selections with be from either American or British literature, ranging from the Renaissance through today. Students find that the techniques they learn to tackle the Reading section of the SAT/ACT will serve them very well on Literature Subject Test as well.
While students doing History A-Level may be tempted to try the World History Subject Test, we strongly recommend a good year of preparation as the UK history curriculum is vastly different. The main issue lies with the UK’s module-centric approach: students learn a lot of detail about a few topics. In contrast, US students are subjected to a more holistic approach: they learn about a lot of topics, but not in any great detail. As such, UK students who attempt the World History Subject will need to prepare themselves to retain and recall a broad range of information about the whole of human history.
If a student is really at a loose end for their second Subject Test, they can consider doing the US History Subject Test (rather than World History). There is still a broad range of information that will need to be learned, but as it is US-specific, students will find this a far more manageable test than if they went the World History route. The test is primarily split between events post-Revolutionary War & the 1800s and events in the 1900s, and many students doing History A-Level will have done one or two modules on US History that will aid in their preparations for the US History Subject Test.
We strongly recommend that any student who is considering taking one of the nine Subject Tests is also taking the corresponding A-Level. The Language Subject Tests focus primarily on grammar and vocabulary, so it is crucial that students have studied the language beyond GCSE. Questions are a mix of fill-in-the-blank and reading comprehension, and the Listening Subject Tests require students to answer questions relating to sample dialogues. Spanish, French, and German are offered both as written and Listening Subject Tests. Modern Hebrew, Italian, and Latin are not also offered as Listening Subject Tests. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are only offered as Listening Subject Tests. Listening Subject Tests are only offered in November, and students will need to provide their own CD player and headphones in order to sit the exam.