top of page
  • artsnstem4hearts

Importance of STEM SAT Subject Tests & STEM APs for College

Author: Sahil Joshi is a junior at Winston Churchill High School. He is passionate about STEM and hopes to build a career in the biomedical field. He is part of the school’s volleyball and cross Country teams, plays the trumpet in his school band, volunteers at music charities for underprivileged kids, volunteers as a tech tutor to middle and elementary school students, loves trekking/nature & outdoor activities.

In this document, he shares about the significance of STEM SAT Subject tests and STEM APs for STEM colleges.

Q) How important are STEM APs & STEM SAT Subject tests for STEM colleges?

Although college admissions are based on many factors like GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular and leadership achievements, the top factors are GPA, rigor of classes taken, SAT/ACT scores and any additional exams taken to display academic intellect. STEM APs and STEM SAT subject tests are an additional excellent way to display academic intellect at an advanced level. While all colleges may not state this factor explicitly, most students who have been admitted to top competitive colleges have taken such exams to bolster their applicant profile. In todays changed times since COVID-19, when admission criteria have become hazier, such high level academic achievements become even more important to make a candidate’s profile more robust and competitive. It is important for competitive students to show that they have pushed themselves in STEM, and taken the most challenging STEM courses and such advanced STEM exams.

Q) How are STEM APs and STEM SAT subject tests similar or different?

Both these tests are good measures to display STEM competency. A good score on either of these tests displays a high level of STEM achievement. However each one of these test STEM knowledge slightly differently. Speaking broadly, STEM APs are at college level so challenges students to think more deeply and apply concepts in test questions. SAT subject test are more at high school level. They are challenging too, but many consider them less so than AP exams.


College Board administers STEM APs as well as STEM subject tests. This way an external credible agency certifies a high achievement in STEM (beyond the rigorous STEM courses taken at school).

STEM APs and STEM SAT subject tests are not too different, and often a student finds it easy to do well in SAT STEM subject tests if he is doing well on the corresponding STEM AP. So many students prefer to take the SAT subject test at the end of the year for the corresponding AP taken during that same year. However some of these tests don’t match exactly. For example a popular SAT STEM subject test Math 1 and Math 2 don’t exactly correspond to the AP. Math 1 covers two years of Algebra and 1 year of geometry, while Math 2 covers these topics plus trigonometry and some aspects of pre-calculus. For competitive STEM programs in colleges, students are recommended to take Math 2 SAT subject test.


While these two tests are broadly similar, their focus is slightly different. AP exams often ask more open ended questions so concepts may need to be applied, require more critical thinking, versus SAT subject tests where more memorization may be needed (formulas, more direct application of theories , definitions etc.)

Q) What are the typical STEM APs and SAT subject tests taken by students?

STEM Subject tests: Most students applying to competitive STEM schools take at least one Math (usually Math 2) and one science SAT subject test.

Most students who apply to technological /engineering schools choose Physics or Chemistry as the science SAT subject test, while those intending life sciences/biology /premed majors or accelerated and assured medical school programs take Biology SAT subject test (along with Math 2)

Chemistry subject tests are often recommended by colleges for students both in pre-med/life sciences as well as engineering programs. It is reputed to be among the toughest SAT subject test, requiring very high conceptual understanding.

Math subject tests have two options: level 1 or 2. Some colleges may specify what level they require /prefer. If they don’t, it is better to take the Math level per the student’s skill level in math. There is no advantage in taking both levels. In general, Level 1 is more basic high school math and suitable if a student has done 2 years algebra and 1 year geometry. Level 2 is more recommended if student has done 2 years algebra and 1 year geometry, plus Trig or Pre Calculus.

If a student is unsure of the colleges they will be applying to, one can look at College Board’s website to check list of schools that require or recommend specific AP or SAT subject tests

AP STEM subjects: Depending on what a particular school offers, and based on space in the student’s school, most STEM students choose from among these APs over the 4 years of high school: APs in the area of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Calculus, Statistics, Computer Science.

Q) How many STEM APs and Subject tests should a STEM student take? Which year of high school is a good time to take these tests?

More than wondering about how many maximum such tests a student should take, the more important issue is to take as many as you want, but take only as many as one can do well in. In many competitively ranked high schools, there are reports that STEM students take from 5-10 STEM APs.

Schools have AP policy, so this also plays a factor into how many one can take, and in which year one can take them. In general, most students take 1-2 APs in sophomore year (some schools offer 1-2 in freshman year too, though more commonly 1 AP offered in freshman year). Junior year is usually the busiest year for many STEM students to take many APs. Typically many also take the SAT subject tests at the end of the year corresponding to the AP subject taken that year. This allows them to study the subject in depth during the year and makes them better prepared to take SAT subject test at the end of the year. Note that all SAT subject tests may not fully correspond with AP (e.g. SAT subject test Physics), but by and large they do overlap.

In the cycle of a general school year (during non COVID-19 times), many students take SAT Subjects tests in Spring, as SAT dates in May, June are right around the time of the AP exams, and all these exams collectively can overwhelm a student. Having said that however, students can take SAT subject tests on any dates offered, depending on their preparedness.

In addition to STEM APs and SAT subject tests, some highly competitive STEM students also take APs and SAT subject test in humanities and language in order to ‘super differentiate’ their profile.

Q) Any general points to consider for SAT subject tests, particularly during Covid19 times when SAT are being often cancelled.

APs and SAT subject tests in STEM are additional data points for college admissions, along with a student’s STEM GPA, overall GPA, SAT, other academic and extracurricular activities. STEM subject tests are just one more solid basis that reflect your STEM competency and help you differentiate. But by no means are they the only additional basis for displaying STEM competency. Students (and parents alike) are very worried that these tests are often being cancelled due to COVID-19 due to the difficulty in administering them. However one need not worry too much, because there are other ways to demonstrate STEM competency and passion. Working on a serious science project, science paper, participating/winning science competitions, undertaking science internships, shadowing, volunteering in science related areas, getting a strong recommendation letter from a STEM teacher, are some other good avenues to display your passion and accomplishment for STEM. Rather than being underprepared and hurriedly taking a SAT subject test on the first available test date (due to worries that test dates may not be available later due to COVID-19), many students feel it may be better to take these exams only after being well prepared and achieving a good score.

COVID-19 times are uncertain and College Board and test centers are doing their best to administer scheduled exams on time. It is important for students to keep monitoring the College Board website for scheduling and other changes in these exams on account of COVID-19. Students should also rely on this website as the most authentic source for further details on specific STEM APs and subject tests.

207 views0 comments


bottom of page