Exam preparation materials

Part One

The Basics

Chapter 1: About the SAT Subject Test: U.S. History

•  Frequently Asked Questions

•  Understanding the SAT Subject Test: U.S. History

You’re serious about going to the college of your choice. You wouldn’t have opened this book otherwise. You’ve made a wise choice, because this book can help you to achieve your goal. It’ll show you how to score your best on the SAT Subject Test: U.S. History. The first step to a better score is to understand the test.


The following information about the SAT Subject Test is important to keep in mind as you get ready to prep for the SAT Subject Test: U.S. History. Remember, though, that sometimes the test makers change the test policies after a book has gone to press. The information here is accurate at the time of publication, but it’s a good idea to check the test information at the College Board website at collegeboard.com.

Originally, SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test. Then, when the test changed in the mid-1990s, the official name was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test. Finally, in 1997, the test makers announced that SAT no longer stands for anything, officially.

What Is the SAT Subject Test?

The SAT Subject Test is actually a set of more than 20 different Subject Tests. These tests are designed to measure what you have learned in such subjects as literature, physics, biology, and Spanish. Each test lasts one hour and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions.

How Does the SAT Subject Test Differ from the SAT?

The SAT is largely a test of verbal and math skills. True, you need to know some vocabulary and some formulas for the SAT, but it’s designed to measure how well you read and think rather than how much you remember. The SAT Subject Tests are very different. They’re designed to measure what you know about specific disciplines. Sure, critical reading and thinking skills play a part on these tests, but their main purpose is to determine exactly what you know about writing, math, history, physics, and so on.

Colleges use your SAT Subject Test scores in both admissions and placement decisions.

How Do Colleges Use the SAT Subject Test?

Many people will tell you that these standardized tests are flawed—that they measure neither your reading and thinking skills nor your level of knowledge. But these people don’t work for colleges. Those schools that require SATs feel that they are an important indicator of your ability to succeed in college. Specifically, they use your scores in one or both of two ways: to help them make admissions and/or placement decisions.

Like the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests provide schools with a standard measure of academic performance, which they use to compare you with applicants from different high schools and different educational backgrounds. This information helps them to decide whether you’re ready to handle their curriculum.

SAT Subject Test scores may also be used to decide what course of study is appropriate for you once you’ve been admitted. A low score on the Literature Test, for example, might mean that you have to take a remedial English course. Conversely, a high score on an SAT Subject Test: Mathematics might mean that you’ll be exempted from an introductory math course.

Many colleges require you to take certain SAT Subject Tests. Check with all of the schools you’re interested in applying to before deciding which tests to take.

Which SAT Subject Test Tests Should I Take?

The simple answer is: those that you’ll do well on. High scores, after all, can only help your chances for admission. Unfortunately, many colleges demand that you take particular tests, but some schools will give you a degree of choice in the matter, especially if they want you to take a total of three tests. Before you register to take any tests, therefore, check with the colleges you’re interested in to find out exactly which tests they require. Don’t rely on high school guidance counselors or admissions handbooks for this information. They might not give you accurate or current information.

You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests in one day.

When Can I Take the SAT Subject Test?

Most of the SAT Subject Tests, including U.S. History, are administered six times a year: in October, November, December, January, May, and June. A few of the tests are offered less frequently. Due to admissions deadlines, many colleges insist that you take the SAT Subject Test no later than December or January of your senior year in high school. You may even have to take it sooner if you’re interested in applying for “early admission” to a school. Those schools that use scores for placement decisions only may allow you to take the SAT Subject Test as late as May or June of your senior year. You should check with colleges to find out which test dates are most appropriate for you.

How Do I Register for the SAT Subject Tests?

The College Board administers the SAT Subject Tests, so you must sign up for the tests with them. The easiest way to register is online. Visit the College Board’s website at collegeboard.com and click on “Register for the SAT” for registration information. If you register online, you immediately get to choose your test date and test center, and you have 24-hour access to print your admission ticket. You’ll need access to a credit card to complete online registration.

If you would prefer to register by mail, you must obtain a copy of the SAT Paper Registration Guide. This publication contains all of the necessary information, including current test dates and fees. It can be obtained at any high school guidance office or directly from the College Board.

If you have previously registered for an SAT or SAT Subject Test, you can reregister by telephone. If you choose this option, you should still read the College Board publications carefully before you make any decisions.

Want to register for the SAT Subject Test or get more info? Visit the College Board online at collegeboard.com.

By phone: You can register by phone only if you have registered for an SAT test in the past.

How Are the SAT Subject Tests Scored?

Like the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests are scored on a 200–800 scale.

The mean SAT Subject Test: U.S. History Test score for 2009 college-bound seniors was 599.

What’s a “Good” Score?

That’s tricky. The obvious answer is: the score that the colleges of your choice demand. Keep in mind, though, that SAT Subject Test scores are just one piece of information that colleges will use to evaluate you. The decision to accept or reject you will be based on many criteria, including your high school transcript, your SAT scores, your recommendations, your personal statement, your interview (where applicable), your extracurricular activities, and the like. So failure to achieve the necessary score doesn’t automatically mean that your chances of getting in have been damaged.

What If I Get Sick During the Test or Really Blow It?

If, after taking the test, you have serious doubts about your performance on the test and believe for any reason the score will not reflect your abilities, you may cancel your score. Cancelling your score means that the score will not become part of your test record or be reported to colleges. You must submit the necessary paperwork by the Wednesday after the test. Once your scores are cancelled, you may not reinstate them. If you took more than one SAT test on the same date, you must cancel all scores for that date. More information is available at collegeboard.com.

What Should I Bring to the SAT Subject Test?

It’s a good idea to get your test materials together the day before the tests. You’ll need an admission ticket, a form of identification (check the Registration Guide to find out what is permissible), a few sharpened No. 2 pencils, and a good eraser. (Note that calculators are not allowed on any of the SAT Subject Tests except for Math Level 1 and Math Level 2.) If you’ll be registering as a standby, collect the appropriate forms beforehand. Also, make sure that you know how to get to the test center.

Do not bring scratch paper, a dictionary or thesaurus, highlighters, colored pencils, cameras, rulers, timekeeping devices with alarms, or any kind of electronic devices such as iPods and cell phones. These are not allowed. However, if you’re taking any of the Language with Listening Tests on the same day as the SAT Subject Test: U.S. History, you may bring a CD player and extra batteries.

Gather your test materials the day before the test. You’ll need the following:

•  Your admission ticket

•  A proper form of ID

•  Some sharpened No. 2 pencils

•  A good eraser

•  A watch


Now that you know the basics about the SAT Subject Tests, it’s time to focus on the U.S. History test. What’s on it? How is it scored? After reading this chapter, you’ll know what to expect on Test Day.


The SAT Subject Test: U.S. History expects you to have a mastery of the concepts and principles covered in a one-year, college-prep U.S. history class. This one-hour exam consists of 90 to 95 multiple-choice questions covering topics from our nation’s earliest days through the present. It covers items of social, economic, political, intellectual, and cultural history and foreign policy. An approximate percentage of questions covering these items that appear on the test is listed here.


Approximate Percentage of Test

Political History


Economic History


Social History


Intellectual and Cultural History


Foreign Policy


The material is divided into three time periods, as listed below.


Approximate Percentage of Test








The best preparation is to complete a one-year survey course in American history at the college-preparatory or AP level. A great majority of the test questions are derived from commonly taught subject matter in such a course in secondary schools. No one text or mode of instruction is better than another. The test questions are written to measure knowledge, skills, and abilities. According to the College Board, the questions may do the following:

•  Challenge you to recall standard information concerning facts, dates, people, terms, concepts, and generalizations.

•  Ask you to analyze and interpret visual material, including charts, cartoons, graphs, paintings, photographs, and maps.

•  Require you to form ideas based on given data.

•  Direct you to use data for a specific purpose, such as proving or disproving a given statement, based on internal evidence or external criteria such as accepted theories and historical works.

Scoring Information

This exam is scored in a 200–800 range (in multiples of ten), just like a section of the SAT. Your raw score is calculated by subtracting 1/4 of the number of questions you got wrong from the number of questions you got right. If you answered 70 questions correctly and 25 questions incorrectly, your raw score would be as follows:

Number correct:


1/4 × Number incorrect:

− 6.25

Raw score:


(rounded to 64)

This raw score is then compared to all the other test takers’ scores to come up with a scaled score. This scaling takes into account any slight variations among test administrations. On a recent administration, it was possible to miss 10 questions and still receive a scaled score of 800. A raw score of 65 on a recent SAT Subject Test: U.S. History translated into a 730. So you can miss a few questions and still receive a competitive score.



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