SAT Subject tests – The When And The How

By in
SAT Subject tests – The When And The How

Written By Chloe L, Master Tutor for Enhanced Prep

Part 2: The When and the How

The When

Very broadly speaking, SAT subject tests are best taken in May and June, as these months align with students’ preparations for AP exams (which cover most of the same topics!). Most students take subject tests as sophomores and/or juniors. 

However, there are key exceptions to this suggestion that have to do with individual subjects. We discuss these considerations for some of the more common SAT subject tests below.

In the meantime, view 2020 SAT Subject testing dates here.

Test options

Math Level 2

As we’ve just discussed, most SAT subject tests are taken ideally around the time of AP Exams (May and June) for a given subject, when students are gaining competency across all topics within that area.  

With Math Level 2, however, it might be a different story. Advanced Algebra 2 and pre-calculus are the bread and butter of this exam. If students are mistakenly taking this test around the time of the AP Calc exam, this means students will have to go back and review these topics again. Please plan wisely to take Math Level 2 at the end of a precalculus/trigonometry class.

Keep in mind that an 800 (perfect score) on Math Level 2 will land students only at the 83-86th percentile! This exam also only has 50 questions (it is the shortest exam), so each question has more weight.  

Biology: Ecology & Molecular

Students have the option to take “Ecology” or “Molecular” Biology SAT subject tests. But please do not be fooled by the titles. “Molecular” test will also include ecology topics and vice versa. 

  • 25% of the questions on the Ecology test directly concern ecology; 15% of the questions concern molecular biology. 
  • Similarly, the Molecular test has a bigger emphasis on molecular biology (25% of questions), but students must keep up with ecology while studying since 15% of the test concerns ecology content.
  • The rest of the tests will include: genetics, organismal biology, and evolution & diversity

So what does this mean for you? Based on my experience, students’ scores do not vary more than 20-40 points between the two subjects since you have to study for both throughout preparation.  

So, in order to leverage this, register for both Ecology and Molecular Biology and take both exams! You can submit the score that is higher on your application.   

Especially for biology, students must study for recall, not recognition. The questions are going to be designed in such a way that mixes different topics and words that sound similar and related. So recall is key to avoid trap answer choices.


Even if you’re just finishing up AP chemistry, there are topics outside of AP Chemistry that you’ll need to master in order to succeed on this SAT subject test. 

These include ecological chemistry, such as the acid rain cycle and nitrogen cycle in the soil, colors of popular chemicals (whenever you see Cu, think blue!), organic chemistry, and lab procedures. 

Furthermore, calculators are NOT allowed. It’s thus important to gain confidence in estimating log calculations, handling scientific notations, and ball-parking. 

A set of 15 questions on the Chemistry SAT subject test will require special attention. Each question will count for one point, but it actually contains three parts. Students will have to choose True or False, evaluating 2 statements in the question. If and only if both statements are true, students also need to decide Cause-Effect relationship, notated as “CE” on the scantron.

US History

With 100 questions, the US history subject test has the highest number of questions that fall under the “know-it-or-don’t” category. This means that this test is very content and detail specific, so the most opportune time to take this exam is when students are preparing for the AP US history ex

The How

Each SAT subject test is different, but here are some general guidelines for preparing for SAT subject tests and navigating the content.

  • Do not guess! Every question correct earns you a point, but every missed question deducts ¼ (0.25) points.Blank questions do not impact the value of your score. This “raw score” gets converted into a “scaled score” out of 800.
  • The perfect score of of 800 is based on a curve created based on the raw score above.
  • The scaled score from the practice tests published by the College Board is no longer an accurate reflection of official test scoring. The trend we are seeing is that the recent official exams have become harder and the curve is not as generous. So utilizing more difficult practice materials and understanding that the official test may feel and be harder is important for score monitoring.
  • If you are consistently scoring above 700 on practice materials, change your study strategy. Emphasize taking more practice tests rather than reviewing and digesting content. Prioritize topics to review based on the questions missed in these practice tests. 
  • Diagnostic tests can be shared by Enhanced Prep and we can also help you understand and plan based on the results! College Board also offers them as well. 
  • Take your first baseline practice test in March. Keep in mind that, depending on the subject test you are taking, there might be a few topics on this test that you have not covered yet in class. If you are close to 700 with your baseline score, you can prepare for the May or June test. If you score 650 or below, take advantage of summer break to study and take the August test.

“Enhance” it

At Enhanced Prep, we recommend that students take two SAT subject tests that align with their strengths and interests, and that they be mindful of when they take these exams according to subject matter and other test-taking timelines.

It can be challenging to navigate SAT subject test preparation on top of ACT or SAT prep. It can also be hard to do it alone. Here at EP, we’re eager to help! Learn more about your SAT subject test prep options with EP here.

(0 votes. Average 0 of 5)
Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *