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 that you’ll do well on, thereby impressing the colleges looking at your application.
  • You shouldn’t take the SAT II tests that aren’t required and that cover a subject you don’t feel confident about.
Determining Which SAT II Tests Are Required
To find out if the colleges to which you are applying require that you take a particular SAT II test, you’ll need to do a bit of research. Call the schools you’re interested in, look at college web pages, or talk to your guidance counselor. Often, colleges request 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, however, so you should take the time to research which tests you need to take in order to apply to the colleges that interest you.
Deciding Which Math SAT II to Take
Some students take both Math SAT II tests, but there really isn’t a good reason for it. Instead, you should choose to take one test over the other. You should make this choice based on several factors.
  1. 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’ve 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
  1. Question Difficulty. Not only does the Math IIC test cover additional topics, it also covers the basic topics in more difficult ways than the Math IC test does.
  2. 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 schools may prefer that you take the IIC.
  3. Battle of the Test Curves. The two tests are scored by very different curves. The Level IIC test is scored on a much more liberal curve: you can miss six or seven questions at the IIC level 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. In another example, if you wanted to get a 600 on either test, you would need around 20 correct answers on the IIC test and 33 on the IC test. Some students who have a math background that suggests they should take the Math IIC see that the IC is a less difficult test and think that they can get a marvelous score on the 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 the impressive showstopper that you might expect.
All in all, if you have the math background to take the Level IIC test, you should go for it. Some students decide to take the Math IC test because it’s easier, even though they have taken a precalculus course. We don’t recommend this plan. True, those students will probably do well on the Math IC test, but colleges will most certainly be more impressed by a student who does pretty well on the Math IIC than one who does very well on the Math IC. Also, the friendly curve on the Math IIC means that students who know enough math to take the IIC might very well get a better score on the IIC than they would on the IC.
If you still can’t decide which of the two Math SAT IIs to take, try a practice test of each.
Deciding If You Should Take an SAT II That Isn’t Required
To decide whether you should take a test that isn’t required, you have to know two things:
  1. What a good score on that SAT II test is.
  2. Whether you can get that score or higher.
Below, we have included a list of the most commonly taken SAT II tests and the average scaled score on each. If you feel confident that you can get a score that is significantly above the average (50 points is significant), taking the test will probably strengthen your college application. Please note that if you are hoping to attend an elite school, you might have to score significantly more than 50 points higher than the national average. The following list 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.
Test Average Score
Writing 590–600
Literature 590–600
American History 580–590
World History 570–580
Math IC 580–590
Math IIC 655–665
Biology E/M 590–600
Chemistry 605–615
Physics 635–645
As you decide which tests to take, be realistic with yourself. Don’t just assume you’re going to do well without at least taking a practice test and seeing where you stand.
It’s a good idea to take three SAT II tests that cover a range of subjects, such as one math SAT II, one humanities SAT II (History or Writing), and one science SAT II. But there’s no real reason to take more than three SAT II tests. Once you’ve taken the SAT II tests you need to take, the best way to set yourself apart from other students is to take AP courses and tests. AP tests are harder than the SAT II tests, and as a result they carry quite a bit more distinction. SAT II tests give you the opportunity to show colleges that you can learn and do well when you need to. Taking AP tests shows colleges that you want to learn as much as you can.
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