Test Prep

Approaching Questions on the SAT Literature Subject Test

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To those familiar with SAT or ACT Reading, the SAT Literature Subject Test may appear to be pretty straightforward. Don't let that catch you off guard! There are some twists that you'll want to familiarize yourself with before taking the test, and some subject-specific strategies that can help you better answer the questions. The test features approximately seven passages and sixty questions -- here's a quick guide to help you tackle them.


Identify the Question Type

You'll see three types of questions on the Literature exam. The first kind, which can reduce the amount of reading you have to do, involve reference questions. These either call out a specific line, telling you exactly where to look for the answer, or use a great (i.e., easily identifiable) lead word that can help you scan and spot the relevant portion of the passage.

The second type of question isn't focused on a specific section, but rather covers major themes or ideas spread through part or all of the passage. Answering this type of question requires a broader understanding of the text, so they'll require a bit more reading than those that offer specific line references.

The third question type often pulls from the whole test, like the general questions, but is complicated by the wording of the stem itself. You might be given multiple statements and asked to identify how many of them are correct (a Roman Numeral question), or you may be asked to find the one answer choice that is incorrect (an Except/Least/Not question).

Find Your Own Order and Start Answering

These three distinct question types will not be presented in any particular order — nor do they have to be solved in order. I recommend beginning with those you can answer more quickly (typically the line reference questions) and ending with those that require more analysis.

Once you've identified the questions you'll tackle first, find the answer within the passage, using your pencil to underline the evidence for that answer. Then, answer the question yourself before looking at the answer choices. Some questions will be directly answered in the passage, so if you see your answer reflected as a choice, choose it! If not, use the analysis skills you've learned in class to identify a slightly rephrased version of the answer among your choices.

Eliminate, Eliminate, Eliminate, Eliminate, Repeat

Not every question on the Literature test can be easily answered by referring to the passage, and some outside knowledge is occasionally required. (You can brush up on key literary terms and more in our SAT Subject Test Literature Prep.) If you get stuck on test day, utilize Process of Elimination (POE) to narrow down your choices. Note that SAT Subject Tests have a guessing penalty, so you don't want to blindly mark an answer!

So, for those more puzzling questions, eliminate any of the five answer choices that don't match the answer you've come up with in your head. If you get down to one answer remaining, great! If there are multiple answers remaining, you should still guess if you were able to eliminate even one answer — statistically, you'll end up ahead, even despite the guessing penalty.

Remember: Preparation is the key to any standardized test, not just in terms of content review or passage-reading skills, but also in knowing how to tackle the various questions. For the additional practice that will help you be as successful as possible come test day, check out our SAT Subject Test Literature Prep.