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Articles / Applying to College / SAT Subject Tests or AP Exams for Home-Schooled Student?

April 17, 2009

SAT Subject Tests or AP Exams for Home-Schooled Student?

Question: I am a 10th-grade home-schooled student, and I was wondering are SAT II Subject Tests better than AP tests for me or vice versa?

Often students who take AP tests take the SAT II's in the same subjects. The advantage of the AP's is that you can usually get college credit for high scores (most often that means a score of 4 or 5 on the 1-5 scale; sometimes a 3). SAT II's rarely earn you credit, although in some cases you can place out of required courses or be allowed to skip introductory ones on the basis of good SAT's.


Not surprisingly, the AP tests are generally more rigorous than the SAT II's. For instance, the SAT II in biology is designed for any student who has taken a one-year class in that subject. The AP test, on the other hand, is only for those who have completed either a very challenging Advanced Placement course that is geared to the test at the end or who have covered similar material in an equally demanding bio class, even if it's not specifically labeled “AP."

You can find information about AP test content on the College Board Web site. Go to: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/subjects.html ) Here, you can see how the various AP classes match up with your home-school curriculum.

Likewise, you should obtain prep materials for the SAT II tests that interest you. Your local bookstore is one place to look; you can also find a barrage of information online. Start with the official material at the College Board Web site: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/about/SATII.html

The College Board offers a free booklet, which you can download right from the Web site, that provides sample questions. (Go to http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/sat/sat-subject-test-preparation-booklet.pdf )

On the College Board site, you'll also find sales pitches for other books that you can purchase that provide more depth. And, of course, if you do a search for "SAT Subject Tests" (or "AP Tests") on the College Confidential discussion forum, you'll find enough advice from other CC members to keep you busy reading until you've actually graduated from college, assuming that you can pry yourself away from the CC pages long enough to finish your school assignments in the first place. :)

Once you have compared the content of the SAT II and AP tests, you'll have a better sense of which ones are appropriate for you--or if taking both is the best plan, as it may be in some academic areas. As for the choice that will best affect your admission decisions, that's a close call. Certainly 5's on a series of AP exams will make admission officers perk up, but so will scores in the mid- or high 700's on the SAT II's. You may find that a “mix and match" approach suits your needs, rather than sticking to one test exclusively. Also, many of the more competitive colleges specifically require SAT II tests. They may waive that requirement if you've taken the equivalent AP exam already or even if you've had the ACT instead of the SAT I. However, that's something you'll have to ask at each of your target schools where the SAT II is necessary. In addition, with Subject tests, you'll have the flexibility to choose one of many test dates throughout the year, and AP exams are limited to May. This means that admission officials will not see AP results if you take the test at the end of your "senior" year. While, with Subject Tests, you may be able to take a test as late as January of 12th grade (or the home-school equivalent of 12th grade) and still have it "count."

Finally, keep in mind that, even when standardized tests are NOT required, they can be a helpful way for home-schooled students to show admission officers that they've had a rigorous education--perhaps even more so than those others who attend a traditional high school--and that they've not been sitting on the couch all day playing Super Mario Kart and watching Everybody Loves Raymond reruns (well, not always, anyway). ;)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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