AP Exams vs SAT Subject Tests: What’s More Important? :D

AP Exams vs SAT Subject Tests: What's More Important? :D

AP Exams vs SAT Subject Tests: What’s More Important? 😀 

What’s the Difference Between AP Tests and SAT Subject Tests?

Many more students take AP tests every year than SAT Subject Tests (2.3 million versus about 500,000). This is because AP Tests are tied directly to the corresponding Advanced Placement classes. In recent years, the AP program has spread to more and more high schools across the country. To get college credit for these classes, students must pass the tests. 

SAT Subject Tests are less popular because students only take them for certain selective colleges that ask for them in the application process. The most selective schools usually require or recommend two or three subject tests. These tests are not directly tied to specific classes, so students typically have more freedom in deciding which ones they want to take. SAT Subject Test scores can showcase your unique interests and talents on your college application.

What Is the Purpose of an AP Test Compared to That of an SAT Subject Test?

AP Tests measure a student’s mastery of college-level subject matter through questions that touch on the main points of a year-long AP curriculum. Your AP Test scores validate the hard work you did in class and confirm that you learned the material. The dean of admissions at Harvard says, “We have found that the best predictors [of grades] at Harvard are Advanced Placement tests and International Baccalaureate Exams, closely followed by the College Board subject tests.” Students who do well on AP Tests are likely to be successful in college classes, so selective schools are interested in them for their predictive value. 

AP Test scores also help admissions officers decide whether your grades are an accurate reflection of your academic ability. If you got a 1 on the test but an A in the class, the class was probably way too easy. If you got a 5 on the test but a B- in the class, the class was probably very challenging. This will affect the judgments that admissions officers make about your potential. 

Your AP scores also make a difference in whether or not you earn college credit for the work you did in your AP class. At most schools, an AP score of 4 or 5 will either lead to college credit or allow you to place out of introductory college courses. 

SAT Subject Tests are slightly different because they measure students’ readiness for college-level work. SAT Subject Tests are sometimes used to place students out of courses in college, but you can’t earn college credits for doing well on them. They’re also less relevant for predicting college grades, although they still have some value.

Since SAT Subject Tests don’t correspond with specific classes on your transcript, they can be used to emphasize your abilities in the subjects that are most relevant to what you plan on studying in college. Colleges view subject tests as assessments of how much you learned in high school and where your academic strengths lie. 

Are AP Tests Harder Than SAT Subject Tests?

Most students find the material on AP Tests to be more difficult than the material on SAT Subject Tests because it’s intended for students who are working at a college level. AP Tests also require more stamina. As a rule, essays are almost always harder than multiple-choice questions because you have to come up with an answer entirely on your own. 

Even within the multiple choice sections, AP Tests demand a deeper understanding of the material than SAT Subject Tests. They also require students to possess more in-depth knowledge and analytical abilities when it comes to interpreting primary source materials.

Still, it is technically easier to get a 5 on an AP Test than an 800 on an SAT Subject Test. On most AP Tests, you can still earn a 5 if you get a fair amount of questions wrong, whereas there’s almost no room for error on subject tests if you want a perfect score. A student who gets 70% of questions correct and a student who gets 100% of questions correct may both end up with 5s on an AP test depending on how strong the curve is. 

However, this is deceptive, since the actual content and test format for AP Tests is significantly more difficult. A student who earns a high score like a 700 on a subject test might not get a 5 on an AP Test due to the greater complexity. I’ll do a comparison with real questions to show you how the two tests differ.

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