Cracking the SAT Chemistry Subject Test

Part I


1 Introduction

2 Test Strategies

3 Some Basic Stuff

Chapter 1


The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour exams that assess a student's knowledge of a particular academic subject. Not all colleges require the subject tests, and some subject tests are more appropriate for certain students than for others. The format and content of a given test falls within certain guidelines, and you should prepare accordingly. In this chapter we will answer some basic questions about the SAT Chemistry Subject Test and how you should prepare for it.


The SAT Subject Tests are a series of tests administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Unlike the regular SAT, the SAT Subject Tests are designed to measure knowledge in very specific areas. Many colleges require that you take one or more of these tests in order to qualify for admission; but even at colleges that do not require that you take them, administrators view student performances on the tests as an important factor that contributes to the decision to grant or withhold admission. Additionally, at some schools, a high score on one or more of the tests might enable you to “place out” of certain required college courses. For example, if you do well on the SAT Chemistry Subject Test, you might be exempt from fulfilling the science requirement at one or more of the schools to which you're applying!

Which SAT Subject Tests Should I Take?

The colleges that do require you to take the SAT Subject Tests will expect you to take two or three of them. In order to find out which tests are required by the colleges to which you're applying, you can ask your guidance counselor, call the admissions office of the colleges, or check in college guidebooks. Alternately, you can visit the College Board website at and use their college search engine to look up the colleges you're interested in; each school on this search engine has a profile in which this information is provided.

Once you find out which, if any, tests are required, part of your decision making is done. The next step is to find out which of the tests will show your particular strengths. After all, the SAT Subject Tests are given in a variety of subjects: Literature, U.S. History, World History, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and English Language Proficiency. You should take the tests on which you think you'd score the highest. If you're fluent in Chinese, take the SAT Chinese Test. If, however, you're most comfortable in the world of moles, atoms, and titrations, take the SAT Chemistry Test.

When Are the Tests Offered, and How Do I Register for Them?

The SAT Subject Tests are usually administered in October, November, December, January, May, and June at test centers around the country. Since not all of the tests are offered at each administration, be sure to check the dates and details on the College Board website carefully. You'll want to take the test on a date that's as close as possible to the end of your coursework in the subject. For example, if your chemistry course ends December 21, take the January test. If it ends in May, take the test in May or June—;whichever date falls the soonest after your course has ended.

You can register for these tests either through the College Board website or through regular mail. To register by mail, ask your guidance counselor for the appropriate forms, which you'll need to mail in by the date listed on the College Board website—;generally about five weeks before the test. You can register late, but late registration ends about four weeks prior to the test week and will cost you an additional fee. The costs of registering for an individual SAT Subject Test are $21 for the first test and $10 for any additional test.

You'll need to arrive at the test center pretty early—;by 8:15 A.M. Your first test will begin promptly at 8:30 A.M., and since each test is an hour long, if you take the maximum of the three tests that you're allowed to take at each sitting, you'll be done by 12:30 P.M. If you're taking just one or two tests, you can leave as soon as you've finished.

One final, but important, note—;ETS allows you to change your mind about what test you'd like to take on the test day. This means that if you aren't sure which test you'll feel more confident taking, you can study up until test day and then make your decision at the last moment.

How Is the Test Scored, and What Does the Score Mean?

As with the regular SAT, the SAT Subject Tests are scored on a scale from 200 to 800, where 200 is the lowest and 800 is the highest; the exception to this rule is the English Language Proficiency Test, which is scored on a scale from 901 to 999.

Subject tests that do not involve written responses (such as the SAT Chemistry) are graded by a computer. The computer simply adds up the number of questions you answered correctly and subtracts from this number one-quarter of the number of questions you answered incorrectly. (It doesn't count questions that you skipped either way.) This determines your raw test score. The raw score is then converted to a scaled score.

So, what's a good score on the SAT Chemistry? Well, a good score is one that falls in or above the range that the colleges you are interested in state as desirable. On the scale from 200 to 800, 500 is considered the average score of all test takers. If you score higher than this, your performance on the test is above average—;if you score lower, then your performance is below average. Along with your regular score, you'll receive a percentile rank; this is another indication of how you fared in relation to all of the other test takers. If you receive a percentile ranking of 60 percent, that means that you scored higher than did 60 percent of test takers and lower than 40 percent of test takers. But keep in mind that even if your score is below average or below the range that the schools of your choice list as being desirable for entrance, this doesn't necessarily mean that you won't get into these schools. Your scores on the SAT Subject Tests are not the only factor that goes into the admissions decision.

A Couple of Words About Score Choice™

As of March 2009, you can choose which SAT Subject Test (and regular SAT) scores you want colleges to see by using Score Choice™. This is great news! So if, for example, you take the French test followed by the Chemistry test, but don't think the Chemistry test went very well, you can simply opt to have that Chemistry score withheld from the schools to which you are applying.

Score Choice is optional for students—;this means that you have to opt in and actively choose which specific tests you want to send to colleges. If you choose not to use Score Choice, then all of the scores on file for you will automatically be sent when you request that score reports be sent to the colleges you're applying to.

If you decide not to use Score Choice, all of your scores will be sent to your recipients. Students should still feel comfortable sending all scores, since most colleges consider a student's best score.

A searchable list of colleges and their requested SAT score submission requirements, as well as more information on Score Choice, can be found at the College Board website at

When Can I See My Test Results?

After a set period of time after you take the test, your score will be released online. To find out when your score will be made available, please visit A hard copy of your score report is also sent to you, as well as to your high school, through regular mail approximately three to five weeks after the test date. How will colleges get your test results? Well, when you first register for the SAT Subject Tests, you're allowed to give the names of four schools to which you'd like your scores sent. If you want additional schools to receive your scores, you can request this through the College Board website, which will cost you an additional fee per each request. You can also phone in a request, but this costs more.


The Princeton Review is a test-preparation company founded in New York City, but we have offices across the country and abroad. We've developed the techniques you'll find in our books, courses, and online resources by analyzing actual tests and testing their effectiveness with our students. What makes our techniques unique is that they're based on the same techniques that the test writers use when they write the tests. We don't want you to waste your time with superfluous content; we'll give you only the information you need to get a great score. You'll also learn to avoid common test traps, think like the test writers, find answers to questions you're unsure of, and budget your time effectively. You need to do only two things: (1) learn chemistry the way the subject test tests it, and (2) approach the test strategically.


ETS says that the SAT Chemistry Subject Test, among many other subjects, tests the concept of Gibbs free energy.

If you sat and read your chemistry textbook to prepare for this test, you'd read a whole lot of material relating to Gibbs free energy that definitely will not be tested. You'd see diagrams such as this.

And you'd read text such as this.

We may consider free-energy change in a spontaneous reaction much as we consider the potential energy change that accompanies the rolling of an ordinary ball down a hill. The ball is driven down the hill by the potential energy within a gravitational field. By analogy, the free energy within a chemical system decreases continuously over time … blah, blah, blah … ultimately reaching a minimum. When potential energy is at a minimum, the reaction reaches its equilibrium.

We might best illustrate the concept by reference to the formation of ammonia from its elements hydrogen and … blah, blah, blah.… Imagine that a particular number of moles of nitrogen react with three times the number of hydrogen atoms. The formation of ammonia will not be complete because … blah, blah, blah.… An equilibrium will be attained by the system, and at equilibrium the reaction chamber will contain a mixture of … blah, blah, blah.… At that time there can be no additional spontaneous formation of ammonia because the system has reached a minimum state of free energy that … blah, blah, blah.… Free energy is a state function, and that is why … blah, blah, blah.…

The text would go on and on, intimidating and boring you, but offering nothing that raises your test score. You'd get so sick of it that you'd stop reading.

When we teach you about Gibbs free energy, we tell you exactly what you have to know to raise your test score. As we do that, we give you opportunities to practice on realistic chemistry problems, to make sure you're with us at every step. The most important thing for you to remember about Gibbs free energy is that it is symbolized as ∆G, and that if ∆G is negative, the reaction proceeds spontaneously in the forward direction, but if it's positive, the reaction proceeds spontaneously in the reverse direction.

Gibbs Free Energy

ΔG < 0 a reaction proceeds spontaneously in the forward direction

ΔG > 0 a reaction proceeds spontaneously in the reverse direction

Now try to answer the following two questions:

Directions: Each set of lettered choices below refers to the numbered statements or questions immediately following it. Select the one lettered choice that best fits each statement or formula and then fill in the corresponding oval on the answer sheet. A choice may be used once, more than once, or not at all in each set.

Questions 1–2 refer to the following.

(A) Heat of formation

(B) Work

(C) Entropy

(D) Gibbs free energy

(E) Enthalpy

1. Must be negative if reaction proceeds spontaneously in forward direction

2. Must be positive if reaction proceeds spontaneously in reverse direction

Both answers are D, and you know that simply by making the associations we talked about. The computer that grades your test doesn't care if you know why the answer is D; it just wants to see the D oval filled in on your answer sheet.


It isn't enough to study chemistry the way the SAT Chemistry Subject Test tests it; you must also study the questions themselves. You will need to understand the way they're designed and be familiar with certain techniques that systematically lead to correct answers.

When you sit down to take this test, you won't know the answers to all of the questions. But in Chapter 2 of this book, we'll show you ways to choose the correct answer even if you don't know it right away. We'll present eight strategies that will help you “outsmart” the SAT Chemistry Subject Test and its writers. Then, in Chapters 3 through 14, we'll show you over and over again how to use them.

Our strategies are powerful stuff. They teach you how to find the right answers logically and systematically—;in much the same way that a detective solves a crime.


This book is interactive. Over and over again you show us what you've learned. We check your progress page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and make sure you're with us every step of the way. If you're not, we help you figure out why you're not.

You might notice that our book cover is unlike most others. It doesn't promise you six, seven, or eight full-length practice tests. It would be easy for us to fill our pages with simulated test after simulated test, but testing yourself repeatedly with practice tests won't raise your score. You'll just prove that you can get the same score over and over again.

However, Chapters 15 through 20 of this book are made up of three full-length tests, complete with explanations that are just like the real SAT Chemistry Subject Test. As you work your way through these tests, you'll become more comfortable with the way that ETS tests content, and when you sit down to take the real test on test day, you'll be more than prepared.


It isn't a bad idea. If you want to take more than the three tests in this book, the College Board publishes a book called The Official Guide to the SAT II: Subject Tests. Take the chemistry test that's in their book, and see how easy it is after you've worked through our book. It should be a piece of cake.