SAT II Subject Tests: Everything About It

SAT II Subject Tests:

The SAT II Subject Tests are created and administered by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the two organizations responsible for producing the dreaded SAT I (which most people call the SAT). The SAT II Subject Tests were created to act as complements to the SAT I. Whereas the SAT I tests your critical thinking skills by asking math and verbal questions, the SAT II Subject Tests examine your knowledge of a particular subject, such as Writing, U.S. History, Physics, or Biology.

Originally, SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test. When the test changed a few years ago, the official name was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test. In 1997, the testmakers announced that SAT no longer stands for anything, officially.

It is administered seven times a year — usually in October, November, December, January, March, May and June — on Saturday mornings. The dates for taking the exam are already fixed & hence it requires a consideration preparation schedule. SAT scores are quite significant for securing admission at undergraduate level. The SAT is a PBT (Paper Based Test).

The difference between the SAT I and SAT II?

SAT I is largely a test of verbal and math skills. True, you need to know some vocabulary and some formulas for the SAT I, but it’s designed to measure how well you read and think rather than what you know. The SAT II is very different. It’s designed to measure what you know about specific disciplines. Sure, critical reading and thinking skills play a part on these tests, but their main purpose is to determine exactly what you know about writing, math, history, chemistry, and so on

The SAT I exam is a 3 hour 45 minute long exam that measures students’ critical reading, math , writing, and grammar skills. The SAT I is a test that has always placed test-taking skills above actual content knowledge. In other words, the SAT I is an aptitude test, not an achievement test. Success on this test comes from becoming a good test-taker and knowing what the College Board is looking for (which is why someone can really do much better on it if they prepare the right way).

SAT I has three main sections namely Quantitative, Critical reading (or verbal) and Writing. Each of these main section has 3 subsections.


The SAT II is a set of more than 20 different tests focusing on specific disciplines such as Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, History and Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Foreign Languages. Please visit US colleges website about the specific requirement since colleges sometime ask specific subjects to be taken for say Engineering. Many US colleges demand that you take particular tests, usually the Writing Test and/or one of the Math Tests. Some schools will give you some choice in the matter, especially if they want you to take a total of three Subject Tests. So, before you register to take any tests, check with colleges to find out exactly which tests they require. One can take 3 subject tests on any given test day. Moreover, there is absolutely no need to take SAT 1 for taking SAT II subject tests. They are independent of each other. Most US colleges, however, consider SAT 1 score first and then SAT II scores as a validation of academic achievements. Just like SAT 1 test, SAT II subject tests can be taken any number of times- taking the test twice to improve the scores is most common. Taking the SAT tests more than 2 times is looked-down upon by many colleges,and therefore, is not suggested.

It takes about 3 weeks to get SAT 2 results. The use of calculators is allowed for Maths test (not physics or chemistry). Take a calculator that you are used to using. It may be a scientific or a graphing calculator. If you are comfortable with graphing calculator, this is the best choice for this test. TI-84 Plus is a graphing calculator made by Texas Instruments which is commonly used by SAT candidates.

Each Subject Test lasts one hour and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions, except for the Writing Test (mostly for languages), which has a 20-minute essay section in addition to a 40-minute multiple-choice section. Since exam duration is only one hours, the number of questions vary based on the subject difficulty and calculations requirement. For example, Maths have about 50 multiple choice questions, physics has about 75 and Chemistry 85. The exam has negative marking scheme ( 0.25 mark deducted for questions having 5 choices, 0.33 deducted for 4 choice questions). To have an idea about, SAT II subject test syllabus and weightage of topics, please follow below doc

SAT Subject Tests (SAT II/ SAT2): Syllabus for Maths, Physics and Chemistry

To understand the SAT score from raw score (eg, out of total 50 questions in Maths2 test, correct answers for 40 questions relates to a SAT 2 score of 750 out of 800 )

SAT 2 Subject Test-Convert raw scores to SAT score-Physics-Chemistry-Maths


The SAT II exams are all achievement tests – content knowledge tests in various subjects. The SAT IIs place emphasis on knowing the vocabulary (for languages) and content of a particular subject area.

To register for the test and for more info visit following link

Official website of CollegeBoard

SAT II registration fee is $20 and each subject test costs $9 (3 subjects:$27). There is an additional fee for International students ($26) and a security surcharge of $23 for taking test in India/Pakistan. In any case visit, the above CollegeBoard site for latest changes on fee or other information.

For Indian colleges under DASA scheme for foreigners/NRIs, the specific requirement is for 3 SAT II subject tests namely: Maths II, Physics and Chemistry.

Best time to take these tests?

Most US colleges want applicants to have taken the SAT I exam and at least two SAT II exams by the time they apply. The most selective colleges require three SAT II exams. Most students take the SAT IIs immediately after they have finished a course specific for that SAT II. For example, the best time to take the SAT II in biology is right after 9th or 10th grade biology (or 11th grade if taking AP Biology). With the math and English literature exams, many students wait until spring of their junior year. The SAT I exam is taken in the spring of junior year, typically in March or May, and is often retaken ito improve the scores in the fall of senior year, typically in Sep-Oct so as to meet Dec deadline for admissions to most colleges.

For Indian colleges under DASA scheme for foreigners/NRIs, the same rule can be applied to take SAT II tests once at the start of 12std session, in May-June and retaken to improve scores in Oct-Nov. This will leave out second half of 12std for board exams and other entrance exams. Most of the subject contents for SAT II is already over in 10th or 11th std (however do check the individual SAT II subject content with the content of your boards syllabus). For admissions under DASA scheme, top colleges and branches would be taken out by candidates scoring 2400 aggregate in PCM (yes, perfect 800 in each subject can only guarantee best colleges/branches, anything less is imperfect score)

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 critical reading, math, and writing scores from each SAT I administration; and, they will generally look only at the best SAT II 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 is Scoring Done for the SAT II Subject Tests

Each SAT II subject test is scored between 800 (max) and 200 (min). One need not answer 100% questions correctly to score 800.The exam conducting agency uses their own system in the form of a scoring curve (not in public domain) to differentiate in the steps of 10 points. For example, in SAT II Maths test there are 50 questions, and correct answers on 44-45 questions ( depending on the difficulty level of the exam and if the balance questions were answered incorrectly (penalty) or skipped), one can get a score of 800 score. Subsequent incorrect answers generally starts loosing approx 10 points (the curve is not linear). Similarly a candidate can score a 800 in physics by answering correctly above 63 (out of 75) and in Chemistry about 79 (out of 85).

We know few candidates who appear in subject tests with the solitary goal to score 800 (about 10-15% candidates actually score 800). For international students wishing to join any US colleges, rule is that your subject scores should be better than the SAT I score to make positive impact during application process. In any case scores above 760 are considered very good.

Taking exhaustive study package for SAT II may not be required for many students as one could have already covered the topics very well during school syllabus. However, some students would need them and there are quite a many companies that offer good study package, some of them being- CollegeBoard/Barrons//Princeton Review/Kaplan/McGraw Hills/Thomson Peterson

The bottom line is that one should have a good idea on which topics are included in each subject, weightage of the topics and type of questions asked in the exam. One should atleast take few mock tests before the actual test to test themselves and their scores in the mock tests to evaluate the preparedness level. There are many websites offering such mock tests from $99 to $2 per test.

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 P/SAT 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), and then prep for the early spring exam; or, from January to May or June for the late spring exams. A meeting once a week, along with lots of mock tests, is usually sufficient and gives the student time to prepare in between meetings by doing assigned homework, learning vocabulary, etc. For the SAT II exams 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 II exam 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 IIs in the same subject area).

Strategies for Taking SAT II exam

The SAT II: Subject Tests are different from the tests that you’re used to taking. On your high school exams, you probably go through the questions in order. You probably spend more time on hard questions than on basic ones, since hard questions are generally worth more points. And you often show your work since your teachers tell you how you approach questions is as important as getting the right answers.

Well, forget all that! None of this applies to the SAT II. You can benefit from moving around within the tests, hard questions are worth the same points as basic ones, and it doesn’t matter how you answer the questions or what work you did to get there–only what your answers are. Plug into a few test-taking skills and strategies that can improve your scoring performance:

1) The Test Is Highly Predictable

Because the format and directions of the SAT II: Subject Tests remain unchanged from test to test, you can learn how the tests are set up in advance. One of the easiest things you can do to help your performance on the SAT II is to understand the directions before taking the test. Since the instructions are always the same, there’s no reason to waste a lot of time on test day reading them.

2) Questions Are Arranged by Order of Difficulty

Not all of the questions on the SAT II are equally difficult. The questions often get harder as you work through different parts of the test. The pattern can work to your benefit. When working on more basic problems, you can generally trust your first impulse–the obvious answer is likely to be correct. As you get to the end of a test section, you need to be a bit more suspicious. now the answers probably won’t come as quickly and easily–if they do, look again, because the obvious answers my be wrong. They may be distractors–wrong answer choices deliberately meant to entice you.

3) No Need to Answer the Questions in Order

You’re allowed to skip around the SAT II: Subject Tests. High scorers know this fact. They move through the tests efficiently. They don’t dwell on any one question, even a hard one, until they’ve tried every question at least once.

4) Guessing Penalty

It’s really a wrong answer penalty. If you guess wrong, you get penalized. If you guess right, you’re in great shape. The fact is, if you can eliminate one or more answer choices as definitely wrong, you’ll turn the odds in your favor and actually come out ahead by guessing. The fractional points that you lose are meant to offset the points you might get “accidentally” by guessing the correct answer. With practice, however, you’ll see that it’s often easy to eliminate several answer choices on some of the questions.

5) The Answer Grid Has No Heart

It sounds simple, but it’s extremely important: Don’t make mistakes filling out your answer grid. When time is short, it’s easy to get confused going back and forth between your test booklet and your grid. If you know the answers, but misgrid, you won’t get the points. Here’s how to avoid mistakes:

Always circle the questions you skip: When you go back, these questions will be easy to locate.

Always circle the answers you choose: It makes it easier to check your grid against your booklet.

Grid five or more answers at once: You won’t keep breaking your concentration to mark the grid.

Practice these skills and strategies as you prepare for your SAT II.

Final word on strategies

Because SAT II Subject Tests quiz you on specific knowledge, it is much harder to beat or outsmart an SAT II test than it is to outsmart the SAT I. For the SAT I, you can use all sorts of tricks and strategies to figure out an answer. There are far fewer strategies to help you on the SAT II. Don’t get us wrong: having test-taking skills will help you on an SAT II, but knowing the subject will help you much, much more. In other words, to do well on the SAT II, you can’t just rely on your quick thinking and intelligence. You need to study smartly. That means you take up a set of SAT 2 mock tests and try to solve them to find out your weak area (subject topics/type of questions etc) and work on those areas. Then take up another set of mock tests to apply new learnings and find your the remaining areas to work on. To sum up, just like 20% of people/countries have 80% of world’s wealth, similarly 20% weak areas result in 80% of the mistakes. The biggest impact on the scores can be made by working on those 20% weak areas.

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