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
- Another SAT II in some other subject of your choice
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
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.
||Plane geometry (lines and angles, triangles,
||Solid geometry (cubes, cylinders, cones, spheres,
||Coordinate geometry (in two dimensions)
||Trigonometry (properties and graphs of sine,
cosine, and tangent functions, identities)
||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)
||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
- 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
There are two rules of thumb for deciding which additional
test to take beyond the Writing and Math tests:
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.
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,
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
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.