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3 Strategies for the SAT Subject Test in US History

Rob Franek
Written by Rob Franek | Jan. 29, 2020
3 Strategies for the SAT Subject Test in US History

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There are a number of reasons why you might take the SAT Subject Test in US History. Perhaps you're looking to boost your college application, or you're applying to a school that requires you to have a few on record. Whatever the reason, you may now find yourself slightly intimidated by the sheer amount of history that can potentially be tested. That's totally normal: History is, after all, a long continuum of time that consists of many overlapping events and people! However, here are three tips to help you prep for this particular test.

A Time and a Pace

The Subject Test in US History consists of 90 multiple-choice questions in 60 minutes. That leaves you with about 40 seconds per question! Don't worry, though; it's common to run out of time and not be able to finish all of the questions. That said, you should have a strategy in mind to get to as many as you can. Setting a good pace will require you to balance speed with accuracy. So, yes, you need to get to as many questions as you can, but not so many that you get them all wrong because you are working too quickly.

To do that, I recommend using the Two-Pass System. This strategy means you'll go through the test once, skipping any questions that you can't immediately answer. After that, you'll take a second pass through the test to do the remaining questions. This strategy will help keep you from getting bogged down and losing time.

You also want to consider how many raw points (number of questions correct minus ¼ a point for each incorrect answer) you need for your goal score. A "perfect" 800 can be achieved with a score of roughly 82 raw points, so you can leave as many as eight questions unanswered (as long as the rest are right). In other words, the goal need not be "finish all 90 questions" in order to get an amazing score!

Start Thinking in Eras

Now, if your concern is content more than strategy, I've got the key to that too: The easiest way to think about hundreds of years of history is to break the continuum into bite-sized chunks. How I'd recommend doing that is to start thinking of each time period as an era. Imagine these as historical time slots, three of which can include:

  • The Colonial Era
  • The Reconstruction Era
  • The Post-World War II Era

This type of organization — both in your brain but also in your notes! — allows you to more easily recall the material you'll need on the test. (Think of it as having a contacts list stored in your head.)

Elimination Through the Eras

Once you've got all that information nicely filed in your noggin, you can better make use of Process of Elimination (POE) when you actually sit down to take the test. That's because thinking in eras can help add a little more context to a question that might seem to otherwise, well, lack context.

More specifically, if you come to a question you're unsure of, you can start by narrowing things down to a specific era. (Sometimes the wording of the question will actually state the era!) From there, you can typically eliminate at least one or two answers, as they'll not match the time period you're focused on. Of the remaining choices, you can then choose which one most closely relates to the era you've assigned to the question.

In other words, questions that might seem to be requiring that you remember the minutia of US history can be approached with your knowledge of the broader patterns in history. Don't get overwhelmed trying to remember every single detail from your school textbook; focus your studying instead on the bigger picture issues.

Written by

Rob Franek

Rob Franek

College Admissions and Test Prep Expert

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