What's a Good SAT Subject Test Score?

SAT Subject Tests Play an Important Role at Some Top Colleges and Universities

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I've discusses elsewhere what represents a good SAT score on the general exam, and this article takes up the issue of SAT subject tests. SAT subject tests use the same 800-point scale as the regular SAT, but don't make the mistake of comparing the two scores. The colleges that require SAT subject tests are some of the most selective in the country. As a result, the students who take subject tests tend to be stronger than the much larger group of students taking the regular SAT.

What Is an Average SAT Subject Test Score?

Average scores on subject tests are typically in the 600s, and top colleges will often be looking for scores up in the 700s. For example, the mean score on the SAT Chemistry subject test was a 666. By contrast, the average score for the regular SAT is roughly 500 per section.

Getting an average score on an SAT subject test is more of an accomplishment than receiving an average score on the general exam, for you're competing against a much stronger pool of test takers. That said, applicants to top colleges tend to be outstanding students, so you don't want to be simply average within the applicant pool.

SAT Subject Test Scores Are Losing Importance

It's also important to note that SAT subject tests have been losing favor among college admissions offices in recent years. Several of the Ivy League schools no longer require SAT subject test scores (although they do still recommend them), and other colleges such as Bryn Mawr have moved to test-optional admissions. In fact, only a small handful of colleges require SAT subject tests for all applicants. 

More typical is a college that requires subject test scores for some applicants (for example, the math subject test for engineering students), or a college that wants to see subject test scores from home-schooled applicants. You will also find some colleges that have a test-flexible admissions policy and will accept scores from SAT subject tests, AP exams, and other tests in place of the more typical SAT and ACT.

Will the Redesigned SAT Kill SAT Subject Tests?

Several colleges and universities have announced that they are phasing out their subject test requirements because of the redesigned SAT that launched in March of 2016. The old SAT had purported to be an "aptitude" test that tested your ability rather than what you had learned in school. The ACT, on the other hand, has always been an "achievement" test that attempts to measure what you've learned in school. 

As a result, many colleges did not require SAT subject tests for students who took the ACT because the ACT was already measuring a student's achievement in different academic subjects. Now that the SAT has given up on any hint of measuring "ability" and is now much more like the ACT, the need for subject tests to measure an applicant's subject-specific knowledge is less necessary. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to see the SAT subject tests become optional for all colleges in the coming years, and we may even see the exams disappear altogether if demand drops so low that they aren't worth the College Board's resources to create and administer the exams. But for now, students applying to many top-tier colleges should still take the exams.

SAT Subject Test Scores by Subject:

Mean scores for SAT subject tests vary considerably from subject to subject. The articles below provide score information for some of the most popular SAT Subject Tests, so you can use them to see how you measure up to other test-takers:

Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?

If your budget allows (see SAT costs), I do recommend that students applying to highly selective schools take SAT subject tests. For example, if you're taking AP Biology, go ahead and take the SAT Biology Subject Test as well. It's true that many top-tier schools don't require subject tests, but many do encourage them. If you think you'll perform well on the subject tests, taking them can add one more piece of evidence to your application that you are well prepared for college.