THE BLOG
10/15/2014 09:04 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

The Differences in Prepping for the SAT vs. SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests are short discipline-specific exams offered by the SAT test-creators. They are designed to help you highlight your knowledge in a particular area, such as chemistry or Italian. When you score well on them, they can positively impact schools' admissions decisions -- especially if you have already indicated your interest in a given major.

All SAT Subject Tests are one hour in length, and there are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general areas: English, history, mathematics, science, and languages. Colleges and universities review your exam scores to determine how prepared you are for particular college-level programs. Your performance might also determine what classes you take during your freshman year.

If you plan to sit for both the SAT and SAT Subject Tests, you should know that the latter requires a slightly different prep plan. However, many of the prep strategies you employ on the SAT are also applicable to the Subject Tests.

To avoid any unwanted confusion, utilize the following tips to ensure you prepare appropriately for the SAT Subject Tests:

Carefully select your exams
Unlike the SAT, you can choose Subject Tests that directly complement your academic skills. Note that you cannot complete SAT Subject Tests and the SAT on the same day, however.

If you are hoping to pursue a major that offers an SAT Subject Test, you should strongly consider sitting for said exam. Or, if you excel in a particular content area, consider taking that test to balance weaknesses that may exist elsewhere in your application.

Research your prospective schools to determine their policy on SAT Subject Tests. Certain colleges and universities may require them for admissions consideration, others may strongly recommend them, and some may not feel strongly either way. However, strong scores can still impress schools that do not outwardly request them.

Enroll in more challenging classes
This tactic can of course aid you on the SAT, but it is especially useful for SAT Subject Tests. The SAT states that its Subject Tests are created from material that you usually encounter in high school classes. If you challenge yourself by registering for and succeeding in AP or dual-enrollment courses, you may learn that same material at a higher, more skilled level. Furthermore, exploring extracurricular activities in these subjects, such as competitive math teams, can help you prep and have a bit of fun as well.

Take SAT Subject Tests after their companion classes
Certain SAT strategists recommend that you take the SAT early and often. Doing so allows you to critique your performance and improve upon your results.

However, it is best to sit for SAT Subject Tests immediately after you complete those classes that are most relevant to them. For example, if you plan to take the chemistry assessment, and you have yet to complete the second half of AP Chemistry, it is in your best interest to wait until just after you complete that AP Chemistry course. Why? The most critical information will be fresh in your mind!

Practice and continue your successful study habits
While there are differences between the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests, some of your proven strategies may still help you. For example, answering practice questions on a regular basis and making educated guesses by ruling out one or more answer choices will still be of great use to you.

Good luck!