Taking SAT Subject Tests is an exciting part of your college application process. You’re proving to admissions committees that you’re able to do academic work at an undergraduate level and that you have the determination and organizational skills to master a challenging subject-specific exam.
The 20 SAT Subject Tests (still sometimes known as SAT II tests) are designed to showcase your expertise in particular subject areas (rather than assessing your general academic ability). To do well on them, you need to know what material is being tested, get familiar with the structure and personality of the exam, and learn essential test-taking strategies. All the books listed here do a great job of helping you achieve those goals.
Keep in mind: the SAT Subject Tests evaluate knowledge that you’ve been building for years. By far the best way to prepare is to take challenging courses in school and do well in them. Books can help you to review what you know, and they’re great for orienting you to the specific demands of the SAT Subject Tests. But they can’t give you a crash course in academic content.
The Official Study Guide For All SAT Subject Tests is the College Board’s own comprehensive guidebook to all 20 SAT Subject Tests. It gives you an overview of the world of the Subject Tests and clues you into what the test creators feel you should know.
The College Board books are the only ones that use authentic practice material taken from real Subject Tests administered in the past. This can be a big advantage for you. Other test-prep companies write their own practice questions, which may or may not resemble the ones you’ll encounter on a genuine Subject Test. As a student reading about the Subject Tests, one of your main goals is to get familiar with the style and “voice” of the real test. Given that fact, The Official Study Guide For All SAT Subject Tests should at the top of everyone’s list of best SAT Subject Tests books.
The College Board also offers individual guides for certain Subject Tests:
This whole series is helpful. Each book uses the same authentic practice material that you’ll find in The Official Study Guide For All SAT Subject Tests.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the most popular volumes:
Many students consider the Math I and Math 2 exams to be the most difficult of all the Subject Tests. You’ll need to take your preparation seriously, because the math tested here is not identical to what’s on the SAT, plus questions are formulated somewhat differently. Because it tests fewer concepts than Math 2 does, Math 1 can actually be more challenging in the tricky ways that it presents familiar ideas. The Official SAT Subject Test in Mathematics Level 1 Study Guide gives you the focused guidance you need to achieve a competitive score.
If you’re taking the Math 2 Subject Test, you’ve got it made: you can use the College Board Study Guide (described above) plus this excellent book from Ivy Global.
Ivy Global writes its own practice questions, but they do a good job of matching the College Board’s style. There are no careless errors to confuse and annoy you. They also create graphic elements that closely resemble the ones on the real Math 1 test. Overall, Ivy Global’s explanations and recommendations are exceptionally clear.
This is another great study guide from Ivy Global. Like the one described above, it’s remarkable for its clarity. The company does a good job of crafting questions that match the style and content of the real SAT Subject tests. They also put their practice materials through a testing process with high school students, so that all their content comes to you free of the confusing errors that you may spot in other third-party test-prep books.
The book gives you an introduction to the Subject Test in Literature, then takes you on a tour through literary forms and periods relevant to the exam. If you know where you need to brush up, you can focus your study on (say) poetry and terms related to verse-analysis. Then dip into one of the practice tests to see how you’re doing.
Unfortunately, American high schools seldom have first-rate language programs. That means that if you’re a star at Spanish or Mandarin, you’re likely to stand out from other applicants in the eyes of admissions committees.
On the downside, that lack of emphasis means that there isn’t as much prep material available for SAT II languages as there is for (say) Math or Biology.
The best study guide that I know of for the Subject Tests in languages is the relevant section of The College Board Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, 2nd Edition (discussed at the top of this article).
If you’re testing in French or Spanish, you might also consider:
These two books offer detailed reviews of grammar and vocabulary, as well as basic information on test-taking strategies. Use them as companions to the College Board book (not as replacements for it).