How Should Your Student Study for SAT Subject Tests (SAT STs)?

The SAT STs, or SAT Subject Tests, are relatively short exams (about one hour) covering specific subjects such as literature, chemistry, biology, physics, history, and math.

They are NOT required by all colleges and are not nearly as standard as the SAT and ACT. Highly selective colleges may require that your student take two or three SAT STs, while other schools will waive this requirement if your student takes the ACT with writing.

Many admissions officers say that SAT STs rank pretty low in importance. That doesn’t mean students should ignore them, but it does put the amount of work that should be put into them in perspective. However, we recommend that students hoping to apply to selective schools take these exams no matter what, just to keep all of their options open.

We’ve compiled an exhaustive overview of the SAT Subject Test areas on our blog. Also, check out a list of schools that require SAT Subject Tests prepared by the College Board, the company that administers the SAT STs.

If your student needs to take the SAT Subject Tests, you’ll want to encourage them to establish a test prep plan. Given the different nature of each exam, your student’s prep will need to be dynamic. But here are some general best practices for SAT Subject Test prep:

  • Students should take their Subject Tests on the heels of a rigorous course in that topic area. For instance, take the Subject Test in U.S. History after an AP History course.
  • Schedule the tests in May or June, towards the end of the academic year, when the information is still fresh in your student’s mind, but make sure they don’t conflict with finals or AP exams.
  • Real prep begins around two months prior to the exam, and test prep books are helpful.

For the last four weeks of test prep (or the only four weeks of test prep if studying has fallen by the wayside), we’ve provided an in-depth SAT ST Action Plan below.

Four Week SAT ST Action Plan

Our four-week SAT ST action plan is perfect for students who need an extra push before their test date. Find a list of current SAT ST test dates here.

Week 1: Get to Know the Test

  • Order a test prep book for your student. We recommend Princeton Review or Barron’s. The College Board produces its own Official SAT ST Study Guides for each area, but they are basically just practice tests.
  • Take a diagnostic exam from the Princeton Review’s or Barron’s test prep book. Save the tests in the Official SAT ST Study Guide for the end of the prep period. (Yes, we generally recommend NOT using third-party materials, but in this case it’s necessary).
  • Analyze your student’s performance on the practice exam. Zero in on areas that are unfamiliar or that your student didn’t do well on. If your student needs help with core concepts, consider reaching out to a tutor.

Week 2: Review Old Material

  • Ideally, your student should take the SAT ST after a semester-long course on that subject. Even then, there’s a good chance your student will be rusty on key concepts from the beginning of the semester.
  • Using the diagnostic test as a guide, review areas and concepts that your student is shaky on. Your student may want to reach out to teachers for help.
  • At the end of Week 2, take another diagnostic exam from Barron’s or Princeton Review.

Week 3: Official Practice Exams

  • Two weeks prior to the exam date, take the official practice exam from the SAT ST Study Guide. If your student still has difficulties at this point, definitely reach out for help.
  • Analyze your student’s performance against their first diagnostic exam from Week 1. Are there any areas that are still problematic?
  • Continue to review difficult content related to the Subject Test area.

Week 4: Test Review and Final Practice Exam

  • Have your student gather all of the practice tests they have taken so far.
  • Carefully review the practice tests, working out solutions to questions your student got wrong the first time around.
  • Use online resources such as Khan Academy to improve core concept knowledge in areas that need improvement.
  • Take one last official practice test a few days before the actual test date.

Remember that of all the materials considered for admission, the SAT Subject Test ranks very low. Do not sweat these tests in the same way that you sweat the full SAT or ACT, and certainly don’t let prep for these get in the way of prep for the “main event” exams. That said, these scores can go on your student’s record, so they should aim to do as well as possible.

Jay B

Jay B

Jay Bacrania is the CEO of Signet Education. As a high schooler, Jay won awards for chemistry at the state level in his home state of Florida, and at Harvard, he initially studied physics. After graduating, Jay spent two years studying jazz trumpet at the Berklee College of Music.

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