Preparing for the SAT Subject Test in United States history can be a bit daunting. There are so many details, dates, people, laws, and trends in American history that it’s almost impossible to know where to start.
There are 90 multiple choice questions on the Subject Test, and you have 60 minutes to answer them. Here are five tips to help you prioritize your preparation and master the Subject Test format so that you’ll be sure to maximize your score.
Here are five US History SAT Subject Test Tips:
1. Focus on American history since the Constitution
Though the subject matter covered by the United States History SAT Subject Test can go back as far as the Pre-Columbian period, about 80% of the questions will deal with American history since 1790. Specifically, 40% of the questions will come from the period of 1790-1899, and another 40% will come from 1899-present. Though you should thoroughly review pre-1790 material, set it as a low priority in your review.
2. Best prep books: Kaplan and Barron’s
The Kaplan test prep book for the U.S. History Subject Test is very detailed and comprehensive, and is great if you’re being exposed to the material for the first time. The Barron’s prep guide is a bit less comprehensive, but it’s much easier to read and flows very nicely. It’s perfect for someone who has already taken an AP United States history course and is looking to review.
3. PERSIA Charts help a lot with review
As you go through your review book, you should make a PERSIA chart for each unit. PERSIA stands for Politics, Economics, Religion, Society, Intellectual, and Artistic. As you read each chapter, place key terms into the appropriate section of the PERSIA chart. That way, you have a handy tool to review each chapter and concept, and everything is already in context of era and topic. Also, political and social history typically make up 55%-65% of the questions on the test, so focus on those areas of your PERSIA charts.
4. Don’t wait until the last minute to start test prep
Even if you’ve taken a rigorous AP U.S. History class, give yourself at least two months to prepare. The SAT Subject Test in U.S. History is very detail-oriented, and details you covered in class in October may not stick in your brain until May. Give yourself plenty of time to review each chapter and era carefully, make PERSIA charts, and review those a few times. Take plenty of practice tests to get your pacing techniques down. As a reminder, there are 90 multiple choice questions and you have 60 minutes to answer them. The best way to get faster is to practice, so make practice tests a big part of your preparation!
5. Only take educated guesses
If you’ve taken the SAT, you know that there is a penalty for wrong answers. The same applies to SAT Subject Tests. There are 5 answer choices for each question, and generally speaking, if you can eliminate 1 of them, you should take a guess. If you can eliminate 2 or 3, then definitely take a guess. If you have taken U.S. History in school, and you have prepared rigorously for the Subject Test, then you have at least been exposed to everything that is going to be on the test. You know more than you think you know, so don’t be afraid to take educated guesses!
Steve R. holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, where he majored in History, African and Afro-American Studies, and Politics. He earned departmental honors in History, and his senior thesis, Black Jesus in the Twentieth Century, was published in 2011. He currently works at Brandeis University in Development and Alumni Relations, where he helps to run many of the University’s Annual Giving programs. Steve has experience tutoring SAT, ACT, United States history, and writing, and he has helped students with their college admissions essays.
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