SAT Subjects: Making The Right Choices
It’s important to understand that choosing the right subjects for the SAT Subject Test portion is just as crucial as choosing the right university. Here are some common questions about the SATs and how to better understand why they are critical to the admissions process.
Why are they so important for top colleges?
In short, they help colleges interpret your grades and equalize grading scales from high school to high school.
How does an A at school X compare to an A in school Y?
Well, if one student scored a 770 on the Bio SAT Subject Test and the other scored a 580, we’d know that the first school had a much “truer” grading scale and that the competition was simply not as strong at school Y. In effect, these scores either show that a student deserved the high grades he received, or that the school simply hands out many A’s. With that being the case, students usually have to submit 2-3 SAT Subject Tests at most competitive colleges.
Students should consider very carefully which tests they sign up for – most students don’t even realize that the average test scores are totally different on every SAT Subject Test!
Most assume that the mean score is 500, but that is not the case. Take the Math I and the Math II. Many students take the I thinking it’s “easier,” but the average score on a recent test was 588. If you miss a handful of questions, you will not even score in the 700′s! Compare that to the Math II – the average score was recently 659! That means you can get a bunch wrong and still be in the 700′s (on a recent test, you could get 7 wrong and still score a perfect 800). In other words, every test has a different group of test takers – the kids who take the II are a smaller group, but a stronger group. Take exams like the
Chinese – since almost all the kids who take it actually speak Chinese, the average has been very high: 752! Here’s another fact to keep in mind: the percentile scores do not get reported to colleges, only the grade. Most admissions officers don’t differentiate or even worry about if your 750 was “high” or low for your test. So those who get a 752 on the Chinese test (the highest average of all the SAT Subject Tests) score only 50%, but the score still looks strong.
The message is, it pays to study the average scores and pick tests based on your ability and the scoring curve. The average information is available on the College Board’s web site and is actually printed on the score reports you receive back after taking SAT Subject Tests. Use them to your advantage!