Simple question; complicated answer.
This sounds like a straightforward question, but actually it’s a little more complicated than it looks. What makes a good score varies by subject test, since populations and number of test-takers differ from test to test. Last year, for instance, over 140,000 students took the Math Level II Test, 67,000 students took the Literature Subject Test, and only 635 took the Subject Test in Italian.
As you’ll see below, most good scores for Subject Tests are in the 700s, but there are some other factors to consider as you set your target scores. Let’s take a look at the average scores and score percentiles for each SAT Subject Test, so you can know what’s a good score for each individual Subject Test.
While we’ll be looking at statistics and college requirements to answer this question, it’s also important for you to define what “good” means to you – with effort and preparation, you should be proud of the scores you ultimately achieve!
What Are the Average Scores?
Good SAT Subject Test scores tend to be a good deal higher than good scores on the general SAT, since highly academically achieving students tend to take the Subject Tests. This chart shows the average scores for each Subject Test. For a full breakdown of what these average scores mean, check out this article.
|Subject Test||Mean Score|
|Korean with Listening||767|
|Chinese with Listening||759|
|Japanese with Listening||688|
|Math Level 2||686|
|Spanish with Listening||668|
|French with Listening||654|
|German with Listening||624|
|Math Level 1||621|
See how the average score for the Korean with Listening is an incredibly high 767? The average for Literature looks like a more reasonable 613.
So a “good” score would be higher than average, maybe even in the top 25% of test-takers, or top 5% if you’re shooting for the Ivy League.
Based on these averages, a score of 700 could mean completely different things depending on the test. It would be a strong score on the Literature test, but only slightly above average on the Math Level 2. And on the Korean with Listening test? A 700 would be way below average.
Now that you have a sense of the average scores for each test, and why they matter for your percentile, let’s look at the score percentiles for the Class of 2014.
What Are the Score Percentiles?
Along with getting a score somewhere between 200 and 800, you also get a score percentile, which compares you to other students who took the test. Scoring in the 80th percentile, for example, means that you scored higher than 80% of other students.
This chart shows how scores became percentiles for last year’s test-takers.
Literature, History, Math, and Science Subject Tests
|Score||Literature||U.S. History||World History||Math Level I||Math Level II||Biology E||Biology M||Chemistry||Physics||Score|
Language Subject Tests
As you can see, there’s a lot of variation among the Subject Tests. That’s what makes answering the question, “What’s a good SAT Subject Test score?” a bit more complicated. Some tests are considered easier than others – check out the Easiest SAT Subject Tests here – and the grading curve can be more competitive depending on the population of test-takers.
Based on this data, here are my suggestions for good and excellent scores for each test. These are the scores you should aim for if you want to achieve in the 70th percentile or above, the 80th percentile or above, or the 90th percentile or above.
Good and Excellent SAT Subject Test Scores
Finally, the last way to identify a great SAT subject test score is to find which score you need to score at a certain percentile. We’ve compiled all of the scores you need to reach 70th, 80th, and 90th percentiles below:
|Subject Test||70th %ile+||80th %ile+||90th %ile+|
|Math Level 1||690||710-720||740-750|
|Math Level 2||770||790-800||800|
|French with Listening||750||790||800|
|German with Listening||710-720||740-750||780|
|Spanish with Listening||750-760||770||790|
|Chinese with Listening||800||800||800|
|Japanese with Listening||770-780||790-800||800|
|Korean with Listening||800||800||800|
Some tests, like Math Level II, Physics, Chemistry, Chinese with Listening, Korean with Listening, and Italian, require almost perfect scores to get a high percentile! Don’t feel overwhelmed by this, however. A lot of these tests have high averages and low standard deviations, meaning most well-prepared students are able to get a high score near or above the average. So if these subjects are your strong suit, then you are statistically likely to be able to achieve a very high score.
On the flip side, if you’re not so strong in math, physics, or these other subjects, keep in mind that the grading curve is very competitive – you’ll be competing with students likely bound for top engineering and technical schools like CalTech and MIT. Reflect on your academic strengths and subject mastery to determine if one of these tests is right for you.
As mentioned earlier, good SAT Subject Test scores are higher than good scores on the general SAT. As you can see, to score in the 70th percentile or higher, you have to get in the 700s for almost all of the subject tests. The two exceptions are Literature and Math Level I, which are still pretty high around 690.
There is one more consideration when determining good scores on the SAT Subject Tests: the colleges you’re applying to. Your percentiles are comparing you to all students who took the test. But not all of these students are applying to the same colleges as you.
It’s helpful to get a sense of what the average Subject Test scores are for your colleges. What do they expect to see? Do admitted students usually score in the low 700s or high 700s? Will the college overlook a low percentile on a Subject Test if they know the grading curve for that test was particularly competitive?
Let’s consider these questions a little more in depth.
Investigate Your Colleges
As with all the other parts of your application, you want to know what your colleges are looking for. What SAT scores do you need? What do they consider a strong GPA? Unfortunately, colleges can be pretty evasive when it comes to giving you an exact answer to what you want to know. Instead, they stress that it’s a holistic process, that admissions officers are looking at all elements of your application to get a sense of you as a person.
While this is all well and good, and you wouldn’t want your candidacy to be boiled down only to facts and figures, it still leaves you a bit stuck when it comes to the SAT and SAT Subject Tests.
The first step you can take is researching the admissions websites of your colleges. Simply Google the name of the college, along with SAT Subject Tests or average SAT Subject Test scores, and you may find exactly what you’re looking for. If this is a dead end, you might try calling the admissions officers and asking if they will share this data, or at least their recommendations.
If you’re concerned about bothering them, don’t be! Lots of admissions officers have tons of valuable information and are happy to share – plus demonstrating that you have a vested interest in the college – by speaking to people on campus, going on visits, even just putting your name on email lists – will further strengthen your application. With the college process, there’s nothing helpful about playing hard to get. Put yourself out there!
Here is some information I’ve found on Subject Test scores for specific colleges. Based on this, you can assume that schools with similar selectivity and rankings will have similar expectations. Let me know in the comments if you know of any more schools I can add.
- MIT – admitted students score between 720 and 800 on their science Subject Test.
- Middlebury – students tend to score in the low to mid 700s on the Subject Tests.
- Princeton – average Subject Test scores are between 710 and 790.
- UCLA – the average best Subject Test score for students was 734.
- Williams – the top third of students scored between 750 and 800.
If your sights are set on the Ivy League, check out this article on the Subject Test scores and requirements for the Ivy League (coming soon).
Finally, let’s step outside the statistics and requirements and consider your own personal goals.
Customize Your Target Scores For You
What are your personal goals for the Subject Tests? Have you memorized the first hundred digits of pi, or are you always the one who calculates the tip at dinner? If you consider yourself a math whiz, then it might be very important for you to score highly on the Math Subject Test, not only to demonstrate your abilities to college, but because you know you can.
When I was in high school, I absolutely loved English class. Reading and analyzing books revealed new ways of thinking about the world and human relationships. Even when it was hard work, it was work I wanted to do.
This doesn’t mean I naturally was able to score a perfect score on the Subject Test. The Subject Test was a much different way to demonstrate subject mastery than my normal classwork, considering its strict time limits. But I felt driven to score well in this particular subject, so I studied practice questions and trained myself to read passages and answer questions under strict time limits.
By reflecting on your strengths and interests, as well as by taking practice tests and scoring them yourself, you can develop your own sense of what’s a good score for you. Once you’ve set your target scores, tape them to your wall so you see them everyday. Sharing your goals with friends, study buddies, or family is another good way to stay accountable.
Once you’ve set your goals based on this information and your colleges’ expectations, you can start preparing for the SAT Subject Tests you’ve chosen. College Board has a helpful breakdown of each Subject Test, as well as practice questions, here. Check out our other resources below to answer any other questions you have about the Subject Tests or the SAT.