SAT Subject Tests vs. AP Exams: Which are better?







By Rajkamal Rao  



The short answer to the question: "Which is better, SAT Subject Tests or AP Exams?" is: It is hard to answer because we would be comparing apples with oranges.

Other than the fact that both are conducted by the College Board, not much else is similar.

The SAT Subject Tests are only for the core College Prep topic areas - like sciences, math, social studies, and world languages. Elective subjects, such as Computer Science or Economics, are not offered. Most material is at the 11th-grade level. Questions are all multiple choice and tests are just one hour long. Scoring is on the familiar 800-point SAT scale. No college credit can be earned. Schools don't provide weighted average GPA bonus points. Tests are nearly always optional although some top colleges would like for students to showcase scores on at least two tests. Tests can be taken during multiple test registrations throughout the year but can never be combined with the regular SAT.

The AP Exams offer students a vast menu of topic areas: 38. All material is at least at the Freshman College level which is why many colleges offer credit for strong performance on AP exams. Exams will contain both a multiple-choice section and essay-type responses. Scoring is on a 5 scale. Nearly all schools provide the highest grade weights for AP courses because of their level of difficulty compared with honors or on-level courses. AP exams can only be taken once a year, in May. While no college demands AP courses, taking them helps students. [Check out our post: Why AP Courses are so important.] 

This is why we ask students who are strong performers to take both SAT Subject Tests and AP Exams. This is easy to do if students choose topics for SAT Subject Tests in the same academic year as they take AP courses. For example, take the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry in May/June of the same year that you're taking AP Chemistry. You may have to study a few extra topics, but there is a significant overlap, so you're not burdened.

If you don't have the time at all and you must choose between AP and SAT Subject Tests, we recommend AP Exams.


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