SAT Literature Subject Test
Cracking the SAT Literature Subject Test
Answers and Explanations to Drills
Answers will vary, but here are some possibilities.
1 What did the author mean in lines 3-4?
2 What’s the big literary device the author used in lines 7-10?
3 How does the author sound in lines 11-15?
4 What image did that “distant shadow” conjure up?
5 How would you describe the narrator in lines 27-30?
6 What does the response in line 30 tell us about the birds?
What are the eight steps for tackling questions?
1 Look at the date.
2 Read the passage.
3 Decide which question to do first.
4 Cover the answers.
5 Translate the question.
6 Go back to the passage.
7 Find the answer, and translate it into your own words.
What are the three kinds of questions on the SAT Literature Subject Test?
What are the two kinds of trap questions on the SAT Literature Subject Test?
2 Roman numeral
1 D The sentence, when pared down, is “None of these things shall content my musing mind,” so the correct answer is (D). None of the other answer choices contain the main verb.
2 C The poem uses the word “blossom” (line 11), but not in comparison to the voice (C), so (C) is the correct answer for this “EXCEPT” question. The voice is compared to the stream (lines 11–12) (A). The voice is compared to the wind (line 14) (B) and woodcock music (line 16) (D). The voice is compared to children’s feet in line 18 (E).
3 C The author is calling the sun “faithful”—a human characteristic, so this is an example of personification (C). It is not ironic or paradoxical (A), (B). There is no contradiction, so it is not an oxymoron (D). Poetic license is when a writer ignores conventional form or fact to achieve a desired effect. This is not the case here (E).
4 B The title of the poem is “Elegy,” so we can assume it’s written as an elegy (B). The meter is not regular throughout the poem (A), and the rhyme scheme varies (C). There is no extended allegory (D), and the author is not asking for empathy (E).
1 A The characters’ similarities are described, followed by their differences (A). The characters are not introduced separately (B). Only the second character is compared to an animal (C). The faces are not described until after their clothes are described (D). There are no inner thoughts (E).
2 B The tone is one of neutrality—an unbiased narrator describing the action (B). There is no contempt (A). Although they are described, “scrutiny” is too strong a word (C). There is nothing supernatural about the passage (D). There is no inquiry (E).
1 B The character Ishmael is introducing himself through first-person narration. We don’t really have enough of a story to see if it’s an allegory, and no dialogue or stage direction cues to suggest that it’s drama (A). While the date of the passage is old enough to be historical, again, there’s nothing to suggest that the period the piece is set in is even further in the past (C). The first-person narrative voice suggests that the speaker is addressing someone other than himself (D). Even if one is not well-versed in the politics of the 19th century, the absence of any political references should make it safe to eliminate (E).
2 E Much of the passage, but particularly the last sentence, suggests a moody man who knows himself well enough to get out to sea when the dark moods strike him. While Ishmael acknowledges that he sails when he has “little to no money in his purse,” it is less for the money than to adjust his moods – we see little evidence of ambition and none of generosity here (A). While “methodically knocking people’s hats off” might be construed as inconsiderate, Ishmael points out that he avoids doing that (B). Since the topic of the entire passage seems to be Ishmael’s potential mood swings and how they send him to sea, one might see him as self-centered, but there’s no evidence of insecure (C). He is sensitive to his own moods, and he does seem to have some sense that his methods work, but (D) is still not as strong an answer as (E)—a good reason to make sure you read all the answer choices before selecting yours.
3 C For the narrator, sailing is the way he gets rid of his melancholy (“growing grim about the mouth … a damp, drizzly November in my soul”) (C). An old-fashioned meaning of spleen is “melancholy.” Spleen does not mean “path” (A), nor does it refer to the circulation of blood (B). Although a spleen is an organ, the word does not refer to a body part in this context, and it’s not a kidney (D). There is no evidence that the narrator needs to drive off excess energy (E)
4 E Alliteration (I) can be found in the phrase “growing grim”; hyperbole in “bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet” (beware extreme language) and “it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me …”; parallel structure in the repetition of, “Whenever I find myself …”
1 A The narrator is making fun of the notion that everyone is equal (A). He is not harsh (B), nor is he frustrated (C). There is no emotion in the narration (D), and the narration is not too casual (E).
2 B The author uses repetition to underscore his point that everyone is equal (B). The repetition does not introduce a theme (A). The repetition is not intended to make the reader lonely (C). There is no commonly held assumption that is refuted (D). The three elements introduced are not contradictory (E).
3 D The repetition of the subject “nobody” is an example of parallelism (D). There is no internal rhyme (A), and he does not mimic lower-class speech (B). The comparison is not general (C). The protagonist is not mentioned in the first passage (E).
1 C Marguerite’s name doesn’t sound familiar, because she is so overwhelmed by the experience, which is much more challenging than her “preparations” prepared her for (line 3). There is nothing to tell us that she is uninterested in her own graduation (A). Having made “preparations,” she cannot have been surprised (B), but since her honors were read and she took a place on the stage, it is unlikely that she was unable to get her diploma (D). Despite the mention of colors, there is nothing to suggest that Marguerite’s preparations for the day included making a painting of how she imagined the scene (E).
2 E The sentence refers to an Amazon, which, back in 1969, was not a giant online bookseller. When you see a potentially unfamiliar proper name in a passage, especially when it’s being used in a comparison, it’s probably a reference to the Bible or classical literature. This is a classical allusion (E) to the race of female warriors. The author is not intruding here (A). There is no anachronism (B). The syntax is interesting, but not complicated (C). There is no evidence of anthropomorphism here (D).
1 C Lin is thumbing through a book while everyone else is working, so the contrast is between intellect and physicality (C). This is highlighted when Lin sits down on the very surface where work is done (grinding stone) and flips through his Russian dictionary (lines 37–38). There is nothing exactly central or peripheral (A). There is no mention of anyone corrupt or honest (B). There is no mention of heaven (D), so secular and divine are not mentioned either (E).
2 D Throughout the passage, Lin is observing and assessing his surroundings, so (D) is the best answer. He is not “haughty” (A), nor is he indifferent to his surroundings (B) or excited (C). “Enthralled” is too strong a word for the curiosity he feels (E).
3 B The fact that the house is the same as it was twenty years ago and the books are mildewed suggests that Lin has been away a long time (B). We do not know his profession (A) or the purpose for his visit (C). He is comfortable, so he is used to the country (D), and it is not clear that the landscape is beautiful (E).
4 D Bellows do not cough, so this is an example of personification (D). Cucumbers can hang (A), chickens strut, and geese waddle (B). Air can reek (C), and sows can oink (E).
5 A The character is speaking to himself without quotes, so Statement I is true. The narrator continues speaking about the books, so there is no shift, so II is false. We do not know if Lin is relinquishing his pastoral life, so Statement III is not true.
6 C The “distillers’ grains mixed in the pig feed” cause the sour smell (C), not the cooking (A), nor the manure (B). The mildewed books do not smell (D), nor does the field (E).
7 C The passage describes Lin’s home in detail (C). It is not a paean (hymn of praise) (A) or an elegy for a previous time (B). The character does not experience an epiphany (D). There is no evident allegory (E).
1 C Mrs. Penniman is in charge of Catherine’s lessons, so “supervising” is a good synonym (C). She does not ignore her talent (A), nor does she teach Catherine herself (B). She encourages Catherine (D). We don’t know who hires Catherine’s tutors (E).
2 B “It is I who supply the butter,” says Mrs. Penniman (B). Secrets are compared to addled eggs (A). “Bread” is compared to goodness, not Mrs. Penniman’s influence (C). “The salt of malice” is a phrase and is not being used as a symbol (D). Mrs. Penniman’s influence is not compared to a fool’s (E).
3 E In contrast to her piano talent, Catherine was just fair as a dancer (E). There is no mention of Catherine’s appearance (A). We don’t know if she is aware of her talent (B) or if it is in her character to brag (C). She was not a talented dancer (D).
4 E The narration is observant of Catherine’s qualities and Mrs. Penniman’s thoughts (E). It is not melodramatic (A), nor is there any evidence of irony (B). It is not sardonic (meanly satiric) (C), nor is it particularly didactic (designed to instruct) (D).
5 A The point of view is of an omniscient narrator (A). We don’t know who the protagonist is (B). There is no use of the second-person “you” (C) or of first-person “I” (D) and (E).
6 B In this passage secrets are compared to “addled eggs.” Mrs. Penniman’s little secrets are called an “innocent passion” (line 33) and portrayed as useless, like rotten eggs (B). They are definitely not important or useful (E). Eggs cannot be “confused” (A). Choice (C) is a distractor that wants you to be thinking about the “eggs” portion of “addled eggs.” Don’t fall for it. Don’t confuse “addled” with “saddled” (D).
What is the poem about?
A guy who doesn’t want his beloved to leave in the morning.
Who is the narrator of this poem?
The narrator is someone who is in love.
What do we know about the narrator?
The narrator is a pilgrim who has to be parted from his lover.
What do we know about the beloved in this poem?
Not a whole heck of a lot. She has bright eyes.
Is there a pattern of rhyme and meter?
Yes, the poem has regular meter and an obvious rhyme scheme: AA, BB, CC.
1 B There is an obvious rhyme scheme: AA, BB, CC, so (B) is the correct answer. There is no onomatopoeia (A) or oxymoron (C). The perspective does not change (D), and alliteration is not used (E).
2 E He says her eyes give off light, and she gives him joy (E). His heart is breaking because they must part, so it’s safe to say that she makes him happy (E). There is mention of sunrise, but not sunset (A). There is no mention of the consequences of being discovered (B). We don’t know what the woman will do (C). There is no mention of hunger (D).
What are some examples of alliteration?
“dimes” and “dollars,” “bright bowl of brass is beautiful”
Which words are repeated? Why do you think the author does this?
The money denominations are repeated, as is the word “boy!” and the word “spittoon.” The author probably does this to emphasize the words and impart the themes of the poem: The man is concerned with earning enough money to provide for his family. The appellation of “boy” grates on him, and his job polishing spittoons all day is monotonous.
Where does the author use allusion?
Kings David and Solomon (lines 33–34)
1 C Alliteration is definitely used, so (C) is the answer. There is no analogy (A). He is not describing a scene in church (B). The brass is compared to cymbals; the bowls are not (D). The poem never talks about poetry (E).
2 C The author lists the cities to imply that the narrator could be any man in any city (C). There is no evidence that the narrator is educated in geography (A). There is no evidence of a newspaper in the poem (B). There is no extended analogy (D). The cities do not function as symbols (E).
3 A There is personification and alliteration in this line, but it is obviously intentional and not haphazard, so the answer is (A), not (B). Nothing is repeated (C). Although two dollars does involve economics, this is not the purpose of the phrase (D). There is no allusion (E).
4 C The narrator is a man who cleans spittoons in hotels for a living. He dedicates his work to God, so he is proud. He is not in charge (A). He is not the one tipping (B). He is not outspoken as a critic (D). There is no evidence he is stingy, just poor (E).
5 D The narrator works hard to polish the spittoons to provide for his family (D). He may be reverent, but we have no examples of his honesty (A). He is not selfish (B). We don’t know if he is ignorant (C). The narrator has a family, so he is not childlike. Being called “boy” is an insult (E).
6 E At the end of the poem we know a lot about this narrator and what motivates him, so (E) is the best answer. There is no nature in the poem (A). Places are not described (B). The poem is not an allegory (C). The poem is not trying to teach something (D).
7 E The rhythm at the beginning mimics the polishing motion of the narrator as he cleans spittoons, so Statement I is true. The secular (cleaning) is short and staccato, while the divine (the religious imagery) is characterized by longer, more flowing sentences, so Statement II is true. And the rhythm makes the poem melodious, so Statement III is true.
8 E The poem ends with the speaker finding meaning in his job because he does it for God (E). The poem does not say the situation is hopeless (A). The man finds meaning, so the job is not empty (B). The narrator’s faith does not waiver (C). There is nothing that says he will persevere (D).
9 B The lines are spoken by the boss. They are a command for the narrator’s attention and are derogatory because they call him “boy” and don’t address him by name (B). The speaker does not talk to his son (A). The boss is calling the narrator, not greeting him (C). It is not urban slang (D). The speaker’s conscience is not in the poem (E).
10 A The cities mentioned and the difficult situation of the narrator mean that poverty is tough (A). It does not mention thriftiness (B); rather, it talks about poverty. We don’t know when brass was discovered (C). Imagination is not talked about as a means of escape (D). We don’t know that good things will come to the narrator (E).
What are the examples of similes?
“frigate like a book,” “coursers like a page”
What are the examples of metaphors?
Books are called “chariots,” and reading is referred to as a “traverse.”
What is an example of personification?
Is there rhythm and meter? Describe.
There is a regular meter and a rhyme scheme. We can guess that it is a traditional form. It’s a little sing-songy, so it is probably not a poem about death.
What do you think is the main idea of the poem?
No journey is as cool or as inexpensive as reading a book.
1 D Books are great for learning about other cultures—better than boats and horses, according to the author (D). The author is comparing boats to books, so (A) is not correct. The author prefers books for the mind rather than boats or horses for the body (B). There is no mention of the number of books or boats (C). There is no evidence that the author values the practical or doesn’t value the frivolous (E).
2 A We know from the fact that they are “prancing” that coursers are probably horses (A). “Skiffs” don’t prance (B). “Textbooks” are not mentioned in the poem (C). “Ancient chariots” cannot prance (D). The coursers are things that carry people, so they can’t be “poetic devices” (E).
3 B The words in the poem are pretty high falutin’: “coursers,” “frigates” (B). There are not a lot of description words (A) or forceful actions (C). There is no humorous word play (D). The contrasts are not awkward (E).
4 C Even the poorest can take a journey into a book without having to pay for it (C). There is no mention of which economic group travels more (A). There is no suggestion to how to spend money (B). There is no discussion of how much books should cost (D). The author doesn’t go so far as to talk about readers’ souls (E).
5 B The speaker thinks reading is better than traveling, so the written word must have great power (B). There is no discussion of action versus passivity (A). We don’t know what kinds of books the speaker likes to read (C). We don’t know for sure that the speaker likes to fantasize (D). There is no mention of virtue (E).
6 C The poem is about how nothing is quite like the adventure of reading (C). The poem is not about the journey of life (A), nor is it about wisdom (B). There is nothing in the poem about education (D) or about the aging process (E).
7 D The speaker is trying to gently convince us about how great it is to read (D). There is not a lecture (A), nor is the speaker forceful (B). The speaker is not proactive (C), nor is she selfish (E).
1 E The author employs all of these techniques, but nowhere makes any Dickensian allusion (E). There is expressive use of punctuation marks, especially exclamation points, throughout (A). The rhyme scheme is regular: AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, FF, etc. (B), and each of the lines has the same number of syllables (7), making the meter regular (C). There are many adjectives: “fond,” “seraphic,” etc. (D).
2 C The narrator is mocking death by saying that he’s heard so much about its sting and questioning where it is (C). The question is not harsh (A). The question is not curious or doubtful (B). The question is not earnest—the narrator is not really looking for death’s sting (D). There is no paradox in the question (E).
3 D “Sounds,” in this case, is a noun, not a verb (D). All of the other answers are active verbs (A), (B), (C), and (E).
4 A In the first stanza the narrator talks to nature; in the second, he talks to his soul, and in the third, he asks the angels to lend him their wings (A). He does not talk about life after death (although he can see heaven, he does not talk about what life will be like there) (B). The first stanza says that death is blissful as well as painful (C). The speaker is the same throughout the poem (D). The second stanza does not taunt death, and the third stanza is not reluctant (E).
5 E The speaker is asking death to take him from his body (E). “Frame” is not a picture of the world (A) or any previously held image (B). The speaker does not talk about the frame as metaphor (C), but rather the literal frame of the body (D).
6 A Death may be painful (loss of sense, etc.) but it is blissful, too (A). Death has no victory (“where is thy victory?”) (B). He does not talk of resisting death (C). There is no notion that the next life will be better (D). There is no talk of the eternity of death (E).
7 D The descriptions of death’s symptoms and how death affects his body are elaborate (D). Romance is not a theme in the poem (A). The poem is not playful (B), nor is it harshly critical (C). The poem is emotionally expressive, not cryptic (hard to understand) (E).
8 B The last lines underscore that death is less about physical pain and more about mental bliss (B). Death does hurt (A). There is no battle being fought (C). The speaker does not have an antagonistic relationship with death (D). Death is not transient (E).
1 C “Silver” and “sound” are alliterative (C). There is no comparison between silver and gold (A). “Silver” does not foreshadow the hunt (B). Silver is not necessarily bright (D). The horn is not about wealth, nor are we told it’s beautiful (E).
2 D Like the hounds howling at the moon, the sounds are onomatopoetic (D). No one is greeting anyone in the poem (A). There is no suggestion that the author means to use the word “hollow” (B). There is no evidence that there is a physical spot to echo back (no cave or canyon) (C). The word “halo” does not make sense in this context (E).
3 B The author is persuading the reader gently but firmly (B). The author is not “hostile” (A). The author is not trying to teach a lesson (C). The author has written three stanzas; clearly she is not ambivalent (D). There is no evidence of disgust in the poem (E).
4 A The poem is about someone who has gotten so caught up in his or her empty life that he or she has forgotten what is really important (A). There is no evidence of shame in the poem (B). The wealth is simply a metaphor. Plus, we don’t know if perhaps the person was wealthy all of his or her life (C). There is no suggestion in the poem that the addressee is about to die (D). Vanity is not mentioned in the poem (E).
5 B In the poem, the speaker addresses someone who has lost touch with what is important in life, so Statement II is true. The madman’s song does not mean that he or she was committed to an asylum, so Statement I is not true. The person to whom the poem is addressed is someone who has lost passion, not someone who is filled with it, so Statement III is not true.
6 B The repetition in the poem is of the passionate actions—following, hallo-ing, etc.—so it mimics the poem’s theme of finding passion. It does not necessarily help the rhyme scheme (A). The reader is not punished (C). There is no anger in the poem (D). The person addressed is not lazy, but rather passionless (E).
1 C Mrs. Pearce never is contrasted with the king (C). Eliza was a flower girl—Higgins is hoping to make her into a lady in a florist’s shop (A). If she’s good, she goes to the palace; if she’s bad, she goes to jail in the Tower of London (B). Again, good = proper bedroom. Bad = kitchen (D). Goodness is contrasted with naughtiness (E).
2 A Higgins treats Eliza like a child with his patronizing tone, warning her of what will happen if she is “naughty and idle” or a “wicked girl” (A). She is not a servant because she won’t have to do chores (B). He looks down on her; we know she is not a potential wife and matrimony is never mentioned (C). If it were futile, he would not embark on the project (D). He certainly does not find her to be a tenacious competitor (E).
3 E According to Higgins, she will work in a florist’s shop as a lady, so she will have to work (E). Ladies “speak beautifully” (A) and are like “a lady in a florist’s shop” (B). She will ride in taxis (private transportation), not buses or trolleys (public) (C). Ladies are “beautifully dressed” (D).
4 B Higgins is making assumptions and judgments about Eliza based on her social class (B), rather than on her as a person. It is Higgins, not Eliza, who has the military background (A). There is no evidence that Higgins is intimately familiar with Eliza as a person (C), and it is implausible that Higgins’ superior attitude expresses sincere insight into what women want from men (D). Eliza has not expressed a preference (E) in this scene; she just seems confused.
5 A Higgins oversimplifies the matter and talks to Eliza as though she were a child (A). He is not trying to teach her something with the speech (B), (C), nor does the speech really explain anything (D). His words are not apathetic (E).
6 B Higgins is making an offer to “improve” Eliza according to his opinion of what makes one person better than another; if he is successful, her reward will be “seven and six pence,” which is about 3/8 of a pound of sterling (somewhere between $45–$250 in present-day value). Since she is threatened with beatings and death for her participation in this project, and her reward is at best $40 per month, it is hard to say that Higgins is generous (B). His condescending speech suggests that he is arrogant (C), and his focus on his own benefit shows self-importance (D); his certainty that Eliza will jump at this opportunity is presumptuous (A). However, from the plan that Higgins describes, it is clear that he is determined (E); he will convince Eliza to participate, and she will be successful (or so he believes).
1 D Coyle is bringing up bills from various merchants who are going to take action against Sir Edward because he hasn’t paid them, so a judge’s decision and a court order are the best paraphrase (D). No one is being branded a criminal (A). The actions are real, not just moral (B). There is no suggestion of a partnership (C). There is no reference to a search of the property (E).
2 A Coyle manages Sir Edward’s accounts as his “agent” or money manager (A). He is not a lawyer (B). Although Coyle is employed by Sir Edward, he is not a servant (C). Sir Edward’s father was a benefactor for Coyle’s father, but the current generation does not have this arrangement (D). Coyle and Sir Edward are not related, although Coyle wants to marry Sir Edward’s daughter (E).
3 A Coyle’s father lent Sir Edward’s father money and took a property as an assurance that he would pay Coyle’s father back, which never happened. In this situation, the property is collateral (A). “Agreement” does not describe the role of the property (B), nor does assurance have the precise meaning (C). Security does not mean “welfare” (D), nor is the property a prize (E).
4 C Sir Edward calls the debts “extortion,” which means he thinks they are unfair (C). “Infernal” is merely an insult, not a comment on the fairness of the bills (A). “Confound” is an expletive like “darn” (B). “Impudence” describes Coyle’s attitude, not the situation (D). “Unencumbered” in this context means “available to mortgage,” which does not fit the situation (E).
5 B Coyle offers to keep “the Ravensdale estate in the family” if Sir Edward will give Coyle his daughter (B). Coyle does not offer to pay off the creditors—his offer extends only to Ravensdale (A). Coyle wants to marry Sir Edward’s daughter, not marry her to a resident of Ravensdale (C). Coyle does not want to marry Sir Edward’s daughter to prevent her financial ruin (D). There is no love affair between Coyle and Sir Edward’s daughter (“Florence detests him”) (E).
6 D Sir Edward appears to argue with himself, here, voicing both sides of the argument to accept or deny Coyle’s offer. The lines are not quite a monologue, nor do they express doubt (A). Just because the character is talking to himself does not mean he’s going mad (B). The character is not addressing the audience (C). The lines do not explain a plot point; they merely follow Sir Edward’s reasoning.