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The Ultimate SAT Literature Subject Test Study Guide

Posted by Ellen McCammon | Aug 22, 2018 7:00:00 PM

SAT Subject Tests

 

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The SAT Subject Test in Literature, formerly known as the SAT II Literature Exam, is one of the most popular Subject Tests. This might be because you don’t necessarily need specialized knowledge, such as foreign language fluency, to do well on it. However, it also has a reputation for being a fairly difficult test.

Luckily, I—800-scoring sorceress of the SAT Literature Subject Test—am here to take you through all the particulars of the exam. We'll go through whether the exam is right for you, its format and content, its question styles, study hacks, practice resources, and test-day tips. Let’s get the magic started!

Here is a quick guide for those who'd prefer to skip around:

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Should You Take the SAT Literature Subject Test?

There are, in general, a few reasons why you might take one or more Subject Tests. You might take them because a school you are applying to requires or recommends them, or you might take them because you want to show mastery in a subject that you are particularly gifted in.

Beyond that, should you choose the SAT Literature Subject Test in particular? Ask yourself the following three questions to help you decide:

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Burning questions.

 

#1: Do You Like (or at Least Not Hate) English?

Most people don’t love all subjects equally. You might feel as though you should take Literature if your other SAT Subject Tests are all math and science so that you can show a diverse set of skills—even if, in reality, English bores you to tears.

But trust me—it’s going to be much less painful for you, and better for your college applications, if you take SAT Subject Tests in things you are really interested in. This will give a truer picture of who you are as a student anyways. 

 

#2: Will You Do Well on It?

Obviously, you aren’t an oracle and can’t know for sure whether the SAT Subject Test in Literature will be a home run for you. But before you register, you should think about whether or not you are positioned to do well on the exam.

The College Board recommends three to four years of literary study "at the college prep level." I took the test in the fall of my junior year and was fine, but I wouldn’t advise taking it earlier than that.

If you’ve done well in your high school English classes, you can reasonably expect do well on the Literature exam with the help of some preparation. That being said, you might still want to take a practice test before you register to get a ballpark idea of how much work you have to put in. Don’t expect to get an 800 right off the bat!

However, if you do really poorly on a practice test, consider going with a different Subject Test or postponing the Literature exam so you have more time to prepare for it.

 

#3: When Are You Applying to College?

When you'll be applying to college can help determine how soon you should take the Literature Subject Test. If you take the exam too early in your high school career, you won’t necessarily have the skills base you need to do well. Take it too late, though, and you might not have time to retake it if you didn’t score as well as you wanted to.

I'd advise doing your first go-around sometime in your junior year. (You can take it later in the school year or over the summer if you think you need more time to prepare—see our guide to SAT Subject Test dates.)

If you decide to take the Literature exam, you’ll want to get familiar with the test format. Read on to learn more, noble scholars of literature!

 

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So noble. Very scholarly. Wow.

 

SAT Literature Subject Test Format

Like the other Subject Tests, the SAT Literature Subject Test is one hour long. You'll answer about 60 multiple-choice questions, although the number varies slightly among administrations of the test.

Every correct answer is worth 1 point, and incorrect answers are worth -1/4 points as a way to discourage random guessing. Unanswered questions are worth 0 points.

On the test, your task will be to answer questions on six to eight passages of English literature. Passages will generally not include authors or titles, but you will be able to find the original date of publication (or estimated date of composition) at the end of each excerpt. Every fifth line will be marked so you can quickly find your way around the passage when answering questions.

Each passage has its own set of questions; it’s like six to eight little mini-tests ranging from four to 12 questions per passage. The first and last questions for each excerpt will generally be about the passage as a whole, while the ones in the middle will usually ask questions about specific parts of the passage.

Unsurprisingly, the questions on this exam will ask you to analyze elements of literary passages. This could be anything from identifying the overall theme, to dissecting the meaning of a phrase in context, to analyzing the use of figurative language. I’ll go over more specifics later on, but that's the basic idea.

On the exam you could see prose, poetry, drama, etc., from as early as the Renaissance period to as recent as the 20th century. Expect to see literature from the US, England, and occasionally other English-speaking countries. Works have to be originally written in English to be included in the exam, so no excerpts from Les Miserables or One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Note that topics and genres are not randomly distributed. In the next section, we'll go into what percentages of different sorts of material you can expect to see on the Literature test.

 

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You might see an excerpt from one of these on the exam!

 

SAT Literature Passage Content

Passages will generally not come from highly recognizable works, but they will be chosen because they have some literary merit in the eyes of the College Board.

In general, the College Board takes pains to select passages that are pretty uncontroversial in their theme and content, avoiding anything that requires a deep level of specialized cultural or religious knowledge to interpret (so no drawn-out allegories about Christianity or anything like that).

The six to eight passages you'll need to examine for the SAT Literature Test can be divided along three categorical lines:

  • Author’s nationality (American, English, or other)
  • Genre
  • Time period

It breaks down like this:

 

#1: Author's Nationality

On the Literature Subject Test, 40-50% of passages will be written by an American author, 40-50% by a British author, and 0-10% by another author writing in English. So you can expect about half and half British and American authors, with maybe one passage written by an author from another country. As you might have noticed, this is very much a Western-lit centric test.

 

#2: Genre

In terms of genre, 40-50% of passages will be prose; these are mostly short excerpts from fiction or essays. Another 40-50% will be poetry; these are typically full-length poems, though sometimes the College Board will take a shorter section from a long work of verse.

Finally, about 0-10% will be drama or another genre, such as a folktale, myth, etc. Once again, you can expect about half and half between poetry and prose, with maybe one passage using a different form of writing.

 

#3: Time Period

This breakdown is a little different than the two above. You can expect 30% of passages to come from the Renaissance (late 15th century) through the 1600s. This equals about two passages. Another 30% will come from the 1700s-1800s, so expect another two passages or so there. The remaining 40%—around three passages—will come from the 20th century.

As you can see, the test is a little more heavily weighted toward the modern era, but you should be prepared for literature anywhere from the late 1400s to the 1900s. 

Don't worry—you won’t need to read Middle English or Old English for earlier works. Passages will be comprehensible. The language won’t be any older than Shakespearean English!

 

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You might see stuff by this guy.

 

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SAT Literature Question Formats

All questions on the Literature Subject Test are multiple choice with five answer choices each. Within that framework, there are four kinds of questions you can expect to see. I’ve included an example of each type (though I haven’t included the passage).

I will use most of the same questions with the passage later on in the article, so if you’d like to see the passage, scroll down (or Google "Aedh Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven" by W.B. Yeats). 

Note: I wrote all the questions in this article, but they are closely based on real SAT Literature questions written by the College Board.

 

#1: Standard Multiple-Choice Questions About the Entire Passage

These are questions that apply to the whole passage; they often ask about things such as theme or tone, or other concepts that can be generalized to the entire excerpt.

EXAMPLE

The best description of the tone of the poem is:

  1. joyful and fanciful
  2. despairing and grim
  3. serious and triumphant
  4. earnest and supplicating
  5. witty and lighthearted

 

#2: Standard Multiple-Choice Questions Referring to a Specific Line or Moment in the Passage

You will be pointed to a specific part of the passage and asked a question about only that part.

Usually, these questions will have a line reference included, but sometimes you are just given the specific phrase, and you'll need to find it in the passage yourself to answer the question. 

EXAMPLE

In the context of the poem, the adverb "enwrought" (line 2) most nearly means:

  1. decorated
  2. rewarded
  3. purchased
  4. compensated
  5. destroyed

 

#3: NOT or EXCEPT Questions

For these SAT Lit questions, you'll need to select the answer choice that does not apply to the passage. "NOT" or "EXCEPT" will helpfully be capitalized, so you should be able to spot these fairly easily. Just remember to read carefully!

EXAMPLE

The following words all describe the cloths of heaven EXCEPT:

  1. embroidered
  2. blue
  3. dim
  4. dark
  5. poor

 

#4: Roman Numeral Questions

For these questions, you will first be asked a question, and then given a series of statements identified with Roman numerals that are potential answers to that question. 

Your five lettered choices (A-E) will present different combinations of the Roman numerals. This essentially allows the College Board to ask multiple-multiple choice questions, in which more than one Roman numeral statement correctly answers the question. 

EXAMPLE

Which of the following statements can be inferred about the speaker from the poem?

  1. The speaker thinks the person he is addressing is very beautiful.
  2. The speaker is not wealthy.
  3. The speaker’s dreams are very precious to him. 
  1. I only
  2. I and II only
  3. III only
  4. I, II, and III
  5. II and III only

 

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You will not be taking the test on a typewriter.

 

SAT Literature Test: Question Content and Skills Tested

The SAT Literature Test won’t ask you any questions about literary history, though a basic working knowledge of literary movements probably wouldn’t hurt—it might even help you orient yourself on the passages. Instead, your main task on the test will be to analyze the passages.

In order to be able to answer these analytical questions, the College Board says that you'll need to know "basic literary terminology" and "literary concepts." This might seem a little intimidating, but the truth is that you've likely heard of many of these concepts before—ideas such as tone, theme, stanza, hyperbole, alliteration, etc. And even if you haven’t, they're pretty easy to learn. (See the "4 Essential Strategies for Preparation" section below.)

All of this might sound daunting, but it’s not so bad. SAT Lit questions generally fall into eight easily digestible sub-categories. These categories apply to both prose and poetry, although you will see some kinds of questions appear more often with prose passages (e.g., character analysis), while others appear more often with poetry (e.g., figurative language).

In the interest of readability, examples will be grouped together in the middle of this section and at the end so that questions can appear with the relevant passages.

 

Category 1: Reading Comprehension

"But Ellen," you might be wondering, "Aren’t all these questions more or less about reading comprehension?" Yes, yes they are.

But some questions—instead of asking you to do deeper analysis—will ask more basic questions about things such as who is speaking, who's being addressed at a given point in the text, or what events are being described.

I will also include in this category the very rare (maybe one per test) grammar question. That’s right—very occasionally, the SAT Literature Test will ask you a functional grammatical question on something like subject-verb agreement or identifying the main verb. The purpose of this question is generally to clarify a complex sentence for you so the passage is easier to analyze.

 

Category 2: Meaning of Words and Phrases in Context

This is a super-popular category; you can expect about one of this question type per passage. You’ll be given a word and asked what it means in the specific context of the passage; this could be either the denotation (literal meaning) or connotation (implied meaning).

Sometimes you’ll be asked one of these questions because the word is being used in a strange way. Sometimes you’ll be asked because the word itself is unusual. You can almost always figure these questions out from context clues, even if you aren’t immediately familiar with the usage.

 

Category 3: Questions on General, Sweeping Elements of the Passage

A couple of questions per passage will ask you to make a sweeping analysis of the excerpt. These questions might ask about the following elements:

  • Tone of the passage
  • Theme
  • Mood
  • Overall descriptions of the language used
  • Overarching purpose or argument

You might also occasionally be asked a question about the structure or the genre of the piece (e.g., Is this prose passage a work of satire, a personal narrative, etc.).

 

Category 4: Literary and Rhetorical Devices

This is where knowledge of basic literary terminology will come in handy. These questions ask you to identify and/or analyze the use of literary and rhetorical devices. 

You might be given a phrase and asked what device is being used (e.g., is it hyperbole, alliteration, personification, etc.). 

You might also be asked to note where in the text a specific device is being deployed. You will need a little specialized knowledge for this type of question, and it’s an important area to do some targeted studying in before you take the exam.

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Ah, the stars. Perennial subject of poetic imagery.

 

Examples 1-4

Examples 1-4 are based on the following passage:

      Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,   
      Enwrought with golden and silver light,   
      The blue and the dim and the dark cloths   
      Of night and light and the half light,   
(5)  I would spread the cloths under your feet:
      But I, being poor, have only my dreams;   
      I have spread my dreams under your feet;   
      Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

      (1899)

 

Example 1: Reading Comprehension

The following words all describe the cloths of heaven EXCEPT

  1. embroidered
  2. blue
  3. dim
  4. dark
  5. poor

This is a reading comprehension question because it relies on your ability to understand what words are describing the “cloths of heaven” at various points in the poem and what words are not. “Poor” describes the speaker; everything else describes the cloths: the “embroidered cloths,” the “blue” cloths, the “dim” cloths, and the “dark” cloths.

The correct answer, therefore, is E. This question tests your ability to reach a fairly basic understanding of what is being said in the poem as opposed to any sort of deeper literary analysis.

 

Example 2: Meaning of Words/Phrases in Context

In the context of the poem, the adverb “enwrought” (line 2) most nearly means:

  1. decorated
  2. rewarded
  3. purchased
  4. compensated
  5. destroyed

Any time you have a line reference and are asked what a word or phrase means, what it connotes, or what it is best understood to mean, it’s probably a vocab/phrase in context question (unless you’re being asked what a metaphor or simile means).

"Enwrought" is sort of a weird old word—exactly the kind of word the College Board likes to target for this kind of question. The correct answer is A: decorated because it’s the only answer choice that makes sense in the context of the poem—even if you have no idea what “enwrought” means when you first look at it.

 

Example 3: Questions on the Overall Passage 

The best description of the tone of the poem is:

  1. joyful and fanciful
  2. despairing and grim
  3. serious and triumphant
  4. earnest and supplicating
  5. witty and lighthearted

This question asks you to identify the tone of the entire poem, so it’s an overall passage question. Since the poem is so short, you could go back and quickly reread it to answer this question.

You might notice that the tone is rather serious in nature; this poem is not meant to be funny or cute but is a deep expression of devotion. By the same token, the tone is not particularly happy or sad but expectant: the speaker is making a request ("tread softly ... on my dreams") and does not yet know whether his request will be honored.

A glance through the answers shows that the only answer choice that really makes sense is D.

 

Example 4: Literary Devices

Which of the following devices does the poem use most frequently?

  1. repetition
  2. personification
  3. alliteration
  4. apostrophe
  5. hyperbole

This is a pretty typical question you might see in the literary devices category. You’re given a list of literary terms, and then you have to pick the one that is most appropriate to the poem.

Even if you don’t know all the terms here, it's pretty clear that the answer is A. The poem involves the repeated invocation of “cloths,” “light,” “feet,” and “dreams.” It'd be hard to top that level of repetition with pretty much any other device.

 

With the first four examples covered, let's move on to the last four question categories on the SAT Literature Subject Test.

 

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Tread softly on these dreams.

 

Category 5: Metaphor and Simile — Identification and Interpretation

Yes, metaphor and simile are technically literary devices, but I've given them their own subcategory because questions about them are so prevalent on the SAT Literature Test. In general, these questions fall into two categories: identification and definition.

For identification questions, you will simply need to identify the metaphor or simile among the choices given; you might also need to identify what is not a metaphor or a simile for NOT/EXCEPT questions.

For definition questions, you'll need to choose the answer that best describes what a particular metaphor or simile means or conveys in the text.

 

Category 6: Analyzing the Narrator (Prose) or Speaker (Poetry)

The “narrator” and the “speaker” are two different names for the same term; the narrator is the voice that relates a prose passage and the speaker is the voice that relates a poem. This is not the same as the author. The narrator/speaker is a construct created by the author to relate the passage. In a sense, the narrator/speaker functions as a lens through which the passage is conveyed to you, the reader.

You might be asked questions about the narrator or speaker’s tone, motives, position within the text, point of view, attitude, voice, etc. Essentially, who is the person relating the passage, how are they saying it, why are they saying it, and who are they speaking to?

 

Category 7: Analyzing Character

You will be asked to analyze character more often in prose than poetry, but poems do sometimes have characters, so this category applies to both kinds of passages. You will almost certainly be asked to analyze character in dramatic excerpts. 

You might be asked to identify characteristics of a character as conveyed by the author (characterization), a character’s motives, and so on.

 

Category 8: Analyzing Dialogue

This is similar to character analysis as character is often conveyed through dialogue, but you might also be asked to identify the tone of a piece of dialogue, its meaning, or its specific function within the piece. This is another category you can expect to see a lot of for drama, and some for prose—but only a little for poetry, if at all.

 

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I bet this dialogue would be interesting to analyze.

 

Examples 5-8

Examples 5-8 are based on the following passage:

"Nelly, do you never dream queer dreams?" she said, suddenly, after some minutes’ reflection.

"Yes, now and then," I answered.

"And so do I. I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and (5) changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it—but take care not to smile at any part of it."

"Oh! don’t, Miss Catherine!" I cried. "We’re dismal enough without conjuring up ghosts and visions to perplex us. Come, come, be merry and like yourself! Look  (10) at little Hareton! He’s dreaming nothing dreary. How sweetly he smiles in his sleep!"

"Yes; and how sweetly his father curses in his solitude! You remember him, I daresay, when he was just such another as that chubby thing: nearly as young and innocent. However, Nelly, I shall oblige you to listen: it’s not long; and I’ve no power to be merry to-night."

(15) "I won’t hear it, I won’t hear it!" I repeated, hastily.

I was superstitious about dreams then, and am still; and Catherine had an unusual gloom in her aspect, that made me dread something from which I might shape a prophecy, and foresee a fearful catastrophe. She was vexed, but she did not proceed. Apparently taking up another subject, she recommenced in a short time.

(20) "If I were in heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable."

"Because you are not fit to go there," I answered. "All sinners would be miserable in heaven."

(1847)

 

Example 5: Figurative Language

The simile “like wine through water” (line 5) reveals that Catherine’s dreams ...

  1. make her intoxicated
  2. reveal the future
  3. affect her powerfully.
  4. frighten her
  5. are very strange

SAT Literature will frequently ask you to either identify metaphors/similes or analyze what they mean. It’s important in questions like this one to consider only what the specific figurative language means and not whether the other answers are true based on the rest of the passage.

Her dreams might be strange (she calls them “queer”), but that is not what the simile means. She says that they are like wine through water in that they “change the colour of her mind.” This suggests that the simile means the dreams influence her, in much the same way that adding wine to water would change the water. The correct answer is C.

 

Example 6: Narrator/Speaker Analysis

Which of the following statements can be inferred about the narrator from the passage?

  1. The narrator is uncomfortable with the supernatural.
  2. The narrator believes Catherine is a good and moral person.
  3. The narrator dislikes children.
  1. I only
  2. I and II only
  3. III only
  4. I, II, and III
  5. II and III only.

Narrator analysis questions will frequently ask you to identify the viewpoints or opinions of the narrator based on the passage. It’s important in these questions to rely only on what is in the text and not make any unsupported inferences.

It's pretty clear, for example, that the narrator here is “uncomfortable with the supernatural” since she describes herself as “superstitious of dreams” and fears they might be prophetic. It's also clear that the narrator does not believe Catherine to be good and moral because she says Catherine is a sinner who does not belong in heaven.

It doesn't seem that she dislikes children, though; she describes Hareton as “smiling sweetly.” The only Roman numeral statement that there is enough evidence in the passage to agree with is I, so the answer is A.

 

Example 7: Character Analysis

We can understand from Nelly’s admonishment, “be merry and like yourself” (line 9), that Catherine’s current mood is ...

  1. a portent of things to come
  2. unusual given her typical disposition
  3. normal for her
  4. dangerous to the baby Hareton
  5. evidence of her moral perversity

This is a character question as we are being asked to analyze Catherine’s character based on a specific moment in the passage (Nelly’s admonishment). In a question like this which points to a particular line or place in the text, it’s important to examine what the particular line means and not make any inferences about the character based on the rest of the text.

In this case, it might well be that Catherine’s mood is portentous or evidence of her perversity, but this is not suggested by the phrase “be merry and like yourself.” It tells us that she is (1) not merry and that this is (2) unusual. So, the correct answer is B.

 

Example 8: Dialogue Analysis

The tone of “Because you are not fit to go there,” (line 21) can be best described as

  1. apprehensive
  2. sharp
  3. patronizing
  4. reverent
  5. whimsical

This is a dialogue question because you are being asked to analyze the dialogue (specifically its tone) in a way that is not related to a given character. 

It can be hard to identify the tone of a piece of dialogue when there aren’t many cues surrounding the dialogue, as in this passage. It might be easiest to simply imagine the dialogue being said in each tone and pick which makes the most sense and/or is the most consistent with the rest of the passage. It should be pretty clear that, if you do this, the answer is B: sharp.

 

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Don't worry—the passages will not be rendered in the authors' original handwriting.

 

Those are the eight question types you can expect to see on the SAT Literature Subject Test. But how should you prepare for them? I'll cover four essential prep strategies next.

 

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SAT Literature Test: 4 Essential Strategies for Preparation

Although you'll learn a decent amount of the knowledge necessary to do well on the SAT Literature exam just from your high school English class, there are still some things you can (and should) do if you really want to hit it out of the park. Here are four essential steps you can take to prepare:

 

Strategy 1: Read Old Stuff

The College Board recommends “close, critical reading of English and American literature from a variety of historical periods and genres.” It’s not likely you’ll read anything that will end up on the exam, but reading a wide range of poetry and prose originally composed in English from relevant time periods (i.e., Shakespearean era through the 20th century) will help you feel familiar with English-language literary writing from all the time periods covered on the exam.

Also, if you look up any words you don’t know when you encounter them in a text, you’ll have a leg up on meaning in context questions. So I'd try to read classic literature and poetry from many time periods for a few hours a week.

 

Strategy 2: Learn Literary Terms and Concepts

Even if you think you know them all, you should review basic literary terms and make sure you know how various devices are deployed. 

Some good resources for learning literary terms are as follows:

 

Strategy 3: Learn and Practice Literary Analysis (Especially Poetry)

You’ve hopefully learned literary analysis techniques in your high school classes, but it doesn’t hurt to brush up on these skills. A primary skill needed for the SAT Lit test is the ability to close-read texts—that is, to identify what the author is doing and why he or she is doing it.

Most close-reading you do in school is going to involve building your own argument about a text as opposed to answering analytical questions, but the skills are similar.

Here are some helpful resources you can use to practice close reading:

Furthermore, many students, even those who are good at English, are not particularly comfortable with poetry. Never fear! There are resources available to help you get more comfortable with poetry. First things first, reading more poetry will make you more comfortable with it (shocking, I know). Here are some excellent resources you can use in your studies:

 

Strategy 4: Take Practice Tests

If you want to prepare well for the SAT Literature Subject Test, take practice tests! Familiarity with the exam format and the way the questions are worded will keep you from being tripped up on exam day. For more tips on where to find practice tests, read on!

 

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 Practice, practice, practice!

 

Where to Find SAT Literature Practice Tests and Resources

The best resources for SAT Literature practice tests come straight from the source—the College Board. Since they create and administer the SAT Literature Subject Test, it makes sense that they would have the best study resources.

The College Board offers a set of 23 practice questions on their online prep interface. You can get the same practice questions in PDF form by downloading their booklet on preparing for the Subject Tests.  

If you want a complete and official SAT Literature practice test, you will need to purchase The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, 2nd Edition (about $10-$15 on Amazon). This book offers sample questions with explanations and a complete practice test for every Subject Test.

Other than this, official resources are limited. Practice questions in the Kaplan guide bear very little resemblance to actual questions, so I don’t advise going there. While The Princeton Review guide questions are much better, they're still not official.

 

How to Ace the Literature Subject Test: 6 Test-Taking Tips

All of your general test-taking tips apply here: get a lot of sleep, bring a snack to the testing center, arrive early, and so on. There are also some best practices more specific to the SAT Subject Test in Literature, though. Read on for our top six tips.

 

#1: Read the Passage Carefully

This might seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many students get tripped up on the SAT Lit test just because they didn't read the passage closely. You might find it helpful to mark the text by making notes or circling or underlining parts that stand out to you. Interacting with the text this way will help you to process it better.

Some people like to read the questions before they read the passage so that they know what they are looking for. If you find this helpful, go ahead and do it! I personally find that it wastes time and distracts me from fully absorbing the passage, but your mileage might vary. Just remember that the time to experiment with your approach is not test day but while you're taking practice tests. 

Also, there’s no law that you have to address all the passages in order. If you come upon one that just seems hard to process, it’s fine to skip it and come back to it later. However, if you do this, be sure to line up your answers on the answer sheet correctly. You don’t want to have to erase half a scantron because you didn’t count right when you skipped a passage!

 

#2: Think of the Answer Before Looking At the Choices

When you read the question, you might find it helpful to think of what you think the answer should be before you look at the answers listed. At the very least, doing this should help you eliminate answers that are clearly wrong.

 

#3: Read All the Answer Choices Carefully

This tip probably sounds obvious, too, but, when you're pressed for time, it's tempting to just circle the first answer that looks like it could be right. Don't do this! Read all the answer choices before you choose the best one.

 

#4: Look Back at the Passage

When a question refers to a specific place in the passage, go back and look at it in context. Do not rely on your memory alone! Context is everything on this exam.

 

#5: Don't Infer

Don’t make inferences that aren’t supported by the text. It can be tempting to choose answers that the text doesn’t explicitly disallow, but you need to choose the answer choice that is the most supported by what's actually written in the passage.

 

#6: Don't Waste Time

Since there is some time pressure on this exam, don’t waste too much time on any one question. If you find yourself stumped, just skip the question and come back to it later. Odds are that it will be much clearer to you on a second pass.

 

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Time is of the essence!

 

Wrap-Up: What to Know About SAT Literature

This is all there is to the SAT Subject Test in Literature: you get one hour to answer 60 analytical questions on six to eight passages. Be prepared for a wide range of time periods and make sure you can confront prose, poetry, and the occasional dramatic work.

Be certain that you’re also ready to answer questions in any of the eight question categories:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Words/phrases in context
  • Questions on the passage overall
  • Literary devices
  • Figurative language
  • Narrator/speaker analysis
  • Character analysis
  • Dialogue analysis

What can you do to prepare for the SAT Literature Subject Test? Read works from a variety of time periods, learn major literary terms, get comfortable analyzing prose and poetry, and take as many high-quality practice tests as possible!

On test day, remember to read the passages carefully, skip any questions that stump you (and return to them later), and don’t make any inferences beyond what's written in the text.

With all this in mind, you’ll be ready to ace SAT Literature in no time!

 

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Get inspired by this magical cat!

 

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What's Next?

Once you decide to take the SAT Literature test, you'll need to choose a test date. Read this guide to learn how to find the best test date for you.

Taking the SAT Biology Subject Test, too? Check out our ultimate SAT Subject Test guide for SAT Biology to learn what kinds of content you'll need to know to ace the exam. 

Trying to figure out what's a good SAT Subject Test score? Let us break it down for you. Once you need to send your scores, see out step-by-step guide to sending SAT Subject Test scores.

Taking the regular SAT or the ACT? See our expert guide to the best SAT/ACT prep methods

 

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Ellen McCammon
About the Author

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.



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