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The Ultimate SAT Spanish Subject Test Study Guide

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jul 3, 2017 12:00:00 PM

SAT Subject Tests

 

feature_spanishflag.jpgApplying to highly selective schools often means submitting SAT Subject Test scores along with your regular SAT or ACT scores. Si español es pan comido para usted, then taking the SAT Spanish Subject Test is a great way to fulfill part of the subject test requirement.

Read this guide to learn more about what’s on the SAT Spanish Subject Test and whether or not you should take it. We’ll go over format, test content, where to find good practice material, and tips to help you when studying and taking the test.

 

Table of Contents

What’s the Test Format?

When Can You Take It?

Should You Take the SAT Subject Test in Spanish?

Choosing the Right SAT Subject Test: Spanish or Spanish with Listening?

What Does the Test Cover?

Part A: Vocabulary and Structure

Part B: Paragraph Completion

Part C: Reading Comprehension

SAT Spanish with Listening Question Styles

Where to Find SAT Spanish Practice Tests

4 SAT Spanish Study Tips

Test-Day Tips

En Conclusión

What’s Next?

 

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What’s the Test Format?

There are two different SAT Spanish tests you can choose from. The regular SAT Spanish Subject Test is like most other standardized tests – you’ll be asked multiple choice questions about what you read in the test booklet.

The Spanish with Listening Subject Test is a little different because the test starts by asking you to answer around 30 multiple choice questions based on listening to recordings (followed by ~55 questions you’ll answer based on what you read).

 

SAT Spanish

SAT Spanish with Listening

What’s it out of?

200-800 points

200-800 points

How long is it?

60 minutes for reading questions

60 minutes total (20 min for listening questions, 40 minutes for reading questions)

How many questions is it?

85

Around 85 (around 30 listening questions, 55 reading questions)

 

For both of these tests, you’ll need to answer about 85 multiple choice questions (each with four possible answer choices). Each correct answer is worth one point, each skipped or unanswered question is worth 0 points, and each incorrect answer is worth negative 0.25 points (to discourage random guessing).

When you take the Spanish with Listening Subject Test, you’ll need to bring along an approved CD-player to use for the listening questions.

Return to the table of contents.

 

body_cdplayer.jpgRobert Leverington/Flickr

 

When Can You Take the SAT Subject Test in Spanish?

Starting in the 2017-2018 school year, the regular SAT Spanish Subject Test will be offered in August, October, December, May, and June. The Spanish with Listening Subject Test will only be offered in November.

Here’s a snapshot of what the SAT II Spanish test dates look like for the school year 2017-2018:

 

SAT Spanish

SAT Spanish with Listening

August 26, 2017

 

October 7, 2017

 

November 4, 2017

 

December 2, 2017

 

May 5, 2018

 

June 2, 2018

 

 

In future years the dates may shift around a little, but the SAT Spanish Subject Test will always be offered in these months around the same dates. You can find the most up-to-date information about SAT Subject Test dates here.

Return to the table of contents.

 

Should You Take the SAT Spanish Subject Test?

The College Board recommends that you should only take the SAT Spanish Subject Test if you’ve studied 3-4 years of high school Spanish (or two years, if you’re an advanced student).

To be blunt, SAT Language Subject Tests are extremely difficult to do well on for non-native speakers because your performance is being compared to that of native speakers who take the test.

The curve isn’t quite as bad on Spanish as it is for some of the other language tests, but in general, there are only three cases in which you should think about taking a SAT Subject Test in Spanish.

 

Case 1: Spanish Is Your Strongest Subject

Some highly selective colleges require or recommend students to submit at least two SAT Subject Test scores along with their applications.

If application requirements are why you’re taking an SAT Subject Test, Spanish should only be your choice if it’ll be one of your best scores.

To know if you'll be able to do well on the SAT Spanish Subject Test, we've put together this table with what it takes to get a good score on the SAT Spanish Subject Test (excerpted from our article on what’s a good Subject Test score).

 

70th+ %ile score

80th+ %ile score

90th+ %ile score

Spanish

730-740

760

790-800

Spanish with Listening

750-760

770

790

 

If you’re going to be able to hit a higher percentile score on the SAT Spanish Subject Test than you will with any other Subject Test, then you should take it. Otherwise, it's better to send colleges an excellent score in another area than to send them a mediocre Spanish SAT II score.

 

Case 2: You’re Not Taking Spanish but Want to Show Fluency

If you’re not taking AP or IB Spanish B and want to show you have a high level of fluency and ability in Spanish, then it makes sense to take the SAT Spanish Subject Test.

Students who might fall into this category include native Spanish speakers or students who’ve taken a lot of Spanish outside of their high school and want to demonstrate their abilities.

In fact, if you have a lot of experience and familiarity with spoken Spanish, the College Board particularly recommends taking the Spanish with Listening Subject Test to showcase your listening skills.

 

Case 3: You Want to Place Into the Correct Level of Spanish

Colleges often use standardized test scores to place you in the right level foreign language classes. If you’re not planning on taking the Spanish AP or IB test, then taking the SAT Subject Test in Spanish is a good substitute.

Most colleges also have some kind of free placement exam, so if you don’t want to spend the time and money on a SAT Subject Test, you don’t have to. One bonus of taking the SAT Spanish Subject Test, though, is that all the questions are multiple choice – you won’t have to write any essays or even do any free-response questions.

If you’re only taking the test to place into the correct level of Spanish and will be submitting other, likely higher, SAT II scores with your college applications, you should wait until you’re as far along in your Spanish classes as possible to take the Spanish SAT. You’ll need to double check with the colleges you’re applying to, but as a rule, if you’re only taking SAT II Spanish to place into the right level Spanish class, you should hold off on taking it until May or June of senior year.

Return to the table of contents.

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Choosing the Right SAT Subject Test: Spanish or Spanish With Listening?

We briefly went over the big difference between the two tests when discussing their formats, but that might not be enough information for you to decide which test to take.

The difference between the two tests boils down to how comfortable you are with understanding spoken Spanish.

On the informational page about the Spanish with Listening Subject Test, College Board states that “many colleges indicate the Spanish with Listening test gives them a fuller picture of your ability and may be more useful for placement purposes.”

So if you can excel on Spanish with Listening, you should absolutely take that over the regular Spanish Subject Test (kind of like how you should take the Math 2C Subject Test over Math 1C). But if you’re not confident your Spanish listening comprehension skills are at a high enough level or are worried that anxiety about the listening section will negatively affect your score, you should take the regular SAT Spanish Subject Test.

40% of the questions on the Spanish with Listening Subject Test involve listening to spoken Spanish and answering questions on it. The three tasks you’ll be asked to perform are:

  • Explaining a picture ("Pictures"). You’ll have to identify either what’s presented in a photograph or the most likely thing someone in the photograph would say.
  • Continuing a conversation ("Rejoinders"). You’ll have to choose the answer that would be the best next line in a short conversation.
  • Demonstrating listening comprehension ("Selections"). You’ll need to answer questions that demonstrate you’ve understood what was said in a longer spoken selection.

Keep in mind that both exams test you on your knowledge of vocabulary and structure, paragraph completions, and reading comprehension. It’s just that answering questions based on written material makes up 100% of the SAT Spanish Subject Test, but only about 60% of the SAT Spanish with Listening Subject Test.

Return to the table of contents.

 

What Does the Test Cover?

The SAT Spanish Subject Test is designed to cover skills and topics that are taught in most high school Spanish classes. Specifically, the following three areas are heavily emphasized:

  • Vocabulary (in the context of a sentence as well as throughout the test)
  • Parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.)
  • Idiomatic expressions

The test itself is divided up into three sections, each with roughly equal numbers of questions.

  • Part A: Vocabulary and Structure
  • Part B: Paragraph Completion
  • Part C: Reading Comprehension

In the next three sections of this guide, I’ll go over what’s on each of the three parts of the test. All sample questions come from the SAT Subject Test Student Guide 2016-2017.

Return to the table of contents.

 

Part A: Vocabulary and Structure

The first part of the SAT Spanish Subject Test is the Vocabulary and Structure section (33% of the test). This section is made up of fill-in-the-blank questions which test your knowledge of both what word or phrase is correct grammatically and what makes sense in the context of the sentence.

Here’s an example of a vocabulary and structure question you might see on the SAT II Spanish Test:

Directions: This part consists of a number of incomplete statements, each having four suggested completions. Select the most appropriate completion and fill in the corresponding circle on the answer sheet.

Si ------ en el Brasil, hablaríamos portugués y no español.

(A) vivamos
(B) vivimos
(C) vivíamos
(D) viviéramos

Answer: D

 

Return to the table of contents.

 

Part B: Paragraph Completion

The next section on the Spanish SAT Subject Test is the Paragraph Completion section (33%). This section is very similar to the vocabulary and structure section, but instead of testing grammar and usage with isolated sentences, you’ll be given longer paragraphs and asked to complete them with the appropriate vocabulary or phrase choice.

Here’s a sample paragraph and a paragraph completion question about it:

Directions: In each of the following paragraphs, there are numbered blanks indicating that words or phrases have been omitted. For each numbered blank, four completions are provided First read through the entire paragraph. Then, for each numbered blank, choose the completion that is most appropriate given the context of the entire paragraph and fill in the corresponding circle on the answer sheet.

La máquina más infernal de hacer dinero se llama “Pedroso,” un osito electrónico que    (4)    ha derramado sobre sus fabricantes beneficios superiores a los 100 millones de dólares en el    (5)    año. La  (6)   de Pedroso es que habla. Claro, no hay ningún misterio en la cinta sin fin y el grabador    (7)    en el interior del osito. Pero lo    (8)    novedoso es que    (9)    hablar su boca se mueve en sincronía con las palabras y sus ojos pestañean. El juguete    (10)    vende a precios que oscilan entre 60 y 80 dólares.

 

(4):

(A) todavía
(B) nunca
(C) ya
(D) tampoco

Answer: C

 

Return to the table of contents.

 

Part C: Reading Comprehension

The last third of the SAT Spanish Subject Test is Part C, the Reading Comprehension section. The questions in this section are based on short selections from:

  • prose fiction
  • historical works
  • newspaper and magazine articles
  • advertisements, flyers, and letters

You'll be tested on your understanding of the passage or image with questions that ask you about:

  • main and supporting ideas
  • themes
  • style
  • tone
  • spatial and temporal settings of the selection (where and when do the events described in the passage take place?)

Below, you can try out a sample Reading Comprehension question based on an advertisement.

Directions: Read the following texts carefully for comprehension. Each text is followed by a number of questions or incomplete statements. Select the answer or completion that is best according to the text and fill in the corresponding circle on the answer sheet.

body_selectionsquestion.png

¿Qué característica se destaca más de la compañía anunciada?

(A) Su precio
(B) Su cortesía
(C) Su rapidez
(D) Su amplitud

Answer: D

 

Return to the table of contents.

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SAT Spanish With Listening Question Styles

If you choose to take the SAT Spanish with Listening Subject Test, you’ll encounter three additional types of questions, all listening-based.

For Pictures questions, you’ll be shown a printed picture in your test booklet and asked to listen to four sentences. The recording will specify whether the sentences are meant to illustrate what you see in the picture or be an example of what someone in the picture might say.

The full sentences you listen to for the Pictures questions are not written out in your test booklet, just the answer choices (A), (B), (C), or (D). For an example of a Pictures question, try the first or second question in this set of official practice questions.

The next type of Listening question is called "Rejoinders." You’ll hear either several short conversations or parts of conversations and then be asked to listen to four possible choices for how the conversation could continue.

Again, only (A), (B), (C), or (D) will be in your test booklet, not the full text of the choices. To see an example of a Rejoinders question, try question #3, 4, or 5 in this set of official practice questions.

The last type of Listening question, Selections, asks you to demonstrate you’ve listened to and understood a longer listening selection (around 10-25 seconds). For an example of this type of question, try any of the last four questions in this set of official practice questions.

Return to the table of contents.

 

body_listeningtoselections.jpg

 

Where to Find SAT Spanish Practice Tests

The best source of realistic SAT Spanish Subject Test practice materials is the College Board, the maker of the test.

If you want to practice with a full-length official SAT Spanish practice test, you’ll have to buy The Official Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, 2nd Edition, which costs around $14 and includes an audio CD for the Spanish with Listening practice test. Both of the SAT Subject Tests in Spanish ask you questions based on what you read, so you can use the reading section of the practice test you’re not taking for extra practice questions.

If you’re taking the…

Take the…

Get extra practice questions from the…

Spanish Subject Test

Spanish Subject Test practice test

Spanish with Listening Subject Test practice test

Spanish with Listening Subject Test

Spanish with Listening Subject Test practice test

Spanish Subject Test practice test

 

The best free resource for official SAT Spanish practice is the College Board website, which allows you to answer 33 practice questions online and view your results (with answer explanations). Here's a breakdown of how many types of each question the College Board website has for the SAT Spanish Subject Test:

Section Type

Number of Questions

Vocabulary and Structure

5

Paragraph Completion

15 (across two different paragraphs)

Reading Comprehension

13 (across three different passages/ads)

 

If you’re taking the Spanish with Listening Subject Test, you can also try out nine official online listening practice questions for free. If your browser supports Adobe Flash Player, you can actually listen to the questions, rather than just reading the written-out script, which is great practice!

Here's a breakdown of the number of Spanish with Listening questions College Board has up online (spoiler alert: there are only nine questions total):

Section Type

Number of Questions

Pictures

2

Rejoinders

3

Selections

4

 

 

Other Practice Resources

The free SAT Subject Tests Student Guide PDF is useful if you want to print out the questions and take them on paper for more realistic practice, but it only includes some (not all) of the free online practice questions linked to in the previous section.

If you want more practice tests, you can supplement your studying with non-official practice materials. The best of these seems to be Barron’s SAT Subject Test: Spanish, which includes ten full-length practice tests as well as review materials for specific topics.

Return to Table of Contents

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4 SAT Spanish Study Tips

Now that you're fully equipped with information about what the test covers, what the question formats are, and what practice materials are out there, it's time to jump into studying. We've come up with four fundamental tips to help you as you prep for the SAT Spanish Subject Test.

 

#1: Listen and Watch Spanish-Language Media

A great way to get comfortable with colloquial Spanish is to listen to Spanish-language music and watch telenovelas or other Spanish-language media. This is one time where watching TV is a valid studying technique!

Get on your online streaming service of choice and search for Spanish-language music and film/TV. Make sure to turn off English subtitles if you’re watching something in Spanish, or that will defeat the purpose.

If you're looking for specific movie suggestions, Spanish teacher Carla Staffaroni suggests watching Diarios de motocicleta, La misma luna, Valentín, and La historia oficial.

 

#2: Memorize Irregular Verbs

One thing the SAT Language Subject Tests love to test you on is irregular verbs, particularly ones that are commonly used. Study them and learn them well so you’re not unpleasantly surprised on test day. Here's a list of the top 25 most common irregular verbs:

Spanish verb

English meaning

ser

to be

haber

to have

estar

to be

tener

to have

hacer

to do, to make

poder

can, to be able

decir

to say, to tell

ir

to go

ver

to see

dar

to give

saber

to know

querer

to want, to love

llegar

to arrive, to reach, to come (to)

poner

to put, to place, to set

parecer

to seem

creer

to believe

seguir

to follow, to continue

encontrar

to find, to encounter

venir

to come

pensar

to think

salir

to leave, to go out

volver

to return, to go back

conocer

to know (people or places)

sentir

to feel, to regret

contar

to count, to tell

 

For more irregular verbs, search online for "common irregular Spanish verbs."

 

#3: Memorize the Question Formats

Just knowing Spanish won’t be enough to ace this test if you are caught off guard by the ways you’re tested on your knowledge.

Familiarize yourself ahead of time with the different question formats that will be on the test to avoid getting surprised on test day.

To recap, those formats for the regular SAT Spanish Subject Test are: fill-in-the-blank vocab questions, paragraph completion questions, and reading comprehension questions.

In addition to those three question formats, the Spanish with Listening test also has Picture, Rejoinder, and Selection questions.

 

#4: Take Realistic Practice Tests

Even if you’re completely fluent in Spanish, you should take at least one realistic practice test to familiarize yourself with the layout of the test.

To get the most realistic practice-test experience, you’ll need to make sure you take the test in one sitting, stick to the 60-minute time limit, and don’t re-listen to audio recordings you’ll only get a chance to hear once on the real test.

If you take a realistic practice test and ace it, then congratulations! You don’t need to spend extra time studying. If you take it and don’t do as well as you expected, that’s still helpful, because the questions you got wrong will tell you where you need to focus your studying.

Part of making sure your practice test is realistic if you’re taking the Spanish with Listening Subject Test is using an approved CD player, preferably the one you’ll be using on test day. Yes, it’s easier to just pop the CD into your computer’s disc drive, but that won’t give you the most realistic testing experience. Make sure you have and practice with a CD player that:

  • has headphones
  • is handheld (no boomboxes or computers)
  • is battery operated (no power cords permitted)
  • can’t record or duplicate

Return to the table of contents.

 

body_nothandheld.jpgYou also cannot take a realistic practice test using your car's CD player.

 

Test-Day Tips

All of the usual test-taking tips apply to the Spanish Subject Test: get lots of sleep, bring a snack, get there early, and so forth. However, we’ve also compiled four tips below that are particularly helpful for taking the Spanish SAT II.

 

#1: Only Guess Between Two Answers

As with all SAT Subject Tests, the Spanish and Spanish with Listening tests take off a quarter of a point for every wrong answer.

Unless you can narrow your choices down to two possible correct answers, it’s too much of a risk to guess. You’re better off skipping the question, which leads right into the next test-day tip.

 

#2: Skip Hard Questions

Save time by skipping over harder questions and coming back to them later. Each question is worth the same amount of points, and there’s no rule that says you have to go through the test in order. It's much better to skip and come back to a difficult question than it is to burn five of your precious test-taking minutes staring it down.

Unfortunately, if you want to get a good score on the SAT Spanish Subject Test, you're going to have to answer almost every question correctly. But it's better for your score to answer 81/85 questions correctly and leave four blank than it is to answer 85/85 and get four questions wrong.

 

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The next two tips are for the Spanish with Listening Subject Test only.

 

#3: Don’t Forget Your CD Player!

There is nothing worse than getting to a testing center and realizing you’ve forgotten some essential test-taking tool, whether it's your lucky number two pencil or your graphing calculator for SAT Math.

All this is to say that if you're taking the SAT Spanish with Listening Subject Test, make sure you bring your College Board-approved CD player with you to the test. You might want to pack it (along with headphones and extra working batteries) the night before, just to be safe.

Before test day, you’ll also want to check to make sure the CD player is working well and put in fresh batteries (no need to be changing your batteries out during the test). Similarly, make sure that the backup batteries you bring with you are functional.

College Board even suggests bringing a backup CD player if possible, although that seems a little over the top. Still, you should do whatever will make you feel the most confident that you won’t encounter technical difficulties during the test.

 

#4: Stay Calm During Listening

Because it requires not just reading, but listening, some students can get very anxious about the listening section of the test, particularly since it’s the first 20 minutes of the test.

You can do things ahead of time that will lessen this anxiety, like making sure you practice with the same CD player you’ll be using on the test so you can get familiar with it in the test-taking environment. We also have some great tips on decreasing test-taking anxiety in general here.

Ultimately, though, even if you finish the listening section and feel like you’ve completely failed it, try not to let it faze you too much. You need to put your game face on and concentrate on hitting the next 55-ish written questions out of the park! Postpone your self-doubt and worrying for 40 minutes until you put down the pencil at the end of the test.

Return to the table of contents.

 

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En Conclusión

The SAT Spanish Subject Test is 85 multiple choice questions taken over the course of 60 minutes.

If you’re fluent in Spanish or know that your strongest SAT Subject Test Score will be in Spanish, you should take the SAT Spanish Subject Test. Consider taking the Spanish with Listening Subject Test if you have a good understanding of spoken Spanish, as it will give colleges a better idea of your Spanish abilities.

Use the College Board website for free practice questions, or buy The Official Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, 2nd Edition for a complete official practice test. Try the Barron’s SAT Spanish Subject Test book for more non-official practice tests.

You can also prepare for the SAT Spanish Subject Test by listening to Spanish-language music, watching Spanish-language TV and films, and memorizing common irregular verbs.

On test day, remember to skip hard questions and come back to them later and only guessing if you can narrow it down to two choices. If you’re taking Spanish with Listening, don’t forget your CD player and try not to sweat the listening section after you’ve finished it.

¡Feliz estudios!

 

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What’s Next?

Want more in-depth information about the difficulty of the test before you make any decisions? Read our analysis of how hard the SAT Spanish Subject Test is here.

Still trying to decide if it makes sense to take the SAT Spanish Subject Test? Take a look at our discussion of which SAT Subject Tests you should take.

Not sure if you need to take an SAT Subject Test for the colleges you're applying to? Use our complete list of colleges that require SAT subject tests to figure out the answer!

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



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