What’s the difference between the SAT I and SAT Subject Tests?
The SAT I is a 3+ hour long exam that measures students’ evidence-based reading and writing skills and math skills. It is designed to measure college and career readiness, and aligns heavily with the Common Core curriculum. Success on this test relies on both content knowledge and reading comprehension. Similarly, the SAT Subject Tests (formerly SAT II) are all content knowledge tests in various subjects, e.g. in Biology, in World History, in French, etc. The SAT Subject Tests place emphasis on knowing the vocabulary and concepts of a particular subject area.
When does my son/daughter need to take these tests?
Most colleges want applicants to have taken the SAT I and at least two SAT Subject Tests by the time they apply. The most selective colleges require three SAT Subject Tests. Students tend to take the SAT Subject Tests immediately after they have finished a course corresponding to a particular SAT Subject Test. For example, the best time to take the SAT Subject Test in Biology is right after 9th or 10th grade Biology (or 11th grade if taking AP Biology). For the Math and English Literature exams, many students wait until spring of their junior year. The SAT I exam is usually taken in the spring of junior year, typically in March or May, and is often retaken in the fall of senior year.
Does retaking one of the standardized tests look bad?
Many students retake at least one, if not several, standardized tests. Almost all colleges will take the best individual section scores from each SAT I administration and will generally look only at the best SAT Subject Test score out of two scores for a particular test. That being said, however, it is often looked down upon to take the same test more than two times, so three times is not a charm in this business! Students should check with the specific colleges they are applying to find out their specific requirements for standardized tests.
How much preparation does someone need to take these tests?
The answer to this depends a great deal on the student, how responsive he or she is, and how much work he or she can put into test preparation. For the PSAT exams, we generally suggest a few weeks of prep in late August to early September (as the PSAT exam is given by schools in mid-October). Students should then prep for the early spring SAT I exam, or begin preparing in January for the late spring SAT I exams. One tutoring session once a week, along with regular mock tests, usually provides students with a sufficient amount of support, and gives the student time to prepare in between meetings by doing assigned homework. For the SAT Subject Tests in May or June, we advise parents and students to begin preparing by late February/early March. Students may want to think about taking the May offering of an SAT Subject Test rather than the June offering (the May exams have tended to be slightly easier over the past few years according to students who have taken both May and June SAT Subject Tests in the same subject area). Also, if students feel that their May test did not go well, they can easily cancel their scores and re-take the test in June.