Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests

Mr. Buffer (NJ Licensed Teacher), the Founder, Owner, and Educational Director of the Cambridge Learning Center of New Jersey,  was recently asked by a group of parents at a lecture what the most important things to know about the SAT Subject Tests were.     So, he decided to synthesize his remarks, based on and combined with answers to the most frequently asked questions he receives, into 8 major points below:


  1.  SAT Subject Tests are also called the “SAT 2”  Tests.  They are 1 hour each, typically composed of about 60 questions each.

  2.  SAT Subject Tests (SAT 2 Tests)  cannot be taken on the same test date as the regular SAT (known  as the SAT 1).

  3.  A student can take up to 3 subject tests on 1 test date.

  4.  The SAT Subject Tests are given in most major areas including Biology (Environmental and Molecular), Chemistry, Math I , Math II (PreCalculus and Trigonometry),  Spanish, French, Chinese,  Italian, German, Latin, U.S. History,  World History, Physics, and many of the foreign language tests listed also offer a Listening Section.

  5.  The SAT Subject Tests are not officially required for entrance to the vast majority of colleges, but some universities do require certain SAT Subject Tests to be considered for particular programs.  For example, many 7-year Medical programs do require the SAT Chemistry or SAT Biology (Molecular) test, and possibly a Math subject test.

  6.  Even though many schools do not require students to take these tests to be considered for Admission, great scores on these can be a very effective tool to help students make themselves more distinct amongst other applicants.   Mr. Buffer often tells parents the truth he has seen play out repeatedly that the Subject Tests can be the “Tie-breakers” between two students with equal GPAs, SAT Scores, and other indicators of high achievement. 

  7.  SAT Subject Tests are given all-year-round, when the regular SAT is offered, except for March.

  8.  School learning is not often enough to fully prepare students for a Subject Test because the content in school is not fully comprehensive.    Mr. Buffer often explains that the SAT Subject Test is a nationally-given test, which means the composition of the test is the same across the 50 states, but each state has its own curriculum.  So, inevitably, there will be necessary learning material omitted from a student’s education, or possibly not covered as in depth as is optimal for a stellar performance on the Subject Test.   This is why Cambridge Learning Center has become so successful at preparing students for these tests, because we teach the material that students don’t yet know, often unbeknownst to them.

A few things to know about the New SAT coming in 2015

Many parents and students have been asking me about the new SAT that the College Board will roll out in 2015.   Here are a few important things to know about the test.   I will be posting a lot more about this topic as the release date comes closer.


1)  Content Consistency

The test will still test Reading, Writing, and Math skills as it always has.   These skills still form the core and fundamental skills that prepare one for college and for a lot of effective work in the world.    Many parents have asked me for the best way to prepare their younger students for the new SAT, and my reply is always the same:   There is no getting around and no question that the best way to prepare, both short-term and long-term, for the SAT and for college is to have your children read often, enhance their vocabulary,  enrich their math skills, learn and practice core grammar and writing rules beyond what they learn in school (where time is limited and depth is often not permitted), and to adopt rigorous study and work habits.  While the SAT will change its face and appearance, the content of what is being tested will remain the same.

Hard work

2)  2400 to 1600 / Elimination of the SAT Writing Section

Yes, the SAT will return to its original 1600 scoring basis that most of us over 30 remember.   The section that is being removed is the SAT Writing section, which many colleges view as irrelevant.    One thing that is significant to note about this section is that girls have done tremendously better than boys have on it, thus taking away one section in the competitive college admissions process that girls clearly outshone boys on.  Whatever the reason for this, it is important to take note of because there has been an achievement gap in overall SAT scores.

It is also important to note that the skills and knowledge that were being tested in the SAT Writing section- grammar, sentence structure, etc.-  will not go away.   Rather, they will be integrated into the test in a different format that is combined with the reading section.   What this shows is that the original reason for creating the section- to integrate writing and grammar skills (which are also still a big part of the ACT) is still of interest.

Lastly, the SAT Essay assessment will not exist in its current format, in which students write an essay 1and two graders’ assessments are combined for a total score.  Like the ACT (topic for a different post), the SAT will now make the SAT Essay optional.


3) Reading Passages and vocabulary to be more relevant

One of the most difficult things for many students about the current SAT is the arduous Critical Reading passages, which often use excerpts from seemingly archaic sources:  19th- century novels, a comparative essay from a social science journal from 1982, etc.   One of the core arguments against these passages is that they are unrelated to what students are learning in school.   The College Board will now make the Critical Reading Passages very relevant to students and take excerpts from primary sources that they are very familiar with, such as the ones they are exposed to in Social Studies class.

The same thing will happen with vocabulary.  Words like lugubrious and vapid will be replaced by words that students have had more exposure to.   It has become commonplace in education talk and in our culture in general for people to use the term “SAT Words.”   It has always seemed partly off that students would have to newly learn and then study words that were supposed to be part of an assessment of what they had already learned in high school.


While the SAT format changes, it doesn’t really change a few things.   First, that there will still be a natural bell curve and spread of scores that will reflect student ability levels.    Second, the SAT is still and will still be relevant for college admissions.   Tests such as the SAT and ACT are one of the only common denominators for comparing students from different regions who have different levels of rigor in their high schools.   And lastly, there truly are no shortcuts and no substitutes for hard work, rigorous study, and commitment.  As I alluded to earlier, the SAT has always required students to be able to analyze complex material, to be strong in Math, and to know how to perform under some pressure.  None of this will really change.