As more and more schools drop their SAT Subject Test requirement, it seems like almost nobody is interested in the exams anymore, perhaps least of all the College Board. Students aiming for uber-selective schools, however, probably still need to take them.
UPDATE (4/5/18): Harvard has changed its policy from require to recommend. Its old policy read, “While we normally require two SAT Subject Tests, you may apply without them if the cost of the tests represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have your application considered without them.” Its new policy reads, “While we recommend that you submit two SAT Subject Tests, you may apply without them if the cost of the tests represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have your application considered without them.” It remains the case that we believe students should submit strong Subject test scores in order to be considered seriously by Harvard College, but this relaxation in policy provides further evidence that Subject tests may be going the way of the dodo.
UPDATE (3/26/18): The Webb Institute has dropped its Subject test requirement. There are now 3 schools that require Subject tests of all students.
Last week, Tufts University announced that it was dropping its SAT Subject test requirement. That brings us down to 3 US schools–Cal Tech, Harvey Mudd, and MIT–that require all students to submit subject test scores. All four schools place a heavy emphasis on engineering, so it is no surprise that they want to see how students perform on more rigorous STEM tests. But they also enroll a tiny portion of the 200,000+ students who took Subject tests. Between the three of them, the schools received about 32,000 applications in 2016, and they enrolled just shy of 1,600 students altogether. The vast majority of those applications went to MIT, which, unsurprisingly, also enrolled about two-thirds of the students in the group.
In addition to the three STEM schools that require all students to submit subject test scores in math and science, Cooper Union and Cornell require Subject tests of a large portion of their applicants. So five US schools broadly require subject tests. Five.
Twenty other schools “recommend” Subject tests to a substantial number of applicants, particularly STEM applicants. What to make of that recommend is a maddening question. Students and families in the know typically treat that recommendation as a requirement, but students who lack strong counseling, especially students who are the first in their family to apply to college, may interpret the recommendation as, well, just a recommendation. It would be good for colleges who recommend the submission of Subject test scores to be more transparent about the role the tests play in their admissions process.
Only the schools in red below broadly require subject tests. Click the plus sign for more details.
|[bg_sort_this_table pagination=0 perpage=20 showsearch=1 showinfo=0 responsive=1 lang=”en”]SCHOOL||POLICY||DETAILS|
|California Institute of Technology||Required||Math 2 + 1 SAT science: biology (ecological or molecular),
chemistry, or physics
|Cooper Union||Required for Engineering||Engineering applicants must submit 2: Math (Level 1 or 2)
AND Physics or Chemistry.
|Cornell University||Required by Some Schools||Arts and Sciences: 2 subjects of your choice;
Engineering: Mathematics and a science of your choice.
|Harvard University||Recommended||“While we normally recommend two SAT Subject Tests,
you may apply without them if the cost of the tests
represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have
your application considered without them.”
|Harvey Mudd College||Required||Two: Math 2 AND any subject the student chooses.|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Required||Two: Math 1 or 2 AND science (physics, chemistry,
or biology e/m).
|Brown University||Recommended||We recommend, but do not require, the submission of
two SAT Subject Tests of your choice. If you are applying
to the Program in Liberal Medical Education, we strongly
recommend one subject test in either Biology, Chemistry
|Carnegie Mellon University||Recommended|| Recommends 2 for each school except Fine Arts.
Engineering: Math 2 AND Physics or Chemistry.
Humanities and Information Sciences: Math 1 or 2
AND another subject test.
Computer Science: Math 2 AND Physics, Chemistry,
Business: Math 2 AND preferably science.
|Dartmouth College||Recommended||“We recommend that all applicants, regardless of if they
are submitting ACT or SAT Test scores, submit two
different SAT Subject Test scores.” If you submit more
than 2, they only look at top 2.
|Duke University||Recommended Strongly
|For students who submit the SAT, two SAT Subject Tests
are strongly recommended. Students who take the ACT
are not required to submit SAT or SAT Subject Test scores. “Applicants to the Pratt School of Engineering who take the SAT are strongly recommended to take one SAT Subject Test in Mathematics (level 1 or 2). “
|Emory University||Recommended||SAT 2 exams are encouraged, but not required.|
|Georgetown University||3 Recommended Strongly||“It is strongly recommended that all candidates, whether
they have taken the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT,
submit three SAT Subject Tests scores.”
|Lafayette College||Recommended||The results of SAT Subject Tests are recommended but
not required for admission.
|Lehigh College||Recommended||“SAT Subject Tests are not required for admissions, but are
recommended as college credit may be awarded for scores of 700 or higher.”
|Princeton University||Recommended||“We recommend, but do not require, the submission of two SAT Subject Tests, which often assist us in the evaluation process. We have no preference for the specific SAT Subject Tests applicants choose to take. However, if you apply for the Bachelor of Science in Engineering, we recommend that you take either mathematics Level I or II, and either physics or chemistry.”|
|Rice University||Recommended||Two SAT Subject Tests in fields related to the proposed area of study. More specific recommendations: Engineering: Math + a science (preferably chemistry or physics); Natural Science: Math + a science|
|University of California, Berkeley||Recommended (Engineering/Chemistry)||Math Level 2 and a science test (Biology E/M, Chemistry,
or Physics) closely related to the applicant’s intended
|University of California, Irvine||Recommended (some schools)||Engineering: Math Level 2 and a science test (Biology E/M,
Chemistry, or Physics) closely related to the applicant’s
intended major; Pharmaceutical Sciences: Biology M,
Chemistry, and/or Math Level 2;
Physical Sciences: Math Level 2;
Public Health Sciences: Biology E, Biology M, and/or
Chemistry; Public Health Policy: Biology E, Biology M,
and/or World History.
|University of California, Los Angeles||Recommended (Engineering/Applied Science)`||Math Level 2 and a science test (Biology E/M, Chemistry,
or Physics) closely related to the applicant’s intended major.
|University of California, Riverside||Recommended (Engineering/Natural and Agricultural Sciences)||Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Bourns College
of Engineering: Math 2 and Chemistry or Physics, for all
|University of California, San Diego||Recommended (Engineering/Biological or Physical Sciences)||Math Level 2 and a science test (Biology E/M, Chemistry,
or Physics) closely related to the applicant’s intended major.
|University of California, Santa Barbara||Recommended (Engineering/ Creative Studies)||Engineering/Math/Computing: Math Level 2;
Physics: Math Level 2 and Physics;
Biology: Biology E/M;
Biochemistry and Chemistry: Chemistry
|University of Delaware||Recommended||Recommends highly for the Honors Program|
|University of Pennsylvania||Recommended||SAT Subject Tests are recommended but not required
for arts, humanities, and social sciences applicants.
More specific recommendations: STEM: Math Level 2 and
a science Subject Test (preferably Physics for Engineering Applicants). Business: Math Level 2. Nursing: Science, preferably, Chemistry.
|Yale University||Recommended||Subject Tests are recommended but not required.
Yale does participate in Score Choice for the reporting of
SAT Subject Tests.
At any rate, many students are getting the message that they do not need the Subject tests, as this chart shows. While the number of SAT-takers has grown in the past decade, the number of Subject test-takers has shrunk after years of growth.
The collapse in Subject test-takers has been particularly acute for the language exams, but the number of students taking the Math 1 exam has also collapsed. This charts shows the decline in test-takers from the peak for each test.
The STEM Subject tests have held on the most, and Math 2 has been the most frequently taken test for several years now.
All this raises questions about the future of Subject tests. Will the College Board continue to support the exams when so few schools are interested in them? Two years ago, during a Q&A at the NACAC national convention in Columbus, someone asked the CEO of the College Board, David Coleman, when the company would revise the Subject tests to align them with the SAT. Subject test questions have five answer choices; the SAT has four. Students lose a quarter point for wrong answers on the Subject tests; there is no guessing penalty on the SAT. Coleman paused and replied, “That’s a good question.” And said nothing more. When pressed, he said that they needed to think about the Subject tests, given the expansion of AP testing.
It was a cryptic remark, whose meaning has now become clearer. Little did we know then that the College Board would be launching an ambitious plan to make deeper incursions into the high school curriculum. While the College Board’s tests have traditionally examined students on the material they have learned in high school, the College Board increasingly wants to determine what that material is and then test students on it. Next year, 100 schools will implement a pre-AP curriculum for ninth graders; the College Board will expand the program each year after. There will be pre-AP courses in Algebra 1, Bio, English, World History, and Visual and Performing Arts. When asked at a regional College Board Forum whether the pre-AP Bio and pre-AP World History courses would prepare students for the Subject tests, a College Board representative said they were not designed to do so. The pre-AP curriculum will be more narrow than the traditional high school curriculum and go deeper. Subject tests, she acknowledged, take a broad and shallow approach to curriculum. The focus of the College Board is clearly on the AP and pre-AP program, not on Subject tests.
Subject tests, we learned at the same meeting, are not going to get an update until 2022 at the soonest. It is difficult to imagine that the language exams will continue to exist, and the history and literature exams might be eliminated as well. The STEM exams seem likely to survive since Engineering programs want to see students’ performance at a higher level than the SAT or ACT can assess, but as more and more schools say goodbye to the Subject tests, it is now possible to imagine the College Board will do the same.