There are lots of SAT Subject Tests to choose from—in fact, there are 21 options that cover 13 different subjects and languages. It can be overwhelming!
To keep things simple, you want to take the Subject Tests that will strengthen your college applications with excellent scores. So, which Subject Tests are easier than others?
While there isn't a cut and dry answer to this question, we can approach an answer from a few different angles. First, let's take a look at how students score on average on each Subject Test.
UPDATE: Subject Tests No Longer Offered or Required
In January 2021, the College Board announced that, effective immediately, no further SAT Subject Tests will be offered in the United States (and that SAT Subject Tests will only be offered internationally only through June 2021). It is now no longer possible to take SAT Subject Tests.
In the past several years, many schools have dropped their Subject Test requirements, and by the time the College Board made their announcement, nearly no schools required them. With this news, no colleges will require Subject Tests, even from students who could have hypothetically taken the exams a few years ago. Some schools may consider your Subject Test scores if you submit them, similar to how they consider AP scores, but you should contact the specific schools you're interested in to learn their exact policies.
Many students were understandably confused about why this announcement happened midyear and what this means for college applications going forward. Read more about the details of what the end of SAT Subject Tests means for you and your college apps here
Average SAT Subject Test Scores
First we'll look at the average score for each of the SAT Subject Tests. These numbers come from data collected from the 2018, 2019, and 2020 graduating classes by the College Board.
|Chinese with Listening||760|
|Korean with Listening||759|
|Japanese with Listening||703|
|Mathematics Level 2||703|
|French with Listening||679|
|Spanish with Listening||662|
|United States History||647|
|German with Listening||622|
|Mathematics Level 1||614|
The first three tests with the highest mean scores are language tests with listening. We'll discuss what this means below, but first let's consider another piece of this puzzle—the standard deviations, or how students' scores are distributed along the curve.
Standard Deviations of Subject Tests and Why It Matters
The chart below lists the subject tests from highest standard deviation to lowest.
A high standard deviation means that people scored across a wide range of scores, from much lower to much higher than the average. In contrast, a low standard deviation suggests that the majority of people scored close to the average score.
The Korean with Listening and Chinese with Listening tests have the highest mean score and the lowest standard deviations. This means that most students scored near that high mean of 760. While these may sound like rare scores, on these tests they're actually relatively typical!
On a similar note, the Math Level 2 subject test has a pretty high mean score of 703 and a low standard deviation. This means that most students who take Level 2 tend to score around that high mean.
The Literature test, on the other hand, has a lower mean score of 616 and a medium to high standard deviation. So students scored across a wide range of scores on the Literature test. It is possible to score much higher than a 616, and this will put you in a very high percentile compared to other test-takers. However, on the Chinese or Korean tests, a score of 700 might actually be rather low!
|German with Listening||124|
|French with Listening||114|
|Mathematics Level 1||109|
|Spanish with Listening||108|
|Japanese with Listening||102|
|United States History||99|
|Mathematics Level 2||96|
|Chinese with Listening||67|
|Korean with Listening||67|
So Which Are the Easiest SAT Subject Tests?
Based on this information, the following Subject Tests seem to be the easiest to get a high score on:
- Biology E
- Biology M
- US History
- World History
Since almost all U.S. high school students take high school biology and U.S. history, and many others also take chemistry and world history, you will be able to prepare well for these tests by reviewing your coursework and putting in prep time.
Most students score lower on the Literature and Math Subject Tests, but there is a wide range of scores on them (at least, on Math Level 1). So while these tests may be challenging, if you put in the effort to prepare then you can score highly and end up in a very high percentile compared to other test-takers.
As mentioned above, the most difficult Subject Tests are probably Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening, Chinese with Listening, and Math Level 2 if you're not fluent or don't excel in those areas. If you're not confident in your language or math skills, then these tests are not the ones for you.
3 Things to Make Sure You Know...
While the data suggests which Subject Tests are easier and harder to achieve high scores on, you should also make sure you know the following things before deciding on a Subject Test.
#1: Your Language Level
If you're fluent in a language, then these tests can be a great way to achieve a very high score on a Subject Test and add one more asset to your college applications. At the same time, make sure you study and are prepared for what will be on the test. Without a very high score, you may end up in a low percentile—which would be an unpleasant surprise if you actually speak and understand the language!
If you are not near-fluent in a language, you should still be cautious—make sure you understand what will be on the tests and whether you have the language skills to understand the material. Since you're competing with native and fluent speakers, you will have to score very high to end up in a high percentile overall.
#2: Your Math Level
As with some of the language tests, the Math Level 2 test has a high mean score that many students achieve. This suggests that Level 2 is best for students who particularly excel in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus, and are familiar and comfortable using a graphing calculator.
#3: Which Subjects You Excel In
Finally, you should take Subject Tests in subjects in which you excel. Subject Tests are meant to demonstrate subject mastery, and you will probably be best served taking them to coincide with finals or AP exams in your relevant classes.
Learn everything you can about the Subject Tests to make your best informed decision about which ones to take. Read about the best test dates to choose, along with how long the SAT Subject Tests are and how to manage your time.
Regardless of what the data suggests about the easiest SAT Subject Tests, you'll achieve your highest scores by understanding where you excel and doing all you can to familiarize yourself with the tests and know what to expect.
Choosing your subject tests also depends on your prospective colleges' requirement. Check out this guide to see the full list of schools that require SAT Subject Tests.
Are you also taking the general SAT? This article talks about what makes a good score, bad score, and excellent score...and how you can set and reach your target scores.
If you're taking or considering the ACT, this article breaks down the scores and how you can maximize your score on the test.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.