Even as colleges shift away from emphasizing SAT subject tests, students are still choosing to take them

February 10, 2017 — by Caitlin Ju and Ryan Kim

Subject tests are becoming less accepted at colleges. 

Dozens of sophomores and juniors spend a significant amount of time each year preparing for standardized tests like the SAT, ACT or SAT subject tests. Students often choose to take the SAT subject tests at the end of each school year upon completion of the relevant coursework, such as PreCalculus Honors and Chemistry Honors.

The ACT and the SAT are essential steps for getting into most colleges, but are SAT subject tests worth taking at a time when colleges aren’t requiring them the way they used to? The half a dozen students interviewed by the Falcon had mixed feelings about the value of the subject tests.

For sophomore Reva Vaidya, who is planning to major in an engineering-related field, showcasing her abilities in the sciences is something she views as beneficial. She plans to take the SAT Chemistry Test this June this year after completing Chemistry Honors.

“Especially if you’re planning on going into this really advanced major, then you should definitely be required to take the test because the regular ACT or SAT doesn’t cover specific fields like history and science and other fields people want to go into,” Vaidya said.

Though Vaidya thinks more colleges should require the tests, she isn’t convinced students’ scores on the subject tests accurately reflect their skill level in those areas.

Colleges are gradually moving away from requiring the tests because of the controversy around the efficacy of standardized testing, Vaidya said. Dozens of colleges require these tests only for students who choose the SAT over the ACT (the ACT includes a science section, whereas the SAT does not) or are majoring in specific areas.

For example, Carnegie Mellon University requires College of Engineering applicants to take the Mathematics Level II Subject Test and either Physics or Chemistry. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also requires two SAT subject tests, one in a math level and one in science.

After taking the Biology and Mathematics Level II tests at the end of her junior year, senior Megana Saripella took the Chemistry test last November only because specific programs, such as the Accelerated Medical Program at Boston University and the Honors Program in Medical Education at Northwestern University, required it.

“I’d rather they have me take whatever I wanted, because I ended up doing a lot worse in my [Chemistry test] because I wasn’t initially planning on taking it,” Saripella said. “If colleges were taking my other scores, maybe [my score] would have worked a little bit better.”

In contrast to those that currently require specific tests, several colleges are lenient in their testing policy. NYU allows students to submit results from three SAT subject tests or three AP exams in the place of the SAT or ACT.

Other colleges have changed their language regarding standardized test requirements. Since 2010, Georgetown University, which used to require three SAT subject tests, now only “strongly recommends” that all candidates submit three SAT subject test scores. Harvard University also stated in 2014 that while “normally” two SAT subject tests are required, it is acceptable not to take them because of personal preference or financial hardship.

However, even with the recent shift away from required SAT subject tests, many students here still feel the need to take them, even if they are merely recommended.

“Even if subject tests were ‘strongly recommended’ and not required by colleges, probably nothing would really change,” junior Tiffany Huang said. “They would be just like AP courses; they’re not required, but everyone still takes them anyway.”

Junior Kevin Handoko plans to take three subject tests, regardless of these colleges’ changes in policy. Though he has not taken any of them yet, Handoko said that it has essentially become the culture at the school for most people to take the tests.

“It’s already hard to get into any UC public school, and to get into a good private school, it’s already so competitive, so anything to give an edge would be helpful, so [the mindset is] a good score would help,” Handoko said.

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