What Do the Scores Mean for the SAT Subject Tests?

by Chuck Lander
A strong Subject Test score can show that you're ready for the hard work of your chosen field.

A strong Subject Test score can show that you're ready for the hard work of your chosen field.

The SAT General Test gives colleges a preview of your potential in general college classes, but you can show how ready you are for particular fields of study by taking SAT Subject Tests. These hour-long exams are scored similarly to the SAT General Test, but knowing the small differences and the usefulness of a Subject Test score can determine if that score will help you be accepted by the college of your dreams.

Raw Score

The raw score on an SAT Subject Test is calculated based on your correct, incorrect, and omitted answers. Like the SAT General Test, you gain 1 point for a correct answer and lose no points for a question you do not answer. On Subject Tests, you lose a fraction of a point for incorrect answers, based on the number of choices available: one-fourth point for five-choice questions, one-third point for four-choice questions and a half-point for three-choice questions.

Scaled Score

Using your raw score, the College Board generates a scaled score between 200 and 800, just like the scaled scores for each subsection of the SAT General Test. Language Tests with Listening include reading and listening sub-scores, and foreign language tests include a usage sub-score. The scaled score is reported to colleges that request your test results. It accounts for differences in subject learning across high schools and the difficulty of questions on each test. You do not need to correctly answer every question on a Subject Test to receive the maximum score of 800.

Understanding the Score

A scaled score combined with a percentile ranking shows how well you performed in relation to other students who took an equivalent test. The College Board offers charts that show the relationship between a particular scaled score and its percentile rank. For example, with the 2012 Literature Subject Test, a score of 630 is in the 53rd percentile, meaning that a student who scored 630 performed better than 53 percent of those who took this test that year. Colleges can choose to use this information to rank and evaluate each applicant's proficiency.

Reporting Your Score to Colleges

Your score on a Subject Test may not be required on your college application. If a school does require a Subject Test score, the school website should provide a score range, just as it would with the SAT General Test, to let you know how well you must perform. In general, schools treat the SAT Subject Test score as a specialized version of a single section score on the SAT and a strong performance on a relevant Subject Test may boost the quality of your application.

About the Author

Chuck Lander holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from American University. In addition to working at university writing centers and teaching writing skills in high school classrooms, he has written for blogs and publications such as the American University Writing Center and "Practicing Planner" since 2008.

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