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About the SAT II Subject Tests
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An Achievement Test by any other name... The SAT II is a set of more than 20 different tests focusing on specific disciplines such as English, History and Social Sciences, Mathematics, Physical Sciences, and Foreign Languages. Each Subject Test lasts one hour and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions, except for the Writing Test, which has a 20-minute essay section in addition to a 40-minute multiple-choice section.

How Does the SAT II Differ from SAT I?

What's That Spell?

Originally, SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test. When the test changed a few years ago, the official name was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test. In 1997, the testmakers announced that SAT no longer stands for anything, officially.

SAT I is largely a test of verbal and math skills. True, you need to know some vocabulary and some formulas for the SAT I, but it's designed to measure how well you read and think rather than what you know. The SAT II is very different. It's designed to measure what you know about specific disciplines. Sure, critical reading and thinking skills play a part on these tests, but their main purpose is to determine exactly what you know about writing, math, history, chemistry, and so on.

How Do Colleges Use the SAT II?
Many people will tell you that the SATs (I and II alike) measure only your ability to perform on standardized exams--that they measure neither your reading and thinking skills nor your level of knowledge. Maybe they're right. But these people don't work for colleges. Those schools that require SATs feel that they're an important indicator of your ability to succeed in college. Specifically, they use your scores in one or both of two ways:

  • To help them make admissions decisions
  • To help them make placement decisions

Like the SAT I , the SAT II: Subject Tests provide schools with a standard measure of academic performance, which they use to compare you to applicants from different high schools and different educational backgrounds. This information helps them to decide whether you're ready to handle their curriculum.

SAT II scores may also be used to decide what course of study is appropriate for you once you've been admitted. A low score on the Writing Test, for example, may mean that you have to take a remedial English course. Conversely, a high score on the Math Level IIC Test may mean that you'll be exempted from an introductory math course.

What SAT II Subject Tests Should I Take?
The simple answer is: Take the ones that you'll do well on. High scores, after all, can only help your chances for admission. Unfortunately, many colleges demand that you take particular tests, usually the Writing Test and/or one of the Math Tests. Some schools will give you some choice in the matter, especially if they want you to take a total of three Subject Tests. So, before you register to take any tests, check with colleges to find out exactly which tests they require. Don't rely on high school guidance counselors or admissions handbooks for this information. They might not give you accurate details.

SAT II Strategies

The SAT II: Subject Tests are different from the tests that you're used to taking. On your high school exams, you probably go through the questions in order. You probably spend more time on hard questions than on basic ones, since hard questions are generally worth more points. And you often show your work since your teachers tell you how you approach questions is as important as getting the right answers.

Well, forget all that! None of this applies to the SAT II. You can benefit from moving around within the tests, hard questions are worth the same points as basic ones, and it doesn't matter how you answer the questions or what work you did to get there--only what your answers are. Plug into a few test-taking skills and strategies that can improve your scoring performance:

The Test Is Highly Predictable
Because the format and directions of the SAT II: Subject Tests remain unchanged from test to test, you can learn how the tests are set up in advance. One of the easiest things you can do to help your performance on the SAT II is to understand the directions before taking the test. Since the instructions are always the same, there's no reason to waste a lot of time on test day reading them.

Questions Are Arranged by Order of Difficulty
Not all of the questions on the SAT II are equally difficult. The questions often get harder as you work through different parts of the test. The pattern can work to your benefit. When working on more basic problems, you can generally trust your first impulse--the obvious answer is likely to be correct. As you get to the end of a test section, you need to be a bit more suspicious. now the answers probably won't come as quickly and easily--if they do, look again, because the obvious answers my be wrong. They may be distractors--wrong answer choices deliberately meant to entice you.

You Don't Need to Answer the Questions in Order
You're allowed to skip around the SAT II: Subject Tests. High scorers know this fact. They move through the tests efficiently. They don't dwell on any one question, even a hard one, until they've tried every question at least once.

There Is a Guessing Penalty
It's really a wrong answer penalty. If you guess wrong, you get penalized. If you guess right, you're in great shape. The fact is, if you can eliminate one or more answer choices as definitely wrong, you'll turn the odds in your favor and actually come out ahead by guessing. The fractional points that you lose are meant to offset the points you might get "accidentally" by guessing the correct answer. With practice, however, you'll see that it's often easy to eliminate several answer choices on some of the questions.

The Answer Grid Has No Heart
It sounds simple, but it's extremely important: Don't make mistakes filling out your answer grid. When time is short, it's easy to get confused going back and forth between your test booklet and your grid. If you know the answers, but misgrid, you won't get the points. Here's how to avoid mistakes:

Always circle the questions you skip: When you go back, these questions will be easy to locate.

Always circle the answers you choose: It makes it easier to check your grid against your booklet.

Grid five or more answers at once: You won't keep breaking your concentration to mark the grid.

Practice these skills and strategies as you prepare for your SAT II.

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