SAT Chemistry Subject Test Overview

By Luke Palmer

(Head of Math and Sciences, Biology and Chemistry tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

The College Board offers a range of SAT Subject Tests from English to Mathematics and Sciences, the aim of these tests being to showcase your strengths in a given subject, as many colleges use the results in admissions, and a good score can give you an edge over other candidates.  All the tests are one hour long and consist of multiple-choice questions scored in a range from 200-800, with scoring based on your total correct answers minus a fraction for every wrong answer. This blog will focus on strategies to help you tackle the SAT Chemistry Subject Test.

The SAT Chemistry Subject Test will test you on a range of core chemistry concepts from the structure of matter to reaction types and stoichiometry.  It will analyze your skills of recalling concepts, applying them, and using them to determine knowledge from data either quantitative or qualitative. As previously mentioned, the test is an hour long, during which time you have 85 questions to answer and so less than a minute per question.  The following strategies will help you overcome any fear of limited time and excel at the taking this test. The first key thing to understand is that there are three sections to the test and that each section has a given type of question. 

The first section contains questions that use your concept-definition knowledge; you are given five choices A-E of words or phrases that are followed by three to four questions. Each of these questions relates to the list and you need to choose one letter that would answer each question. There will obviously be only one correct answer, so you must choose the best answer for the given question. A key point is the answers can be used more than once: just because first answer is A does not mean that the answers to other questions cannot also be A. These questions make up the first 20-25 questions of the test and should be completed pretty quickly in first 10 minutes of test.

The second section is the most tricky part of the test: 16 True or False questions. With these questions, you are given two statements about an aspect of chemistry and you have to decide if each statement is true or false. The statements are separated with the word because as it is possible the first statement is caused by or affected by the second statement, this brings in the third oval Cause/Effect (C/E). C/E can only be possible if both of the statements are True, yet just because they are both true does not automatically mean they are C/E. The next odd thing is the numbering of these questions; they start at 101 onwards even though there are only 85 questions in the test. Do not worry about this; just make sure you fill in answers in the right set of ovals. These questions really test your knowledge of the concepts and their interlinking effects.  The best way to deal with these is:

  1. First take each statement on its own and decide If they are True or False. If they are both True then move onto step 2.
  2. Then, see if statement one is caused by statement two. If it is then fill in C/E.

If only one of these three points is assessed incorrectly, the whole question is marked as wrong, losing you a fraction of a point.

The third section is made up of standard multiple-choice questions: a single question with five possible answers. Some of these may be linked to a set of data or a given reaction and so test your ability to analyze data. This section makes up anywhere from 40 to 50 of the questions on the test.  Aside from testing data analysis, this section will also examine your ability to apply concepts and problem solve. These questions are generally longer than the previous section and have to be read carefully, making their successful handling  a balance between managing timing and gaining key points. One of the main ways people lose marks is by not reading the word “False” or “Not True.” In this type of question, you are looking for the statement that is wrong and eliminating the other four, which will be true statements on the concept. In this case, there is no quick way to deal with it; you must read all five statements to ensure you don’t fall into a trap answer.  

Along with these ideas for each type of question, there are a few general strategies when preparing for the SAT Chemistry. First of all, do not panic. It is common to come across a question you can’t answer straight away because nothing about the topic immediately comes to mind. Do not panic and waste time; skip it and move on. If your timing is right (part A 10 minutes, part B 15 minutes and part C 25 minutes), you will have time to come back to it later.  To get this timing right, this next point is important: take the easy questions first (as a general rule, the questions in each section get harder the closer to the end of the section).  Try to get these easy questions sorted first, and then double back to harder or skipped questions. One last thing that some students find useful is to make a glossary or flashcards of the key terms and definitions. These will help especially with the first two types of questions, but it is important to be flexible with the wording, as many questions will try to trick you with how they phrase a definition.

These are just some basic strategies for the SAT Chemistry Subject Test. If you want to know more, come take a mock or review the content of the syllabus with one of our teachers. You can also contact us or sign up for our regular or intensive SAT Chemistry courses.