revised March 16, 2020
Ah, spring! You’re finally creeping out from under winter's midterms and semester projects, ready to embrace the growing season of a new year. As such, you’ll want to turn your attention to some of the excitement spring has to offer: longer days, trees and flowers blooming, and, of course, Advanced Placement (AP) exams and SAT subject tests! Wait, what?
You heard right! As it turns out, each new opportunity brings about new challenges. Many students will look to supplement their college application with scores from AP and SAT Subject tests. Although these tests represent another variable to add to your plans, they need not be unduly stressful or anxiety inducing. With a little forethought, you can turn these challenges into opportunities to highlight our skills for the admissions officers you’ll be in touch with in the second half of this calendar year.
So What are Advanced Placement Tests?
The AP Exams are class-specific exams that you take at the end of the school year to show your mastery of the given subject. These tests occur in May and the results are sent to students in July. Students and their families can then decide which schools should receive the scores. The tests are varied in length as well as format: essay, short answer, problem solving, and the sentimental favorite, multiple choice. Like the SAT, AP Exams have eliminated the scoring penalties for incorrect answers. Students will want to answer all of the questions to maximize their scores. As stated above, you will want to talk to your teachers to confirm the format, content, and scoring of your tests. Additionally, although there are practice materials here, you will want to check with your teachers for additional practice exams or questions. This is also a good time to honestly assess what you have understood well in the course and what you are not as confident or comfortable doing. Take a few minutes for each AP course and jot down what topics or exercises were particularly challenging for you. Then, make an appointment with your teachers to discuss the items on your list. Your instructors will only be too glad to help you strengthen these areas.
Maximizing Success on the AP Tests
So, you’ve been working hard in your AP classes and want to make sure that effort translates into a good score. One of the key pieces to your success will be your ability to set yourself up for success leading up to and during test week. The AP exams generally take place during the first two weeks of May (in 2020, those are currently scheduled for May 4-8 and May 11-15). Now is a good time to talk with your parents and coaches about the days leading up to your exams. You’ll also want to check your school event and social calendars to make sure you’re leaving time for everything that’s important. You’d hate to work hard during the year and fall short on the test because you forgot about a commitment or didn’t properly account for the time required for test preparation. Take the information you’ve gathered and put it into your schedule. Be sure to set aside time to take practice tests and time to review/study the results. It is in this review where we learn and get better.
One last note about AP exams. It is exciting to think about padding our college applications with all those 4s and 5s, but we want to keep them in the proper perspective. Scores on the AP exam are not primarily used for college admissions. They can help you place out of some entry-level college courses and perhaps save you some tuition. We don’t necessarily want to sacrifice a healthy GPA or strong SAT/ACT or SAT subject tests scores for better AP scores. Again, getting an A in an AP course is more important than getting a 5 on the exam. Be sure to check with your college counselor to determine the best approach for you and your candidate schools. Now about those SAT subject tests…
Looking at the SAT Subject Tests
The SAT Subject tests are one-hour exams in math, science (biology, chemistry, or physics), or the humanities (history or foreign languages). Most of the tests carry a penalty for incorrect answers, so we’ll have to be mindful of your answering or guessing strategy. However, unless test accommodations are involved, all tests are one hour in length and have a multiple-choice format. The only differences are in the language tests with listening. Most Subject tests can be taken almost every month the SAT is available, except March. Please note that not every test is available every month. Notably, as of this article, the language-listening exams are in November and World History can only be taken in August, December, or June. When planning when to test, be sure to consult the test calendar .
Planning Your SAT Subject Tests Schedule
The first thing you have to decide about subject tests is whether you need to take one, two, or any at all. The admissions portal of your prospective colleges can help you with this. In addition, you can take a look at our College Admissions Requirements for more information. Should you need to take subject tests, your next decision is which ones should you take? Typically, consider any AP or exceptionally rigorous classes for potential subject tests. Which classes require more work and preparation than others? Which ones require more study before test day? You’ll want to check these out as possible subject tests.
After gathering some candidates, it is extremely important that you actually sit down to take timed practice tests. Practice materials are available on the College Board website. Additionally, if you are working with a tutor, you can ask them for materials. Once you have your test results, meet with your tutor or counselor to determine if the subject is worth your time to study. As a general guide, you’ll want to take tests that enhance your application; you don’t want to take a test just for the sake of having it done. You want a score that reinforces or corroborates your strength in that subject area.
A Few Words About Score Choice
It is helpful to keep in mind that the College Board’s Score Choice policy gives you some flexibility in submitting your test scores to colleges. When you take an AP, you can elect to have the scores sent to schools when you register or on your answer sheet. Alternatively, you can decide to have a score withheld from being reported. You can decide to not have scores sent initially, then get your AP scores sent to your candidate colleges when you receive the results in July. Similarly, you can send individual SAT subject tests to the schools of your choice. You don’t have to send all scores, or even all scores from the same test day, to your candidate schools. You can decide which schools receive which scores.
Final Tips to Remember
Once we have finalized which tests we’ll take and what dates they are given, it is time to actually study for the tests. As we discussed with the AP exams, it is important to take a look at your calendar and, as best you can, plot out time when you will study and take future practice tests. Take into account your academic, athletic, family, and social commitments. Will I need to meet with a tutor? For both tests, it is also important that you take into account your personal preparation. Have I allotted myself any time to exercise or blow off steam, even if it is just a brief run a few times a week or a walk around the block? Also, will I be able to maintain a somewhat regular sleep schedule? Where can I sacrifice to make sure I’m getting the 7-9 hours I need for optimal performance? Of course, our plans don’t always work out as intended, but having one helps us to take steps to better ensure their success. We’re hopeful that the challenges this new season of growth brings will encourage you to seize the opportunities to plan for your own success on the AP and SAT subject tests!