AP Exams and Subject Tests: Everything You Need to Know

It’s that time of year again: spring. Classes are wrapping up and winding down, spring musicals and choral concerts and soccer playoffs are filling students’ and parents’ calendars, and AP exams loom large on the horizon.

This year, students will take their AP exams from May 6th to May 17th. You can view the full AP exam calendar here. If your student is in an AP course, their teacher has already given them any registration information that they need. Some schools cover fees, while others don’t, so if you have any questions, you should reach out to your student’s AP teachers. 

If your student is a sophomore or junior, this is also a good time to think about SAT Subject Tests. As our founder, Jed Applerouth, noted last year, SAT Subject Test usage is dropping steadily; however, they are still valuable assessment tools, particularly for STEM schools. If your student is looking at STEM schools like MIT, Harvey Mudd, or Caltech, then they’ll need to take at least one math and one science SAT Subject Test. If your student isn’t sure what schools they’re looking at, it’s worth perusing the College Board’s list of schools that require or recommend SAT Subject Tests. Generally speaking, “recommend” really means “take the test!”

The reason we recommend that students consider SAT Subject Tests in the spring is that the May and June SAT dates are on either side of the AP exams. If students are already studying for their AP exams, they should consider taking corresponding SAT Subject Tests, especially if they plan to apply to schools that require or recommend them.

Please note that students can take SAT Subject Tests in any area, even if they are not in an AP course that corresponds, if they register and pay the fees. They can also take them on any offered test date (see full list here). We simply see a lot of students take them in May and June because they can maximize the value of their AP knowledge by taking the SAT Subject Tests when that knowledge is still fresh.

The SAT Subject/AP Connection

Both AP Exams and SAT Subject Tests are written and administered by the College Board, and there are a lot of similarities. In fact, the differences are slight enough that students should find it easy to prepare for an SAT Subject Test if they are doing well in the corresponding AP course. Some of the most popular SAT Subject Tests line up exactly with AP courses, down to the test name: Literature, Physics, Chemistry, U.S. History, World History, and languages.

Two of the most popular (and widely-used by colleges) exams, however, don’t line up exactly to an AP course: Math 1 and Math 2. Instead, those tests assess student knowledge over several courses. Math 1 tests student knowledge in “two years of algebra and one year of geometry,” while Math 2 tests student knowledge in those areas, plus “trigonometry and elementary functions (precalculus).” Students shouldn’t attempt Math 2 until they’ve finished precalculus or higher. STEM schools specify which tests they want to see, but Math 2 is the most common, plus a science of choice.

Differences Between the Tests

Although the content on AP exams and SAT Subject Tests often overlap, they assess knowledge differently.

The goal of AP (Advanced Placement) is to give high school students the opportunity to take college-level courses. Appropriately, then, AP exams are college-level exams, which means they focus more on analysis and synthesis than on memorization. Of course, students have to know the important dates, chemical formulas, and writers, but AP exams are not simply multiple-choice tests. They require students to analyze documents, respond to open-ended questions, and even craft essays.

By contrast, the SAT Subject Tests are meant to be at the high school level. They can be challenging, true, but not to the level that AP exams are. SAT Subject Tests are shorter (they’re all one hour long and all multiple-choice), and they ask more fact questions. Students may need to review their important U.S. history dates, periodic table, or literary terms before they take the test, especially if they’re not very strong with details, but the questions are, overall, simpler.

Nuts and Bolts

To take SAT Subject Tests, you must register through the College Board’s site. Students can take up to three Subject Tests on any given test date, and they can even change their mind about which test(s) they’d like to take on the morning of their test date. They can take their tests in any order, so many students start with the hardest and move to the easiest throughout the day.

The only real rule is that students can’t take SAT Subject Tests on the same day they take the actual SAT. 

Currently, you can do late registration for the May Subject Tests and regular registration for June. If your student is thinking about a school that requires or recommends SAT Subject Test Scores and is currently in an AP course with a corresponding test, it’s certainly worth your time to look into taking an SAT Subject Test this spring.


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or info@applerouth.com.