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Chapter One: About the SAT II: Subject Tests
You're serious about going to the college of your choice. You wouldn't have opened this book otherwise. You've made a wise choice, because this book can help you to achieve your goal. It'll show you how to score your best on the SAT II: Biology Subject Test. But before turning to the biology review, let's look at the SAT II as a whole.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following background information about the SAT II is important to keep in mind as you get ready to prep for the SAT II: Biology E/M Test. Remember, though, that sometimes the test makers change the test policies after a book has gone to press. The information here is accurate at the time of publication, but it's a good idea to check the test on the College Board Website at www.collegeboard.com.
What Is the SAT II?
Known until 1994 as the College Board Achievement Tests, the SAT II is actually a set of more than 20 different Subject Tests. These tests are designed to measure what you have learned in such subjects as literature, U.S. history, world history, math, biology, and Spanish. Each test lasts one hour and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions, except for the Writing Test, which has a 20-minute essay section and a 40-minute multiple-choice section. On any one test date, you can take up to three Subject Tests.
How Does the SAT II Differ from the SAT I?
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 how much you remember. The SAT II tests are very different. They're 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 are 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 and/or placement decisions.
Like the SAT I, the SAT II tests provide schools with a standard measure of academic performance, which they use to compare you with 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, might mean that you have to take a remedial English course. Conversely, a high score on an SAT II: Mathematics Test might mean that you'll be exempted from an introductory math course.
Which SAT II Tests Should I Take?
The simple answer is: those 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 Mathematics Tests. Some schools will give you a degree of choice in the matter, especially if they want you to take a total of three tests. Before you register to take any tests, therefore, check with the colleges you're interested in 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 or current information.
When Are the SAT II Tests Administered?
Most of the SAT II Tests are administered six times a year: in October, November, December, January, May, and June. A few of the tests are offered less frequently. Due to admissions deadlines, many colleges insist that you take the SAT II no later than December or January of your senior year in high school. You may even have to take it sooner if you're interested in applying for "early admission" to a school. Those schools that use scores for placement decisions only may allow you to take the SAT II as late as May or June of your senior year. You should check with colleges to find out which test dates are most appropriate for you.
How Do I Register for the SAT II?
The College Board administers the SAT II tests, so you must sign up for the tests with them. The easiest way to register is to obtain copies of the SAT Registration Bulletin and Taking the SAT II: Subject Tests. These publications contain all of the necessary information, including current test dates and fees. They can be obtained at any high school guidance office or directly from the College Board.
You can also register online. Visit the College Board's Website at www.collegeboard.com for more information. If you have previously registered for an SAT I or SAT II test, you can reregister by telephone. If you choose this option, you should still read the College Board publications carefully before you make any decisions.
How Are the SAT II Tests Scored?
Like the SAT I, the SAT II tests are scored on a 200-800 scale.
What's a "Good" Score?
That's a tricky question. The obvious answer is: the score that the colleges of your choice demand. Keep in mind, though, that SAT II scores are just one piece of information that colleges will use to evaluate you. The decision to accept or reject you will be based on many criteria, including your high school transcript, your SAT I scores, your recommendations, your personal statement, your interview (where applicable), your extracurricular activities, and the like. So, failure to achieve the necessary score doesn't automatically mean that your chances of getting in have been damaged. For those who really want a numerical benchmark, a score of 600 is considered very solid.
What Should I Bring to the SAT II?
It's a good idea to get your test materials together the day before the tests. You'll need an admission ticket; a form of identification (check the Registration Bulletin to find out what is permissible); a few sharpened No. 2 pencils; a good eraser; and a scientific calculator (for Math Level IC or IIC). If you'll be registering as a standby, collect the appropriate forms beforehand. Also, make sure that you know how to get to the test center.
SAT II Mastery
Now that you know a little about the SAT II tests, it's time to let you in on a few basic test taking skills and strategies that can improve your performance on them. You should practice these skills and strategies as you prepare for the SAT II.
Use the Structure of the Test to Your Advantage
The SAT II tests are different from the tests that you're used to taking. On your high school tests, you probably go through the questions in order. You probably spend more time on hard questions than on easy ones, since hard questions are generally worth more points. And you often show your work, since your teachers tell you that how you approach questions is as important as getting the right answers.
None of this applies to the SAT II tests. You can benefit from moving around within the tests, hard questions are worth the same as easy ones, and it doesn't matter how you answer the questions -- only what your answers are.
The SAT II tests are highly predictable. Because the format and directions of the SAT II tests remain unchanged from test to test, you can learn the setup of each test in advance. On Test Day, the various question types on each test shouldn't be new to you.
One of the easiest things you can do to help your performance on the SAT II tests 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. Learn them beforehand as you work through this book and the College Board publications.
Not all of the questions on the SAT II tests are equally difficult. The questions often get harder as you work through different parts of a test. This pattern can work to your benefit. Try to be aware of where you are in a test.
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 may be wrong. Watch out for answers that just "look right." They may be distractors -- wrong answer choices deliberately meant to entice you.
There's no mandatory order to the questions on the SAT II. You're allowed to skip around on the SAT II 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.
When you run into questions that look tough, circle them in your test booklet and skip them for the time being. Go back and try again after you've answered the easier ones if you've got time. After a second look, troublesome questions can turn out to be remarkably simple.
If you've started to answer a question but get confused, quit and go on to the next question. Persistence might pay off in high school, but it usually hurts your SAT II scores. Don't spend so much time answering one hard question that you use up three or four questions' worth of time. That'll cost you points, especially if you don't even get the hard question right.
You can use the so-called guessing penalty to your advantage. You might have heard it said that the SAT II has a "guessing penalty." That's a misnomer. It's really a wrong-answer penalty. If you guess wrong, you get a small penalty. If you guess right, you get full credit.
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. Put a big circle in your test booklet around any question numbers that you skip. When you go back, these questions will be easy to locate. Also, if you accidentally skip a box on the grid, you'll be able to check your grid against your booklet to see where you went wrong.
Always circle the answers you choose. Circling your answers in the test booklet makes it easier to check your grid against your booklet.
Grid five or more answers at once. Don't transfer your answers to the grid after every question. Transfer them after every five questions. That way, you won't keep breaking your concentration to mark the grid. You'll save time and gain accuracy.
Approaching SAT II Questions
Apart from knowing the setup of the SAT II tests that you'll be taking, you've got to have a system for attacking the questions. You wouldn't travel around an unfamiliar city without a map, and you shouldn't approach the SAT II without a plan. What follows is the best method for approaching SAT II questions systematically.
Think about the questions before you look at the answers. The test makers love to put distractors among the answer choices. If you jump right into the answer choices without thinking first about what you're looking for, you're much more likely to fall for one of these traps.
Guess -- when you can eliminate at least one answer choice. You already know that the "guessing penalty" can work in your favor. Don't simply skip questions that you can't answer. Spend some time with them in order to see whether you can eliminate any of the answer choices. If you can, it pays for you to guess.
Pace yourself. The SAT II tests give you a lot of questions in a short period of time. To get through the tests, you can't spend too much time on any single question. Keep moving through the tests at a good speed. If you run into a hard question, circle it in your test booklet, skip it, and come back to it later if you have time.
You don't have to spend the same amount of time on every question. Ideally, you should be able to work through the easier questions at a brisk, steady clip, and use a little more time on the harder questions. One caution: Don't rush through basic questions just to save time for the harder ones. The basic questions are points in your pocket, and you're better off not getting to some harder questions if it means losing easy points because of careless mistakes. Remember, you don't earn any extra credit for answering hard questions.
Locate quick points if you're running out of time. Some questions can be done more quickly than others because they require less work or because choices can be eliminated more easily. If you start to run out of time, look for these quicker questions.
When you take the SAT II: Subject Tests, you have one clear objective in mind: to score as many points as you can. It's that simple. The rest of this book is dedicated to helping you to do that on the SAT II: Biology E/M Subject Test.
Copyright © 2003 by Kaplan, Inc.