SAT Subject Tests for Homeschoolers

UPDATE:  1/19/2021.  The College Board has announced they are discontinuing SAT Subject Tests. They are encouraging students to instead use AP testing. While this is a viable alternative for some homeschoolers will not work for all. Homeschoolers do not have guaranteed access to AP testing in all local communities.

SAT subject tests are an important option for homeschoolers to consider. These tests can be one alternative to help validate the homeschool transcript and some selective colleges require SAT subject tests for admissions.

What are SAT subject tests?

SAT subject tests are tests of high school content mastery. They are offered by the College Board and cover twenty high school subjects. The content areas covered by the tests are English, Math, Science, Social Science and Foreign Language. About 500,000 students take SAT subject tests each year.

What is the test format?

SAT subject tests are one hour long multiple choice tests taken with paper and pencil. No SAT subject test has more than 95 questions.

What do I need to know about SAT subject test registration?

Students, including homeschoolers, register through the College Board website. Tests are offered six times a year at public schools on the same days at the SAT. Students may take up to three tests in one day. The tricky thing homeschoolers need to know is that not every subject test is offered on every test date. For example, foreign language SAT subjects that require the listening test are only offered in November. So, students who intend to take SAT subject tests will need to plan ahead and make sure they have a test date available for their subject prior to the time to apply for college. You should expect to pay around $25 for registration for most SAT subject tests. Foreign language tests with a listening component cost more. Students who opt to take more than one test on a given day will get a discount after the first test.

What year in high school should I take SAT subject tests?

It is not necessary to wait until the end of junior or the beginning of senior year to take these exams. The time to take an SAT subject test is after you complete the material covered on the exam.

How are SAT subject tests different than AP tests?

You may have heard that APs are intended to substitute for a college level course and SAT subject tests are more intended to reflect high school level of mastery. This would seem to suggest that SAT subject tests would  be easier to score higher on than APs. However, this is not what students always find to be true. The SAT subject tests and the APs often cover different content and need to be prepared for separately. Some teens find they can easily do well on an SAT subject test in a course where they’ve taken an AP or dual enrollment course, but others are surprised to find that they don’t do as well as they expected. The pool of students taking SAT subject tests tends to be a more competitive group of students who are aiming at more highly selective colleges, so the grading curve can be tough.

Do colleges require SAT subject tests?

College admissions offices have a wide variety of SAT subject test policies. Some of the options include:

  • Requiring SAT subject tests from all applicants
  • Requiring SAT subject tests ONLY from homeschool applicants
  • Requiring either the SAT plus subject tests OR the ACT as an alternative
  • Requiring specific combinations of SAT subject tests (such as one math and one verbal)
  • Recommending SAT subject tests but not requiring them
  • Not requiring SAT subject tests at all

How do colleges use SAT subject test scores?

SAT subject tests are primarily used by admissions committees. These scores are used to compare content mastery in students from different schools in different parts of the country. Subject scores may occasionally play a role in placement in courses in college, but this is less common. Unlike AP scores, SAT subject scores are not typically used in the place of earning college credits.

Why should I care about SAT subject tests as a homeschooler?

Many homeschoolers will not need to take SAT subject tests. While the majority of colleges do not require them from any applicants, SAT subject test requirements exist at some highly selective schools. Homeschoolers considering highly selective colleges should look at college homeschool admissions policies and explore SAT subject tests requirements carefully. Selective colleges want to see outside validation and support of the homeschool transcript and SAT subject scores can be an cost effective and time efficient way to demonstrate the rigor of the student’s curriculum.

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