SAT Literature Subject Test

Part II

Cracking the SAT Literature Subject Test

3    Overview

4    Test Strategies

5    Test Strategies for the SAT Literature Subject Test

6    Terms—The Only Stuff You Need to Know

7    Analyzing Prose

8    Poetry Doesn’t Bite

9    Drama Queens (and Kings and Princes and the Occasional Duchess)

10  Final Thoughts

11  Answers and Explanations to Drills

Chapter 3


In this chapter, you’ll learn what the SAT Literature Subject Test comprises and how it’s scored. We will tell you how best to use this book and what you can expect from the test.


You’ll have one hour to answer 60 to 63 multiple-choice questions. You will read six to eight passages (usually seven), each followed by a series of multiple-choice questions. The content will be varied: prose fiction, autobiography, personal essays, excerpts from speeches, poetry, and drama. You may be asked to compare two passages.

What Is Tested on the SAT Literature Subject Test?

All SAT Subject Tests are only one hour long, so it’s impossible to test a broad range of topics in so short a time. As a result, the SAT Literature Subject Test is relatively easy to prepare for.

You will be asked to interpret certain excerpts from literature. You will need to be familiar with some of the basic literary terms your teachers have been tossing around in your English classes all these years: Common terms such as metaphor, tone, and imagery will be covered; obscure terms such as enjambment and metonymy will not.

It’s All in the Technique

To crack the SAT 
Literature Subject Test,
you need to do two things: 
First, become familiar
with some basic literary 
terms; second, learn some 
techniques for analyzing a 
literary passage.

DO NOT sit down with a reading list and a dictionary of literary terms (at least, not to prepare for this test). Instead, concentrate on pinning down literary terms that sound vaguely familiar and learning some great techniques for analyzing the types of passages that will be on the exam.

What the SAT Literature Subject Test Doesn’t Test

The good news: You’re not expected to be familiar with any specific works of literature; in fact, the test writers try hard to make sure they provide pieces that few students will have read. There’s no official reading list for the SAT Literature Subject Test. You won’t be asked who the author is, when the piece was written (the year of publication is provided to you), or where the piece fits within the history of literature. This is simply a one-hour test of your ability to read and comprehend literature and of your familiarity with basic literary terms.

How to Use This Book

We recommend three simple steps to prepare for the SAT Literature Subject Test.

•   Start early. The key to cracking the test is practice. Practicing for six hours the day before the test won’t do a whole lot of good (and may fry your brain). Instead, give yourself plenty of time to read this book thoroughly.

•   Read this book in order. Inside, you’ll find an overview of the information you need to know to get a great score on the test. Terms and techniques are explained, and there are drills and practice questions that ask you to apply them. Each technique builds on a skill we’ve previously taught you.

•   Trust us. We’ve been in the business for a long time. Some of the techniques may be new to you. They might feel unfamiliar at first, but with practice they will become easier. They may even contradict some things you’ve learned in English class. Remember that English class is designed to educate you. This book is designed to help you do well on a specific test.


The SAT Literature Subject Test consists of about 60 to 63 multiple-choice questions (the specific number varies on each test). Each of the six to eight passages of prose, poetry, or drama is followed by 4 to 12 questions. Most of the passages come from English and American literature. On occasion, you’ll see a passage from another English-speaking culture. All passages are from texts originally written in English—no translations of Cervantes or Baudelaire. Texts may be taken from any time period, but there will be no Middle or Old English on the test (e.g., no Canterbury Tales or Beowulf).

The breakdown is roughly as follows:



British literature

3–4 passages

American literature

3–4 passages

Other literature (from Australia, New Zealand,
English-speaking Africa, Jamaica, Canada, etc.)

0–1 passages

Time Period


Pre-Eighteenth century

2–3 passages

Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries

2–3 passages

Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries

2–3 passages



Prose (2–4 passages)

3–4 passages

Poetry (2–4 passages)

3–4 passages

Other (usually drama)

0–1 passages


The SAT Literature Subject Test is scored like the SAT and other SAT Subject Tests. You get a raw score based on the following formula:

      1 point for each correct answer

     –  point for each wrong answer

     =raw score

Blank answers neither add nor take away from the raw score. Test administrators then calculate what each score corresponds to on a scale from 200–800, which gives you the familiar “out of 800” score you’re used to.

For the most part, every raw point translates to approximately 10 points on the scaled score.


Did you get all that?

•   Common terms will be tested; obscure terms will not.

•   You don’t need any outside knowledge of 

•   Start studying early.

•   You get one raw point for a correct answer and –  point for each wrong answer.