Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: About the SAT II: Subject Tests
You are serious about going to the college of your choice. You would not have opened this book otherwise. You have made a wise choice, because this book can help you by preparing you to make the highest score you can on the SAT II: Spanish or Spanish with Listening Test. But before you begin to prepare, you may need some general information.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Before you begin, let's look at what the SAT II subject tests are all about so you'll understand how doing well on them will help you on your college application. The information here is accurate at the time of publication, but it's a good idea to check the test information 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 tests focus on specific subjects, such as chemistry, biology, American history, Spanish, and French. In all there are over 20 tests, each one-hour long, except for the English test. Each test consists entirely of multiple-choice questions, except for the English Writing Test.
How Does the SAT II Differ from the SAT I?
SAT I is primarily a test of your verbal and math skills. While you do need to know some vocabulary and some formulas, it is designed mostly to measure how well you read and think rather than how much you remember. SAT II tests are very different: They measure what you know about specific disciplines. Sure, critical reading and thinking skills are included, but their main purpose is to determine exactly what you know about history, chemistry, the Spanish language, and so on.
As for the SAT II: Spanish Test, there are actually two tests: the Spanish Test, and the Spanish with Listening Test, which has an added listening component. You decide which one you want to take. But before you decide, check to see what the college you want to attend requires.
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 tests, 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 or universities. Those schools that require SATs think they're an important indicator of your ability to succeed academically. As a result, they use your scores to help them make admissions decisions and/or placement decisions in the subject.
Like the SAT I, the SAT II tests provide schools with a national standard measure of academic performance, which they use to compare applicants from different high schools and different educational backgrounds. As you know, there are great differences in the level of difficulty of Spanish programs given throughout the country, and the information from the SAT II: Spanish Test helps schools 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 Spanish Test, for example, can mean that you need to begin at the beginning with your study of Spanish. Conversely, a high score might mean you'll be exempt from the introductory Spanish courses.
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 to college. You can take up to three subject tests on any given test day, but you do not have to take three tests on the same day. Unfortunately, many schools require that you take particular tests, such as the Writing Test and/or one of the Math Tests. Some schools, however, 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 test, check with the schools 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 have the most up-to-date information.
Also, you do not have to wait until your last year of high school to take the SAT II tests. You should take a subject test as soon as you have completed the highest level course in that discipline. You will do much better taking the Spanish test right away, instead of after a year of not studying the subject.
When Are the SAT II Tests Administered?
Most of the Subject Tests are administered six times a year: in October, November, December, January, May, and June. A few are offered less frequently, such as the Spanish with Listening Test. Due to admissions deadlines, many schools insist that you take the test no later that December or January of your senior year in high school. You may even have to take them sooner if you're interested in applying for early admission to a school. Those schools that use scores only for placement decisions may allow you to take them as late as May or June of your senior year.
The SAT II: Spanish Test is commonly used for placement purposes. Keep in mind that you can take the Spanish Test in your junior year if you are not going to study Spanish in your senior year.
How Do I Register for the SAT II?
You must sign up with the College Board, who administers the SAT II. 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. You can get them at any high school guidance office or directly from the College Board. If you have previously registered for an SAT I or SAT II test, you can re-register by phone.
How Are the SAT II Tests Scored?
The SAT II Tests are scored on a 200-800 scale. In the case of the Spanish with Listening Test, the sections are weighted differently from the Spanish Test because there is an additional listening component, but the final score is still given on the 200-800 scale.
What's a "Good" Score?
That is 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 schools will use to evaluate you. The decision to accept or reject your application will be based on many criteria, including your high school transcript, your SAT I score, 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. If you really want a numerical benchmark, a score of 600 is considered very solid. (Note that as of 2002, the Score Choice option to withhold a score you're unhappy with has been eliminated for the SAT II subject tests.)
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; and a good eraser. Also, make sure that you have good directions to the test center. (We even recommend that you do a dry run getting to the site prior to test day -- it can save you the anxiety of getting lost!)
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 strategies that can improve your scoring performance.
Use the Structure of the Test to Your Advantage
The SAT II tests are different from the tests you're used to taking. On your high school tests, you probably go through the questions in order from beginning to end. 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 answer.
Well, none of that applies to the SAT II. Here, it is to your benefit to move around within the test. Hard questions are worth the same number of points as easy ones, and it doesn't matter how you answer the questions or what work you did to get there -- only your answers count.
The SAT IIs are highly predictable. Because the format and directions of the subject tests remain unchanged from test to test, you can learn them in advance. On test day, the various question types, the format, and the instructions shouldn't be new to you.
Many SAT II questions are arranged by order of difficulty. The questions often get harder as you work through different parts of the test. This pattern can work to your advantage. As you work, be aware of where you are in the test. You can easily pace yourself.
When working on the initial questions, don't be afraid to trust your first impulse -- the obvious answer is likely to be correct. As you get to the end of a test section, though, you'll need to be a little more suspicious. Now the answers probably won't come as quickly and easily -- if they do, look again because the seemingly obvious answers may be wrong. Watch out for answers that just "look right." They may be distracters -- wrong answer choices deliberately meant to entice you.
You don't need to answer the questions in order. You're allowed to skip around as you'd like. Don't dwell on any one question, even a hard one, until you have tried every question at least once.
When you run into questions that look tough, circle them in your test booklet and skip them. Go back to them later if you've got time. On 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 may pay off in high school, but it usually hurts your SAT II score. Don't spend so much time answering one hard question that you use up several minutes of valuable time. That'll cost you points, especially if you don't even get the hard question right.
The SAT IIs have a "guessing penalty" that can work in your favor. The College Board likes to talk about the "guessing penalty" on the SAT IIs. That's a misnomer. 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 you lose are meant to offset the points you might get "accidentally" by guessing the correct answer.
The SAT II 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 the test booklet and the answer sheet grid. If you know the answers, but misgrid, you won't get the points. Here's how to avoid mistakes.
Circle the questions you skip. Put a big circle in your test booklet around any question numbers that you skip. When you go back, they'll be easy to locate. And, if you accidentally skip a box on the grid, you can check your grid against your booklet to see where you went wrong.
Circle the answers you select. Circling your answers in the test booklet makes it easier to check your grid against your test 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. (Remember, you've circled the answers in your test booklet.) That way, you won't keep breaking your concentration. You'll save time and gain accuracy.
A Strategic Approach to SAT II Questions
Apart from knowing the format of the tests, you've got to have a system for attacking the questions. You wouldn't try to find someplace in 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. When you know the grammar well you'll recognize the right answer and can save time otherwise spent trying to justify one or another answer choice.
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 gives you a lot of questions in a short period of time. You can't spend too much time on any single question. Keep moving. If you run into a hard question, circle it, 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 more basic questions at a brisk 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 get 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, locate and answer any of the quick points that remain.
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.
Copyright © 2003 by Grace Freedson's Publishing Network