Choose AP exams, not SAT Subject Tests

Advanced Placement exams give students more opportunities in both high school and college than the SAT Subject Tests.


Flannery Enneking-Norton

AP science exams align closely with SPA’s honors courses, so the extra preparation time is manageable.

April showers bring May flowers, but many high school students aren’t outside to appreciate the spring season. Instead, they are inside their homes, schools or libraries preparing for the flurry of standardized tests in first weeks of May and June. Advanced Placement exams (AP exams) and SAT Subject Tests, both administered by the College Board, are standardized tests that occupy students’ calendars. Unlike the SAT or ACT, these tests are not required, but many students still choose to take them. If they decide to take an extra exam, many students pick the Subject Tests over AP exams because the Subject Tests are shorter and evaluate a narrower scope of knowledge. Additionally, SPA students are often deterred from taking AP exams because the tests are supposed to accompany a year-long course that prepares students specifically for the exam; SPA does not offer any AP classes, and even the honors courses do not align exactly with the exam content, so students must put in additional study time. Although AP exam preparation can be more time consuming, students should choose AP exams over SAT Subject Tests (if they decide to take an additional standardized test) because AP exams offer greater benefits in both high school and college.  

One key aspect that sets AP exams apart from Subject Tests is that students can earn college credits if they score high enough on the AP. Because AP classes reflect the content covered in an introductory college class, taking the exam is an opportunity for students to show their breadth of understanding in a subject and to earn credits that count toward a beginning college class. Scores range from 1-5 with 5 being the highest, and typically a 4 or a 5 qualifies for credit. Unlike the APs, SAT Subject Tests are scored out of 800 and a percentile rank is assigned to the score, but no college credit is offered.

Even without the incentive of college credit, AP exams offer more benefits than Subject Tests. Submitting an AP score, even if it does not qualify for credit, can reflect well on college applications. Because SPA does not offer AP courses, taking the exam gives students a chance to go beyond the scope of the SPA curriculum, which demonstrates initiative and proficiency in the subject. The extra time spent preparing for an AP does not have to equal time lost either. Some of the content covered on the AP exam parallels honors classes at SPA, especially in maths and sciences. Given the timeline, preparing for the AP gives students a head start on studying for their exams. AP exams also emphasize the “big ideas” of a subject, in comparison to the detail-oriented SAT Subject Tests. This holistic approach aligns more closely with SPA’s teaching method and requires less memorization than the Subject Tests.   

While it might be tempting to opt for the shorter and less time consuming SAT Subject Test, students should choose an AP exam instead. APs allow students to dive deeply into a subject that interests them and gives students an opportunity to earn college credits, so students could enter college at a more advanced level in an area they enjoy. Beyond the incentive of college credits, AP exams bolster resumes and prepare students earlier for high school exams. An exception where SAT Subject Tests take precedence is for applying to highly competitive engineering programs which often require a math and science Subject Test. Other than that, AP exams offer a myriad benefits that apply in both high school and college, so they should be considered over SAT Subject Tests if a student chooses to take additional standardized exams.