How SATs Work

What's the SAT II?

The newer SAT II: Subject Tests, formerly the College Board Achievement Tests, are intended to measure a student's knowledge of a particular subject, such as English (writing or literature), history and social sciences, mathematics (various levels), sciences, and languages (Chinese, French, German, modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Spanish, English). Some colleges require one or more SAT II tests, but even if they aren't required, SAT II tests scores can help you present a more personalized portfolio that illustrates how well you would fit at a particular school. Most colleges use SAT II scores not for admission purposes but for program placement and counseling. SAT II tests are given on a slightly different schedule from the SAT I (here's the complete SAT schedule for 2000-2001). Generally, SAT II tests are one hour long and consist of multiple choice questions. There are exceptions. For example, the Writing Test has 40 minutes of multiple-choice questions and a 20-minute writing sample.

How Do I Know Which Subject Test to Take?

First, make a list of all the colleges you're considering. Then review their catalogs or Web sites to find out if they require Subject Test scores for admission and, if so, which ones. Use your list of colleges and their admission requirements to help plan your high school course schedule. For example, a college to which you plan to apply may require a language Subject Test score or might exempt you from a first-year course requirement if you do well on a language Subject Test.


In addition, the College Board Web site can be searched for information about Subject Test requirements at specific colleges:

When Should I Take the SAT?

Generally, the latest you can take your SATs and be eligible for admission in the next academic year is in the fall of your senior year of high school. You'll want to check application deadlines at schools in which you're interested to be sure your scores will make it in on time. (You can also take advantage of the College Board's new phone-for-results service. You'll be charged a fee but you'll get your scores about 10 days earlier.) Increasingly, students are taking the SAT in the summer before their senior years, in the 11th grade and even as early as the 10th grade.

It's very important to register early for the SAT to avoid the deadline rush, since testing sites can fill up quickly and force you to go to one farther away. (Deadlines are usually about a month or six weeks before the actual test). You can register online now -- but once you've registered, you can't cancel. However, you can change your test date for a fee.

Regarding the SAT II tests, if possible, take tests like American history, biology, chemistry and physics right after your course ends at school, while the information is still fresh in your mind. On the other hand, you’ll probably do better taking writing and language tests after several years of study. Most students take Subject Tests toward the end of their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year.

Before you take the SAT, you'll take the PSAT/NMSQT (it's co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corp., which, along with other scholarship funds, uses the scores to select scholarship recipients). The PSAT is similar to the SAT I except that it is a half-hour shorter and includes a grammar section that's absent from the SAT I. The PSAT is offered twice each year, usually in the fall. PSATs are typically taken in the 10th or 11th grade, and you can contact your school's counseling office for registration information. (PSATs, unlike SATs, are administered through your high school.) To help you keep up with all this information, use this SAT Planner!