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Articles / Applying to College / Will So-So Subject Test Scores Hurt Elite-College Applicants?

Will So-So Subject Test Scores Hurt Elite-College Applicants?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | June 12, 2010

Question: I had my sophomore son take 3 SAT Subject Tests on June 5: Math 2, Chem and World history. My thinking, very naive, was that he had taken AP World History and done well. Now, I have learned that some schools require all test scores. How unfavorably will elite schools look upon a student who gets an averge Subject Test score?

As you've noted, some of your son's target colleges will probably require him to report all scores ... including the ones he's none too thrilled about.


I wouldn't worry about this, although it's not ideal. For starters, colleges take sophomore tests scores with at least a few grains of salt. Although it is wise for students---even 9th and 10th graders--to take the Subject Tests in June of the year that they complete a course, the admission folks still realize that their reading, vocab, and general test-taking skills can often improve as the students mature.

Secondly, although admission officials may see all of your son' test results, those colleges that do require Subject Tests will only officially use the best ones.

In addition, even if your son doesn't do well in all of the areas you've cited (Math 2, Chem, and World History) it will still work in his favor that he felt strong enough to at least tackle the tests in such a diversity of areas. (And if he gets a high score on the AP World History exam, he can submit this score and it will trump a so-so showing on the SAT II.)

I'm not sure, however, why a sophomore took Math 2. I assume your son will be continuing with math. Did his teacher suggest (as is sometimes the case) that the material covered in 10th grade is the most relevant to this test? (Although it can sound counterintuitive, sometimes younger students fare best on Math 2 and older ones on Math 1 ... it really depends on the school curriculum.) I'm assuming also that your son won't be continuing with chemistry (i.e., taking AP in 11th or 12th). If he is, then he should re-take the chem SAT at a later time (if he isn't pleased with the score he gets now).

Bottom line: At the "elite" colleges, your son will be "competing" with applicants who will score in the upper 700's (or even 800) on a range of Subject Tests. So, while lower scores aren't going to be a check mark in the plus column, they certainly won't be a deal-breaker either.

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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