The SAT Subject Tests, or SAT IIs, are college admission tests that test your knowledge of specific subjects on a high school level. There are a total of 20 different subjects in five general areas: English, history, languages, math and science.
Lasting an hour, each test is scored on a 200–800 scale, and contains only multiple choice questions, which differ in number by test. Generally, the SAT Subject Tests are given six times per year — in May, June, August, October, November and December. But not all 20 tests are offered on every test date. While you can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on a single test date, you can’t take them with the SAT.
The majority of colleges do not strictly require the SAT Subject Tests. So why take them?
First, many of the country’s top-tier colleges still require or recommend that you take one or more SAT Subject Tests. Especially if you’re applying to specific programs or majors, you might be required to take specific SAT Subject Tests. For example, while the Cooper Union does not require any SAT Subject Tests from its architecture or art applicants, the school requires its engineering applicants to submit two SAT Subject Tests scores, one in either Math 1 or 2 and one in either Physics or Chemistry.
Here’s a list of colleges that require, recommend or consider SAT Subject Tests.
Second, high scores in SAT Subject Tests may strengthen your profile during college admission process. The truth is that even colleges that do not require SAT Subject Tests may accept them because high test scores really do no harm.
For international students whose English is not so strong, you can take the SAT Subject Tests in math, science or other languages to show your academic strength.
Also for home-schooled students, the SAT Subject Tests are often required to show your readiness in subjects that other non-home-schooled students are required to take around the country. For example, Notre Dame University requires home-schooled applicants to submit three SAT Subject Tests or AP exams.
Third, some colleges even use the SAT Subject Tests to place students into the appropriate courses. With high scores in the SAT Subject Tests, you might be able to fulfill basic requirements or get credit for introductory-level courses and save on college tuition.
Now that we’ve established how important the SAT Subject Tests could be, let’s look at the best ways to prepare for them.
Check out our handpicked list of SAT Subject Tests prep courses and find your best fit!
Our measurements of SAT Subject Tests prep courses
Before diving into the actual list, take a look at how we measured these SAT Subject Tests prep courses.
- Practice tests: With everything in life, the simple truth is that practice makes perfect. Same goes for the SAT Subject Tests. The more you practice, the higher your score will be. So, the number of practice tests the prep course provides is important. However, knowing how to take the test is as important as knowing what’s going to be on the test. The depth of contents that follow and support each practice test, such as in-depth answer explanations or company blog articles on strategies and tips, matter as well.
- Customization: Yes, practice makes perfect. But, blind repetition is plain laziness. For each of many different topics in each subject, every student starts out at different levels. Rather than offering the same study plan for all students, a good prep course should be customizable to focus on strengthening each student’s weak areas. Also, a diverse set of prep options allows students to find one that fits their own study type.
- Variety of content: Besides practice tests, there are many ways to prepare for the test. A good prep course offers a variety of study tools, such as flashcards, games, live classrooms, quizzes, or 24/7 online study tutor.
- Time flexibility: High school students are busy. A good prep course should take this into account and make its content constantly available for students to create their own study schedules. Programs with mobile apps would also be very useful for busy students.
- Price: However great the course may be, if it doesn’t fit your budget, it’s probably out. Although many prep courses can be more pricey, there are a lot of affordable, and even free, courses that are still awesome in quality.
Our hand-picked choices of SAT Subject Tests prep courses
1. In-school prep
First and foremost, since the SAT Subject Tests are based on high school course work, the most logical and most affordable way to prepare for them is by using the textbooks and other classwork that you’re already using for the corresponding classes in your school.
For example, if you’re taking AP World History in school, you might want to prepare for the World History SAT Subject Tests on the side as well. Right before or after your AP exam in May, you can take the SAT Subject Test as well.
The general rule is that the AP exams are more exhaustive than the SAT Subject Tests. So, if you’re prepared for the AP exams, you are probably prepared for the SAT Subject Tests as well.
2. Khan Academy
Partnering with the Collegeboard, the maker and owner of the SAT Subject Tests, Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that provides video lectures on a wide variety of subjects for free. Although they don’t offer official SAT Subject Tests practice materials, they offer materials related to every subject test, except for English and the languages. For example, to prepare for the Chemistry SAT subject test, click on AP Chemistry under courses.
- Practice tests: Since Khan Academy doesn’t offer official SAT Subject Tests practice materials, it doesn’t offer practice tests either. While the Collegeboard offers some free practice questions for each subject test, they don’t offer free full-length tests as well. The good news is that however small in numbers, the Collegeboard’s practice questions are as similar as you can get to the real questions. But the bad news is that with this prep option, you would have to buy a separate book or use other prep courses with more practice tests on the side.
- Customization: Unlike the customizable tools it offers for the SAT, Khan Academy does not offer a customizable study plan or a prep course for the SAT Subject Tests. But if you already know which test you are taking and which topics need more improvement, you can pick and choose from Khan Academy’s long list of subjects and contents to customize your own study plan by yourself.
- Variety of content: For all subjects, Khan Academy provides a variety of study tools, such as video lessons and reference articles on topics like studying strategies and time management. Also, each course offers videos of Sal Khan, the founder and CEO of Khan Academy, working through problems and explaining his approach to difficult questions. Still, Khan Academy lacks contents like live chat with actual teachers.
- Time flexibility: All of Khan Academy’s contents are highly flexible with time because they are all online. So, you can use them whenever and wherever you want. You can also download the Khan Academy app for free to access all of its PC contents on your phone. However, if you are more of an in-person study type or can’t keep up with a study plan by yourself, you may have to find a different course to motivate yourself more directly.
- Price: FREE
3. Varsity Tutors
Varsity Tutors offers a lot of practice tests and questions for free. Just by signing up, you will also get access to highly customizable content, such as study plans and performance records and statistics. Along the way, if you think you’d need more help than just free stuff, you can also be matched with an expert tutor nearby.
- Practice tests: Although it doesn’t offer full-length practice tests, Varsity Tutors offers so many sets of diagnostic tests, varying in number of questions, that you’ll very likely have enough number of questions in total to practice with. However, Varsity Tutors offers practice tests for only three language subjects: Spanish, French and Latin.
- Customization: After you take a diagnostic test for any of the subjects, you will receive a performance statistics page that highlights how you performed on the test.
This page shows you a breakdown of your answers by key topics, your percentile compared to others who took this practice test, the percentages of correct and incorrect answers, how long you spent on each question, the number of people who answered correctly on each question, and detailed explanation for each question. You can use all these features for free without even making an account.
If you take a step further and make an account with them, you can create your own personalized study plan. Also, if you contact Varsity Tutors for an online or a private in-home tutor near you, it matches you with an expert tutor who will help you according to your difficulty level and schedule.
- Variety of content: Besides practice tests, each subject offers a variety of content, such as daily questions and flashcards. However, for SAT Subject Tests, Varsity Tutors doesn’t offer other popular content, such as videos or live lectures.
- Time flexibility: Since you can find all of its contents online, Varsity Tutors for SAT Subject Tests is highly flexible with time. Also, Varsity Tutors offers a mobile app, available in both iOS and Android.
- Price: All of its online contents are FREE. However, if you choose to be matched with a tutor for a one-on-one setting, price will vary.
With its fun and engaging study materials, Shmoop offers a very affordable prep course for the SAT Subject Tests. Also, it’s one of the few affordable prep courses that review almost all 20 subjects.
- Practice tests: Varying by subject, the number of full-length practice tests can be as low as two and as high as four. Also, you get access to hundreds of practice questions for each subject. Except for Modern Hebrew, Shmoop offers study materials for all subjects.
- Customization: You can choose to pay for either a monthly option or a whole year option. For both options, you will have access to a personal dashboard that works like a personal study plan. There, you can see your diagnostic report, videos, drill questions, progress tracking tool, and list of homework based on your difficulty level and topics, on which you need improvement.
- Variety of content: Besides practice tests and questions, Shmoop offers a wide variety of content, such as fun and interactive review videos, test-specific strategies, flashcards, reports and statistics on your performance.
- Time flexibility: All of Shmoop’s contents are highly flexible with time because they are all online. So, you can use them whenever and wherever you want. However, if you are more of an in-person study type or can’t keep up with a study plan by yourself, you may have to find a different course to motivate yourself more directly.
- Price: You can either pay $24.68 monthly or $150 for a one-year access.
With a team of experts with perfect scores on whichever SAT subject test they teach, PrepScholar offers a wide variety of course options with high customization and time flexibility.
- Practice tests: For each course option, you receive up to four full-length practice tests. Besides practice tests, you will have access to more than 1,300 total practice questions, followed by detailed answer explanations.
- Customization: You can choose out of two prep options. First, the Complete SAT Subject Tests Online Prep lasts for one year and gives you access to all online materials and programs for the subject test of your choice. This program is available for all SAT Subject Tests, except for languages. Second, the Complete + Tutoring lasts for a year and includes everything in the first option plus hours of one-on-one tutoring with one of Prep Scholar’s expert tutors.
Both options come with access to all online materials and programs, such as hundreds of videos, customized diagnostic quiz, and a study plan customized to your difficulty level.
- Variety of content: Both options provide a wide variety of content, such as more than 200 problem-solving videos, over 30 skill lessons with strategy videos, personal messages of encouragement, and weekly progress report sent via email to both students and their parents.
- Time flexibility: Out of the two options, the first option is the most flexible with time because all of its contents are accessible through the web.
- Price: While the Complete SAT Subject Tests Online Prep costs $397, the Complete + Tutoring option starts from $995.
6. Princeton Review
Unlike its number of different prep options for other tests, such as the ACT or SAT, the Princeton Review offers only two prep options for the SAT Subject Tests: physical prep books or the Full-service Private Tutoring, which is highly personalized and exhaustive, but can be pricey for many students.
- Practice tests: If you buy Princeton Review’s own prep books, the number of practice tests included differs by subjects. Note that they don’t provide prep books for any of the language subjects, except for Spanish and French.
For the private tutoring option, the prep books are included. However, their website doesn’t mention any set number of practice tests guaranteed with the tutoring option. To get more details, you can call 888-231-7737 or use their online chat service.
- Customization: With the private tutoring option, you will get the highest customization possible. You will follow a customized study plan, work on homework and problems based on your difficulty level, and meet with your personal tutor at your convenience.
- Variety of content: Other than practice tests or practice problems, the private tutoring option provides other content, such as custom-built apps for progress management and scheduling, a custom dashboard with reports on strengths and weaknesses and more. Again, for more detailed information, contact Princeton Review directly.
- Time flexibility: Both the prep book and private tutoring options are highly flexible with time. The private tutoring option is available both online and in-person.
- Price: While SAT Subjects Tests prep books cost around $16, the private tutoring option costs $167 per hour.
Providing materials for most subjects, Kaplan offers an exhaustive review for each test. However, unlike its number of different prep options for other tests, such as the ACT or SAT, Kaplan offers only two prep options for the SAT Subject Tests: physical books and one-on-one online tutoring option.
- Practice tests: If you buy Kaplan’s prep books, the number of practice tests included differs by subjects. Note that they don’t provide prep books for any of the language subjects, except for Spanish and French.
For the online tutoring option, the number of practice tests doesn’t seem to be set. To get more details, you can call 1-800-KAP-TEST for a free consultation or use their online chat service.
- Customization: With the online tutoring option, you will get the highest customization possible. You will follow a customized study plan, work on homework and problems based on your difficulty level and meet with your personal tutor at your convenience.
- Variety of content: From their website, Kaplan doesn’t seem to provide much variety of content other than their prep books and personal tutoring. A lot of the information about their personal tutoring option seems unavailable before consultation. If you’re simply glancing across multiple prep course options other than Kaplan and yet undecided, this can feel very time-consuming. However, if you’re still interested to know and willing to trust in the name brand of Kaplan, ask for a free consultation.
- Time flexibility: Both the prep book and online tutoring options are highly flexible with time.
- Price: While SAT Subjects Tests prep books cost around $13, the tutoring option will most likely be very expensive. Note that the price of Kaplan’s tutoring option is not readily available on their website.
For many students, the SAT Subject Tests will come second to the SAT or the ACT. However, if you’re applying to competitive colleges or specific majors or programs, you may be required to provide one or more SAT Subject Tests scores. Before diving into prep, please be sure to check with your list of schools whether or not you need or should take the SAT Subject Tests. If you need to take them, the best way to pick the subjects is to pick the ones you’re good at. You don’t want to waste much time wrestling with subjects that already give you headaches in school.
Hyeyeun Jeon is from South Korea and a graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in Professional Writing and International Relations. She is passionate about non-fiction storytelling. She loves reading, watching, writing and producing stories about extraordinary lives of everyday people.