Which SAT II Subject Tests to Take
Which SAT II Subject Tests to Take
There are three types of SAT II tests: those you must take, those you should take, and those you shouldn’t take.
  • The SAT II tests you must take are those that are required by the colleges you are interested in.
  • The SAT II tests you should take are tests that aren’t required, but which you’ll do well on, thereby impressing the colleges looking at your application.
  • You shouldn’t take the unrequired SAT II tests that cover a subject you don’t feel confident about.
Determining Which SAT II Tests are Required
You’ll need to do a bit of research to find out if the colleges you’re applying to require that you take a particular SAT II test. Call the schools you’re interested in, look at their websites, or talk to your guidance counselor. Often, colleges require that you take the following SAT II tests:
  • The Writing SAT II test
  • One of the two Math SAT II tests (either Math IC or Math IIC)
  • Another SAT II in some other subject of your choice
Not all colleges follow these guidelines; you should take the time to verify what tests you need to take in order to apply to the colleges that interest you.
Deciding Which Math SAT II to Take
Few students take both Math SAT II tests. Instead, you should choose which test to take based on several factors.
  • Test content. The two tests cover similar topics, but the Math IIC covers more material than the Math IC does. Level IC covers three years of college-preparatory math: two years of algebra and one year of geometry. Level IIC assumes that in addition to those three years, you have also taken a year of trigonometry and/or precalculus.
Math IC
Plane geometry (lines and angles, triangles, polygons, circles)
Solid geometry (cubes, cylinders, cones, spheres, etc.)
Coordinate geometry (in two dimensions)
Trigonometry (properties and graphs of sine, cosine, and tangent functions, identities)
Algebraic functions
Statistics and sets (distributions, probability, permutations and combinations, groups and sets)
Miscellaneous topics (logic, series, limits, complex and imaginary numbers)
Math IIC (covers all areas in Math IC with some additional concepts)
Plane geometry
Solid geometry
Coordinate geometry (in two and three dimensions, vectors, polar coordinates, parametric equations)
Trigonometry (cosecant, secant, cotangent functions, inverse functions, in non-right triangles)
Statistics and sets
Miscellaneous topics
  • Question difficulty. Not only does the Math IIC cover additional topics, it also covers the basic topics in more difficult ways than the Math IC does.
  • College choice. As you choose between the two tests, keep in mind the specific colleges you’re applying to. Colleges with a strong focus on math, such as MIT and Cal Tech, require the Math IIC test. Most other colleges have no such requirement, but some may prefer that you take the IIC.
  • Battle of the test curves. The Level IIC test is scored on a much more liberal curve: you can miss six or seven questions and still achieve a score of 800. On the IC test, however, you would probably need to answer all the questions correctly to get a perfect score. If you wanted to score a 600 on either test, you would need around 20 correct answers on the IIC test and 33 on the IC test. Some students with strong math backgrounds think that they can get a marvelous score on the less difficult Math IC while their score on the IIC will only be average. But if you get tripped up by just one or two questions on the Math IC, your score will not be as impressive as you might expect.
If you have the skills to take the Level IIC test, you should go for it. Some students decide to take the Math IC because it’s easier, even though they have taken a precalculus course. We don’t recommend this. Colleges will be more impressed by a student who does fairly well on SAT II Math IIC than one who does very well on SAT II Math IC. Also, the friendly curve of the Math IIC means that if you know enough math to take the IIC, you might very well get a better score than you would on the IC.
If after all this you still can’t decide which of the two Math SAT IIs to take, try a taking a practice test for each.
Deciding If You Should Take an SAT II That Isn’t Required
There are two rules of thumb for deciding which additional test to take beyond the Writing and Math tests:
  1. Go with what you know. If history is your field, a strong score on the American History test will impress admissions officers far more than a bold but mediocre effort on the Physics test.
  2. Try to show breadth. Scoring well on similar subject tests such as Math, Biology, and Chemistry will not be as impressive as good scores in more diverse subjects, such as Math, Writing, World History, and Biology.
Of course, you also have to know what is considered a good score, and whether or not you can get that score (or higher).
Below we have included a list of the most popular SAT II tests and the average scaled score on each. If you feel confident that you can get a score that is above the average (50 points or more), taking the test will probably strengthen your college application. Please note that if you are planning to attend an elite school, you might have to score significantly higher than the national average. The following table is just a general guideline. It’s a good idea to call the schools that interest you or talk to a guidance counselor to get a more precise idea of what score you should be shooting for.
Writing 590–600
Literature 590–600
American History 580–590
World History 570–580
Math IC 580–590
Math IIC 655–665
Biology 590–600
Chemistry 605–615
Physics 635–645
As you decide which test to take, be realistic with yourself. Don’t just assume you’re going to do great without at least taking a practice test and seeing where you stand.
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