What's a Good Biology SAT Subject Test Score in 2020?

Learn What Biology Exam Score You Need for College Admission and College Credit

You're going to want a score over 700 on the Biology SAT Subject exams.
You're going to want a score over 700 on the Biology SAT Subject exams. jepoirrier / Flickr

In general, you're going to want a Biology SAT Subject Test Score in the 700s for highly selective colleges and universities. A lower score won't exclude you from serious consideration, but the majority of admitted students will have scores of 700 or higher.

Discussion of Biology SAT Subject Test Scores

What Biology SAT Subject Test score you are going to need, of course, will vary a bit from college to college, but this article will give a general overview of what defines a good Biology SAT Subject Test score. 

The table at the bottom of the page shows the correlation between Biology SAT scores and the percentile ranking of students who took the Ecological Biology and the Molecular Biology exam. Thus, 74% of test takers scored a 700 or below on the Ecological Biology exam, and 61% scored a 700 or below on the Molecular Biology exam.

SAT Subject Test scores can't be compared to general SAT scores because the subject tests are taken by a higher percentage of high-achieving students than the regular SAT. Primarily elite and highly selective schools require SAT Subject Test scores, whereas the majority of colleges and universities require SAT or ACT scores. As a result, the average scores for SAT Subject Tests are significantly higher than those for the regular SAT. For the Ecological Biology SAT Subject Test, the mean score is 618, and for the Molecular Biology exam, the mean is 650 (compared to an mean of 536 for the SAT evidence-based reading exam and 531 for the math exam).

Which Biology Subject Test Should You Take?

The Biology Subject Test offers two options: the Ecological Biology exam and the Molecular Biology exam. For the graduating class of 2016-18, 91,866 students took the ecology exam while 116,622 students took the molecular exam.

Colleges generally don't have a preference for one exam over the other, but a high score on the ecology exam will be a little more impressive than the same score on the molecular exam. This is simply because the percentiles are different. For example, you'll see from the table below that 9% of students taking the molecular exam scored a 790 or higher while only 4% of students taking the ecology exam earned a 790 or 800.

What Top Colleges Say about SAT Subject Tests

Most colleges do not publicize their SAT Subject Test admissions data. However, for elite colleges, you will ideally have scores in the 700s as you'll see from the insights some top schools, provide to the scores they're used to seeing from competitive applicants.

If you're looking at Ivy League schools, aim high. Princeton University's admissions website states that the middle 50% of admitted applicants had SAT Subject Test scores between 710 and 790. Those numbers tell us that 25% of applicants received 790s or 800s on their SAT Subject Tests.

AT MIT, the numbers are even higher with the middle 50% of applicants scoring between 740 and 800. Thus, over a quarter of all admitted students had Subject Tests scores of 800. At MIT, these scores tend to be in math and science fields.

For top liberal arts colleges, the ranges are slightly lower, but still quite high. Middlebury College's admissions website notes that they are used to seeing scores in the low to middle 700s, while at Williams College, over two-thirds of admitted students score above a 700.

The country's best public universities are similarly selective. At UCLA, for example, 75% of admitted students scored between 700 and 800 on their best SAT Subject Test.

Biology SAT Subject Test Scores and Percentiles

Biology SAT Subject Test Score Percentile (Ecological) Percentile (Molecular)
800 97 94
790 96 91
780 95 89
770 92 86
760 91 82
750 88 79
740 86 75
730 83 72
720 80 68
710 77 64
700 74 61
680 67 53
660 60 46
640 52 39
620 44 32
600 37 27
580 31 22
560 25 18
540 21 14
520 17 12
500 13 10
480 11 8
460 9 6
440 7 5
420 6 4
400 5 3
380 3 2
360 2 2
340 1 1

Data source for the table above: the College Board website.

A Final Word About the Biology SAT Subject Test

As this limited data shows, a strong application will usually have SAT Subject Test scores in the 700s. Realize, however, that all elite schools have a holistic admissions process, and significant strengths in other areas can make up for a less-than-ideal test score. Also realize that the majority of colleges do not require SAT Subject Tests, and schools such as Princeton recommend but do not require the exams.

Very few colleges use the Biology SAT Subject Test to award course credit or to place students out of introductory level courses. A good score on the AP Biology exam, however, often will earn students college credit.

While no such tool exists for the Biology exam, you can use this free calculator from Cappex to learn your chances of being admitted to a college based on your GPA and general SAT scores.