The SAT French Subject Test

Part I

Orientation

Chapter 2

General Strategy

In this chapter, we’ll discuss the best way for you to approach the SAT French Subject Test. Pacing, Process of Elimination, and knowing when or whether to guess are all important factors that can determine how many points you accumulate as you work. You will also get a first look at the structure of the exam so you can plan your study time accordingly. Good luck!

HOW TO IMPROVE

As on any multiple-choice standardized test, you can learn to leverage your knowledge into the best possible score by following a few simple principles.

Attitude

Do not be intimidated by the test! This is only a test that stamps you with a number so that you can be easily classified by the colleges to which you apply. It measures some vocabulary, some minor rules such as which phrases take the subjunctive, and, above all, how well you do on standardized tests.

We can’t make up for what you did or didn’t learn in school, but we can teach you to make the most of what you do know and boost your test-taking savvy. We’ll teach you new ways of approaching the test: pacing yourself, spotting wrong answers, and using guessing skills that put you in control.

Pacing

In school, most of us were trained to answer every question on a test. That made sense because those tests were usually written so that there was time to answer every question. On standardized tests, such thinking can lower your score. These tests are designed so that 99 percent of the population cannot finish the test without rushing and making careless mistakes. Slowing down—finding a pace at which you can work carefully and confidently—is the first step to improving your score. Remember: You are not given a negative score on a question you leave unanswered.

Standardized tests aren’t
like school tests. They
are actually designed so
that hardly anyone can
finish all the questions.
Don’t stress about answering
every question
or getting through the
entire test.

There is no advantage to answering all the questions on a test if you answer so hurriedly that you get most of them wrong. Think of each question as an investment in your score. Take enough time to make the work you put in pay off in terms of points. Most people don’t realize that they can get a terrific score by doing fewer questions. While this philosophy holds true for all standardized tests, it is especially important for the SAT Subject Tests, in which one-third of a point is deducted for each wrong answer.

One caution: Working slowly and carefully is great. Spending five minutes to get an answer on a single question is not. Don’t let your pride keep you struggling with a question that’s giving you a hard time; each question has the same value. Do what you can, eliminate wrong answer choices, and guess. Then move on to a new question.

You’ll have one hour to work on the entire test. You are not timed on each section. That means you can spend less time on sections that you are stronger in, or just move at a steady, careful pace through the whole test.

Work for Accuracy, Not for Speed

The scoring system used by the College Board rewards you for slowing down. It is better to do fewer questions well than to do many questions badly.

The following guide tells you approximately how many questions you have to answer to get a particular score. (This is the approximate number you should answer—not counting guesses—making no more than five errors.) Keep in mind that the scale changes each year, depending on the difficulty of the exam.

To get this score:

Answer this many questions (out of 85):

500

25

550

35

600

45

650

55

700

65

750

75

800

85

So, to get a 600 you have to answer barely half of the test. You can skip the questions that give you the most trouble.

You could skip as many
as 20 questions and still
score a 700.

As you do each practice section, you can check your pacing by comparing the number you got right with the number you got wrong. If you made more than two careless errors in that section (not counting guesses), you may want to slow down and attempt fewer questions on the practice test.

Which Ones Should You Skip?

On Parts A and B, the questions are arranged roughly in order of increasing difficulty, so unless you are aiming for more than a 600, you may skip the last third of each part. On Parts C and D, there is no clear order of difficulty. Skip questions you don’t like and spend time on those you do.

You don’t have to answer the same proportion of questions on each part. For most people, reading comprehension is the most difficult and vocabulary is the easiest. If that’s true for you, do extra vocabulary and fewer reading-comprehension questions.

Tailor your pacing strategy to your strengths and weaknesses. If your reading ability is strong and your grammar is weak, pace yourself accordingly.

Process of Elimination

No matter how good you are at French, you may still come across a question or two that will stump you. What can you do? Look for obviously incorrect answers, and get rid of them. It is often easier to find three wrong answers than it is to find one right one. If the sentence completion has something to do with going to the beach, an answer choice that means “pincushion” is probably not what you’re looking for. The College Board also has some favorite ways to trap test takers who aren’t completely sure of themselves. Once you know how they trick you, you’re protected from falling into that trap and you’re one answer choice closer to the correct one. On some occasions, you may even be able to eliminate all but the correct choice.

Make Only Smart Guesses

Eliminate as many of the wrong answer choices as possible; then guess. The way the test is scored, you get one point for each right answer and you lose only a fraction of a point for the wrong answers. You should skip the question if you really have no clue. However, if you can eliminate even one or two answer choices, it’s to your advantage to guess. If you’re down to two choices and can’t decide, guess and move on to the next question.

Random vs.
Educated Guessing

Make a distinction
between random guessing
and educated guessing.
Random guessing (when
you have no clue at all)
won’t help your score.
Educated guessing (when
you know enough to eliminate
at least one answer
choice) boosts
your score.

OVERALL STRUCTURE OF THE TEST

The SAT French Subject Test consists of four types of multiple-choice questions. You are free to work on the sections or questions in any order that you choose. You will have 60 minutes to answer 85 questions.

The layout of each test will look something like this:

·        Part A—Vocabulary Completions
(approximately 20–26 questions)

·        Part B—Grammar Blanks
(approximately 15–20 questions)

·        Part C—Paragraph Blanks
(approximately 12–20 questions)

·        Part D—Reading Comprehension
(approximately 27 questions)

The exact breakdown of questions varies from test to test. The list above gives you the approximate number of each type of question.

If Reading Comprehension contains “schedules and tickets” questions as well as traditional passages, then Reading Comprehension will have more questions and Grammar will have slightly fewer.