SAT Subject Test in Literature


The SAT subject test in Literature has some superficial similarities with questions in the SAT Critical Reading section- both exams ask about the authors’ arguments and their primary purposes.  Beyond that, the tests differ sharply.

The Subject Test in Literature contains 60 multiple choice questions based on 6 to 8 passages that must be answered in one hour.  Some experience the format as grueling—it can feel like doing 3 SAT critical reading sections in a row.   The key to overcoming this difficulty is to approach the test in the same way as you approach the critical reading: Read each passage and look for the Main Idea of each before proceeding to the questions.  

Unlike the SAT I, The Literature subject test requires specialized knowledge of certain literary techniques and terms.  Some of these include figurative language,(e.g. imagery) narrative voice, and characterization.   To be adequately prepared for the exam, you should be comfortable with, for example, recognizing irony, dissecting sonnets, and interpreting pre-Shakespearean language that at first glance may seem to barely resemble English.

If you have only a short period to prepare for the Literature test, the most efficient use of your time is to master literary terms- simile, metaphor, and beyond.  Be able to recognize them and to determine the author’s motivation in using them.   If you have more time to prepare, the best move is to get as acquainted as you can with a variety of British and American literature- early and modern, prose and poetry.  Like the passages on the SAT itself, the material on the Literature test can seem intimidating at first but it rewards familiarity.   Recognizing a Main Idea is a skill the can be acquired with work, and so is deconstructing literature. 

Photo by MissFrannyGlass.

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