Our subject experts offer their top advice for the most common SAT II exams.
- Especially for students used to the ACT, there is a temptation to answer every single question, even with guesses. Resist this impulse.
- The SAT Subject Tests still have a wrong answer penalty of 1/4 point each. If you can’t eliminate any answer choices on a problem, leave it blank.
- Learn to know and love your calculator. Much more than on the ACT or SAT, the SAT II in Math requires you to be comfortable using your calculator for graphing (including polar and parametric graphing!), matrices, combinatorics, and so on. Review calculator policies here.
Science – Biology
- Biology is dense; do not cram. We recommend starting preparation early and do a little bit each day – even if it is 10 minutes!
- Make a decision about 3-4 weeks before the test whether or not you will be focusing on Ecology or Molecular Biology. You can change your mind all the way up until test day, but you want to specialize early and master the content within that subcategory.
- Eliminating incorrect answer choices is the best method for every question. Practice this method during your preparation, and you will essentially turn every question into 5 mini-questions, strengthening your process.
Science – Chemistry
- Make sure to practice basic math calculations. Since calculators are not allowed on the test (review calculator policies), make sure you are able to complete simple math skills, such as multiplying and diving by 0.1 — remember the numbers will be friendly, but you will still have to do the calculations.
- When doing the true/false section on the exam, be sure to treat each part of each question separately. Determine if part one is true, then determine if part two is true (independently of part one). Only if both parts are true will you have to determine if the second part explains the first part.
- Don’t get bogged down in the details. Find the key words or phrases to direct you to exactly what the question is asking and then focus on answering that problem.
- Most importantly, don’t spend a lot of time on any one question. If you don’t know something, or think a question will take too long, skip it and come back to it after you complete all of the rest of the questions that you are able to do more quickly.
Science – Physics
- The Science SAT II tests often involve understanding basic concepts explained by equations and formulas. Be sure to know not only what the formula means and what phenomenon it models, but also how manipulating variables impacts the quantities involved.
- A common question type is as follows: “The ideal gas law is PV=nRT. How will the pressure change if the volume is doubled, and the temperature is halved?” (It will be 1/4 its original value!)
(Foreign) Language Tests
- It is most important to be comfortable with general reading comprehension in the language you are taking the SAT II exam.
- Prior to the test, practice reading paragraphs of text and identifying the main idea presented.
- The curves on the foreign language tests vary a great deal because some are largely taken by native speakers. To see where you might fall on the curve, check out page 3 of this document after you take a practice test.
- Focus on understanding time periods and chapters of history in terms of overarching themes in society. Don’t worry about getting too bogged down in nit-picky details. Most questions on the SAT II reflect big ideas.
- Develop a strong understanding of what distinguishes the ‘right’ and ‘left’ in politics. Try to understand different periods, civilizations, and leaders in terms of their relationship to government (or lack thereof), rather than simply memorizing a particular event.
- Watch films or TV shows set in the varying periods you’re studying to help generate mental images to associate with the text. Seeing a story play out in a film will help illustrate the historical backdrop and provide important context in understanding a time period.
- Sometimes students who excel in English find the multiple choice format challenging, particularly when looking for evidence to find the correct answer. Remember that evidence for correct answers can always be literally underlined in the text.
- Students do not have to understand each passage or poem in depth in order to do well–even grasping the general meaning and main points should be enough for many of the questions.
- Just as with the original SAT, extreme answers on the Literature SAT II will be tend to be incorrect, either those that are too emotional (words such as bitter, thrilled, sardonic, exasperated, furious) or too limiting (always, never, only, must, unique, universal).