Test-Day Strategies for the SAT Subject Test in Literature

Taking the SAT Subject Test in Literature might be an admissions requirement for a college you’re applying to, or you might simply take it because you have always excelled in English and reading. Whatever the reason, know that the test is different from the regular SAT in both form and content, and that your prep for it will likely differ from any regular SAT tutoring you may have done as well. Read on for test-day strategies for the SAT Subject Test in Literature.

1. Look out for keywords in questions

Read questions carefully, paying attention to keywords like verbs and nouns. These words contain the meaning of the question, and misreading or skimming can prevent you from understanding what you are actually being asked to look for. You don’t want to get a question wrong simply because you were overconfident or read too fast. Remember to look for words like “not,” “least,” or “except,” as they completely reverse the meaning of the question’s main clause but are easily missed if you’re reading quickly.

2. Keep track of time

You’ll have 60 minutes to answer approximately 60 questions – the whole of the test. Keep in mind, however, that there are six to eight reading passages throughout, so you’ll have even less than a minute for each question. It may help you to read the questions before reading the passage, so you’ll know what to focus on. For other students, this may be distracting or time-consuming, so try different methods on SAT II Literature practice tests beforehand, then use what works best for you on test day.

3. Skip and return to questions if needed

If a question stumps you, it is best practice to skip and come back to it as needed. You don’t want to waste precious time figuring out one hard question and miss out on the chance to answer several questions you do know. Later questions might even help jog your memory! Once you come back to questions you have skipped, try eliminating one or more choices. If you can make an educated guess, do so, but keep in mind that a wrong answer gets penalized a fraction of a point; otherwise, omit the question entirely, which neither earns nor deducts points from you. However, if you are taking the subject test starting in March of 2016, you should take an educated guess for each answer, as wrong answers will no longer be penalized.

4. Read poems especially carefully

Of course, you’ll need to read each passage with an attentive eye. However, be especially careful with poetry; its language is often denser and can be more difficult to understand than prose. Because each word is generally weighted more in poems than in prose, think of the different meanings of the words, as well as how different connotations make up the overall tone of the poem. Consider keywords in the context of the poem – not just what you know of its dictionary definition. Remember that one word can change or complicate a poem’s meaning and message.

If you’ve done well in literature classes throughout most of your high school career, or have worked thoroughly with a literature tutor, it may be worth your time to demonstrate your mastery on the subject test. Be sure to study up on your literary terminology, since passages will come from a variety of genres, time periods, and cultural literary traditions. While you’ll need to come equipped with vocabulary, an understanding of literary concepts, and analysis skills, know that answers can be found by closely reading the text and do not require outside knowledge of specific texts. With careful preparation, confidence, and these test-day strategies, you can excel on the SAT Subject Test in Literature.