In addition to the SAT Reasoning Test, many schools require that students take a certain number of SAT Subject Tests. These are 60 minute multiple choice exams that test the student on just one subject. They each vary in number of questions and, of course, content. They are designed to test a student's knowledge of a specific subject and act as a marker to compare a student's course learning to other students' across the nation.

Many highly selective colleges and the UC system require that students submit two SAT subject tests in addition to their SAT Reasoning Test. Some schools, especially for Engineering or Science majors, may require that the student submit specific tests such as the Mathematics Level 2 exam or the Chemistry exam. In most cases, however, students can choose which exam they wish to take.

The Exams

The twenty different exams fall under five general categories and schools usually ask that students do not submit two exams from the same category. These categories are: English, Math, Science, History and Languages.



The Literature exam is the only one in the English category. It consists of six to eight literary passages, prose and poetry, followed by 60 multiple choice questions. The questions ask that students analyze the passages for tone, theme, form and other such literary devices. Often, the most difficult aspect of the exam is time management, as many students are unable to finish the exam.


Mathematics Level 1

This exam covers topics in basic and intermediate algebra as well as geometry. Students should have a good grasp of both these subjects to take the exam. Scientific and graphing calculators are both allowed and encouraged, but not necessary for most of the problems.


Mathematics Level 2

This exam covers more topics than contained in the Level 1 test. Students who take this exam should have a grasp of basic and intermediate algebra, geometry, some trigonometry and functions. Generally, students take this exam after finishing a pre-calculus course. Like the Level 1 exam, scientific and graphing calculators are allowed and encouraged, but not necessary for every problem.


US History

Student should take the US History exam only after completing a thorough college preparatory course in US history. Some students choose to take the exam after completing AP US History. This is generally a good idea to take AP classes that are designed to prepare students for AP tests in May so the student is ready to take the SAT Subject test in either May or June. The exam has both factual questions and data-analysis-based questions.


World History

Students should take the World History exam after completing a college preparatory course in World History. The test includes World History and it tests the student's grasp of global historical trends and developments as well as his or her ability to analyze data.


Biology E/M

To best prepared for the Biology exam, students should take the exam after completing an advanced level biology course such as AP Biology and have some experience with algebra. Students should also have lab experience. Sixty of the questions are general biology and asked to everyone. Then students can choose to take either the Biology E (ecology) test or the Biology M (molecular) test. Both sections are an additional 20 multiple choice questions. Students will grid in their choice on the day of their exam. No calculators are allowed.



Like Biology, most students take the Chemistry exam after having completed one to two years of college preparatory Chemistry, together with laboratory experience. They should have taken at least one year of algebra. Students are tested on their knowledge of concepts in chemistry and ability to interpret and work with new data and experiments.



Most students who take the Physics exam will have finished one to two years of physics in high school and have laboratory experience. The exam tests students on their knowledge of the major concepts of physics and how well they can apply this knowledge to more specific problems. Student should also have experience with trigonometry.


Language Tests (Reading only)

French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin all have reading-only Language tests. This means that students read in the tested language and answer multiple choice questions. To be prepared for a Language test, students should have 3 or 4 years of high school preparation or at least two years of intensive study.


Language Tests (with Listening)

Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean with Listening have both a reading/multiple choice portion and a listening portion. This means that students should bring portable CD players with headphones to the test. For some languages, the College Board has both options available to students, with listening and without. In such case, students, having had extensive practice hearing the spoken language and native speakers should take the test with listening.



The SAT subject Test is a great way to challenge students' abilities. Typically, I recommend taking at least three subjects. Although the UC system only requires two subject tests, by taking three tests, students will have more choices to determine which scores are most applicable for their own college applications. Many Chinese students, whether immigrants or born here, decide to take the Chinese subject test because they usually have a certain level of Chinese background already. In addition, the Chinese test is not very difficult and mostly emphasizes everyday conversations. In fact, the goal for students to learn a language is to be able to communicate. This test also provides the parents a good reason to encourage their children to learn the 21st century's most popular language, "Chinese."


The Chinese SAT II is only offered once a year in November. It's better to apply early because sometimes the nearest testing center is full and you have to drive somewhere far to take the exam. It's troublesome for both students and parents and could even affect students' performance on the test.


According to this year's report, the UC system is considering dropping the SAT subject Test requirement. Of course, realistically, this will not happen any time soon. Students still need to be well prepared, especially because many prestigious colleges still require this.