Importance of SAT Subject Tests for College Admissions

By Shannon

The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a multiple-choice standardized test that is taken by high school students (post 11th standard) to apply to a college. The SAT is divided into three parts: math, critical reading, and writing. The SAT is 3 hours long (plus an optional 50-minute essay test). SAT Subject Tests are one-hour-long tests with 20 questions given by The College Board on specific disciplines. There are currently 20 different subject tests, 12 of which are foreign language. They are usually taken to improve a student’s credentials for admission to colleges in the United States.

The Redesigned SAT

The new SAT that students began taking in 2016 is like the old SAT plus a healthy dose of the ACT English and Reading sections, along with a few GRE type questions, all to the power of the common core standards.

But more helpfully, here are a few things the experienced tutor Nathan Kane noticed…

  • The format is now more like the ACT, each subject is presented all at once in longer sections (as opposed to 2-3 sections per subject randomly throughout the test).
  • The vocab has been replaced with ACT-style “meaning in context questions.”
  • The reading section includes 2-part GRE-style “evidence” questions, wherein you have to first answer a question about the passage and then pick the line of the passage that contains the evidence for your answer. Tip: make sure you are looking for the evidence for your answer and not the previous question. It’s a tricky business.
  • The writing is folded into the writing-language test (part of the 800 point “evidence-based reading-writing” score).
  • The writing-language test resembles the ACT English section to an almost embarrassing extent. This means long passages with questions about underlined portions throughout. It means more punctuation and structure questions.
  • The math is getting more convoluted. They are trying to make the math section more grounded in “real-world problems,” but from what I can tell, this just means adding 2 sentences to each problem to give the pretext of a physical situation. If you’re going to ask about a function, you don’t have to first give an introduction explaining that the function models the production of fizzy widgets in the Roebuck county. But they feel differently and many problems are longer than they need be.
  • There is basic trig on the math.
  • The essay is now document-based and resembles the analyzing-an-argument essay of the GRE and the AP English test. Essentially students are given a passage and have 50 minutes to write an essay that explores how the author of the passage uses literary tools to convey their point, story, intention to the reader.
  • The redesigned SAT scoring is on a 400 to 1600 scale. There will also be subscore reporting for every test—math, reading, and writing and language—plus additional subscores to provide added insight into your test performance.
  • No penalty for guessing!
  • You will no longer have points deducted for wrong answers!

Overall, the new SAT looks a lot more like the ACT (and a little bit more like the GRE). It should be a fun test to watch in the years to come.

How important are SAT Subject Tests for college admissions?

A great score SAT subject tests help universities in selecting from a pool of prospective candidates. Even colleges that don’t require Subject Tests may accept them and use them in admission to get a more complete picture of applicants (you). By sending Subject Test scores to colleges, you can showcase your strengths. Moreover, if you are applying for specialized course and programa, you are required to take certain subject tests.

If you send your SAT subjects then you will have at least an extra 20% chance of getting into a relevant course, compared to students who don’t. Thus the SAT subject tests are quite important.

BUT you need to know that all colleges that require or strongly recommend SAT subject tests are going to use them as part of the process to determine whether or not you are right for the school. And truth be told, if you fail the Bio Subject SAT but had 100s in your grades for bio, the subject SAT will bear heavier weight, as it is standardized, whereas your grades could very well be inflated (so in other words, either the classes were easy or your teachers were lenient graders). This is the main reason more and more colleges are requiring the subject SATs, because so many schools nowadays inflate their grades, so GPAs aren’t necessarily a good predictor of how a student will perform in a competitive college.

Now you may ask, “but what are they for?” Basically, the new SAT exams are used to get you into college. On each college’s website, they’ll have a range of SAT scores for all the kids that got into that college. If you’re in that range, you have a good chance of getting in. If you’re below, you maybe should reconsider applying. If you’re above, you could apply to more difficult or better-ranked colleges and have a good chance.

The SAT is one factor in a college application. A student with a good SAT score has proved that he or she has math, reading and writing skills, and those indicate that the student has the academic abilities to succeed in college. Those skills aren’t the only things that matter. But, they do matter.

Hope this will help!

Shannon Thompson is a tutor, story teller and writer at Y2 Academy, a prestigious SAT and ACT Prep Academy with an impressive score increase guarantee program.

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