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AP vs. SAT Subject Tests: What is the Difference?

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Even though both AP and SAT subject tests are conducted by the College Board and add great value to your college application they’re not quite similar. So let’s see how they’re different:

So what are AP Subject tests?

So in 1952, few prep schools and some Ivy League Universities like Yale, Harvard, and Princeton conducted a study under the ‘Kenyon Plan’ and issued the report General Education in School and Colleges: A Committee report which recommended allowing high school seniors to study college-level material and to take achievement exams that allowed them to attain college credit for this work even before graduating high school.

A second committee was later set up to decide upon the curriculum subsequently running a pilot program in 1952 which was later implemented nationally in 1955-56 school years in ten subjects.

The College Board has been running the curriculum, from then onwards by maintaining and developing guidelines for teaching these higher-level courses in various subjects funded by the ford foundation and from the fees required to take the AP exams.

Now the College Board in fact allows any student to take the examination regardless of participation in the respective course allowing homeschooled and students from schools that do not provide AP courses an equal opportunity to take the Advances placement Exams.

Advanced Placement examinations are conducted by the College Board once a year (mostly in the month of May) at the end of a yearlong AP Course. Here you study college-level material in high school.

These tests are generally used to understand students’ mastery of college-level subjects but also helps you give a sense of how you will fare in the first year of college. Students who do well in AP subject tests are likely to be successful in college classes, so selective schools are often interested in the AP scores for their predictive value.

AP subject tests even help you to gain college credits even before stepping on the campus so as relieve you of some pressure when you finally get into college. 

Then what are SAT subject tests?

People often confuse SAT subject tests and SAT exams but let me tell you they’re completely different as they have two purposes. Even though most of the colleges require SAT/ACT scores as part of a complete college application, only a small portion require or recommend SAT subject test scores.

SAT subject test scores are another piece of information for your college preference which helps give colleges a complete picture of who you’re and what you want to do. It can even exempt you from a few first-year compositions or foreign language classes. 

So colleges use SAT exam scores to make admissions and to award scholarships but SAT subject tests help you not only with admission but course placement. Even though for certain colleges SAT subject tests are mandatory.

SAT exams are more general as they check your reading, writing, language, and math proficiency along with an optional essay whereas SAT subject tests are subject-specific.

Now as you know what we’re dealing with let’s see how they’re different.

Also Read: How To Tackle The Extended Essay

Difference between AP and SAT subject tests.

  • You can earn college credit on the basis of your performance in AP subject tests but are not mandatory for college admission whereas SAT subjects are recommended by most highly selective schools for admission.
  • AP exams are intended to assess your competence with material that would be presented in a first-year class but SAT subject tests are designed to assess the proficiency of high school curricula.
  • There are 38 courses to choose from AP courses to choose from compared to 20 SAT subject test options.
  • AP exams are 3-hour affairs conducted once a year after the completion of AP course and include multiple choice and free response questions whereas SAT subject tests are 1 hour long exams conducted 6-7 times a year (you can check the College Board website for the schedule). You can take up to 3 exams on a single day but all subjects may not be available on the same day so schedule accordingly.
  • AP exams are graded on the scale of 1-5 with questions having no penalty whereas you can score up to 800 in a SAT subject test. Technically it’s easier to score a 5 on an AP test than an 800 in SAT considering you can still score a perfect 5 even if you end up answering 70% of questions correctly.
  • AP tests demand a deeper understanding of the material than SAT subject tests. They also require you to possess more in-depth knowledge and analytical abilities when it comes to interpreting primary source material.

It’s important to realise that the syllabus of both AP test and SAT subject test are similar and all AP courses have a corresponding SAT Subject Test, so if you do well in your AP class you can easily ace your SAT subject test(which are claimed to be much easier) as well.

So it’s beneficial to first take the AP exam shortly followed by the SAT subject test so as to reduce your workload as you don’t have to prepare for both the exams twice and a refresher would be enough.

But it’s really important to understand the requirements of the Top school you will be applying for if your school schedule only allows for preparation for only one test. 

SAT subject tests were discontinued by the College Board on January 19, 2021, effective immediately in the United States, and phased out gradually for international students as well in view of the global pandemic.

Further Reading:

College Board

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