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Deciding Which SAT Subject Test to Take

Until the regular SAT changed in 2005, it used to be a little easier to decide which SAT II subject area tests you needed to take. Most of the colleges that required the SAT II made you take the SAT II Math, the SAT II Writing, and one other. The only decisions your overworked brain had to make were whether to take Level I or Level II for math and which of the other subjects would provide the least amount of torture for your third choice.

Things have changed, however. Beginning in Fall 2006, students entering college will take a new SAT I that incorporates the old SAT II Writing test and some of the elements of the Level I Math test. The result is that colleges will probably no longer mandate particular subject tests, and you will have to decide which tests are best for you.

Figuring out the right subject area tests for you

To determine which of the 21 different subject tests are best for you, consider your strengths. Ignore what your friends are doing and choose the subjects that you do best in and that you know the most about. If you can recite the Declaration of Independence in your sleep, the SAT II U.S. History test is probably a good bet. If all of your friends seek you out for help with their trigonometry homework, you'd do well taking the SAT II Math test. Maybe you spend all of your free time expanding your bug collection; the SAT II Biology test is the one for you. Knowing what you'd like to major in can also help direct you toward a particular subject test. If you're still feeling really conflicted, it may help you to know that you can decide which tests you're taking on test day.

Harvard University, for example, requires its applicants to take three SAT II subject tests to be considered for admission. Although the requirements don't mandate that each test come from a different general subject area, the admissions committee suggests that you show your range of understanding by taking as broad a mix of subjects as you feel comfortable with. So, it's probably best to take your SAT II tests in a variety of subjects.

Knowing which level of the SAT II Math you should take

The SAT II Math test comes in two varieties, Level I and Level II, and you're supposed to decide which is better for you. Some universities make the decision easy for you. Because the math sections on the new SAT I test covers much of the same information that Level I tests, some colleges won't accept the Level I test. If you're going to take the math subject test for them, you have to take Level II. Other schools aren't that picky. They accept either the Level I or the Level II. Most schools won't accept both tests from one person, so if you're a real math fan, it doesn't pay to take both levels and expect to use them as two of your required tests.

If you've taken algebra, algebra II, and geometry and no other math courses, focus on the Level I test. The Level II test is for those torture seekers who have gone on to take trigonometry or pre-Calculus (or both!), in addition to two years of algebra and geometry. A Level II score impresses admissions committees more than a Level I score does, unless, of course, the Level II score is below average. If you like math enough to choose it on your own as one of your subject test options, you're probably taking advanced courses and can handle Level II.

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