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SAT Subject Tests Overview (Part Two)

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This lesson continues our overview of the SAT Subject Tests. These optional hour long exams cover advanced knowledge in the areas of English, history, languages, mathematics and science. While you will probably not have to take any of these, some colleges and majors do indeed require or at least recommend that students submit scores for one or more of the tests. The Subject Tests are also an excellent way to demonstrate your proficiency in areas of study that are either not taxed or not tested at all by the regular SAT.

There are twenty Subject Tests in total. We provided brief summaries of half of them in the last lesson. Now we’re going to look at the remaining Subject Tests. If you need help preparing for any of the SAT Subject Tests and you live in the Atlanta area, contact the Learning Island. Our SAT Subject Test experts can design a customized lesson plan to help you excel on any of individual exams.

Chinese with Listening

The 85 question Chinese with Listening test assesses a student’s listening comprehension, usage, and reading comprehension skills. The listening comprehension subsection is 20 minutes and takes the form of two different types of questions. The first type presents students with a short spoken statement, question, or exchange, along with three possible answers which are also spoken. The second gives students a spoken monologue or dialog and requires them to respond to one or more printed questions (in English) about what they just listened to. All listening material is in Mandarin, the predominant dialect of mainland China.

After finishing the listening comprehension section, students have 40 minutes to complete the usage and reading comprehension questions. The usage questions ask students to complete a sentence with the appropriate Chinese character or characters. Questions are presented in a series of four columns representing different ways of writing Chinese: traditional and simplified characters, Pinyin Romanization, and the Chinese phonetic alphabet. Students are encouraged to answer the questions in whichever writing system they are most familiar with. Reading comprehension questions test understanding of basic literary concepts such as main and supporting ideas, themes, and settings of passages. The passages themsleves are written in both traditional and simplified Chinese. All questions are written in English.

The recommended path to preparing for the Chinese with Listening exam includes three to four years of Mandarin Chinese high school courses and the gradual development of language skills over that time period. Unlike some of the other SAT language tests, there is no writing-only Chinese subject test. If want to prove your Chinese fluency on the SAT, you will have to take the Listening exam.

Japanese with Listening

Like the Chinese test, the Japanese test comes only in a Listening version. Twenty minutes of the 80 question exam are devoted to listening exercises, with the remaining forty minutes covering usage and reading comprehension skills. The Listening questions are based on short spoken dialogs and narratives, with a focus on everyday topics. Each selection includes a brief explanation of that selection, and all questions are presented in English. The usage questions require students to complete a series of sentences. Each question is presented in both Japanese characters (with furigana equivalents provided for any kanji) and Romanized English. Reading comprehension questions are in English, while the passages themselves are in hiragana, katakana, and kanji (without furigana transliterations). Two to four years of Japanese classes, a generous amount of real-world practice, and a review of the official sample CD will help students to prepare for the Japanese with Listening test.


Korean with Listening

The Korean with Listening test is 80 questions covering listening comprehension, usage, and reading comprehension skills. The 20 minute listening section combines short, prerecorded selections in Korean with questions and answer choices in English. Usage questions are written entirely in Han’gŭl and cover vocabulary, honorifics, and grammatical structure though a series of sentences and phrases that students must correctly complete. Reading comprehension passages are written in Han’gŭl, while the questions are written in English. Most of the questions deal with the literal meaning of a passage. Reading selections are drawn from a diverse range of sources, including notes, diaries, newspaper articles, advertisements, letters, and literary texts. The recommended course of study to prepare for the Korean with Listening test is consistent with those of the Chinese and Japanese tests.


German and German with Listening

The German and German with Listening tests are similar in structure to their French counterparts that we covered in the last lesson. The German test involves 85 questions that cover vocabulary in context, grammar, and reading comprehension. The Listening test replaces the first 20 minutes of the regular German test with listening comprehension questions. As with the French Listening test, students are required to respond to both shorter and longer prerecorded dialogs. Two to four years of high school German and the gradual development of language proficiency is the recommended path for success on both German tests. Students taking the Listening exam should also review the College Board’s official practice CD.

Spanish and Spanish with Listening

The Spanish subject tests follow the same basic format as the French and German tests, with a somewhat different breakdown in how skills are tested. The Spanish test’s 85 questions give equal weight to vocabulary and structure, paragraph completion, and reading comprehension skills. The Listening exam is a bit different from its French and German counterparts. Some questions ask students to identify the sentence that most accurately describes what is presented in a photograph or what the person in the photograph might say. Other Listening questions ask students to choose the best continuation of spoken sentence. The final type of Listening questions tests listening comprehension skills by requiring students to respond to longer prerecorded selections. The recommended prep work is the same as the French and German tests: two to four years of classes, gradual development of language skills, and practice with the official sample CD.

Modern Hebrew and Italian

Unlike the other “living” language subject tests, the College Board does not offer listening exams for Modern Hebrew and Italian. Both exams assess a student’s vocabulary, structure, and reading comprehension skills, albeit in slightly different ways. The Modern Hebrew test, for instance, emphasizes the use of vocabulary and idioms within culturally authentic contexts. The Italian test, on the other hand, uses a passage completion section to assess a student’s level of familiarity with Italian vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. The Modern Hebrew exam is always 85 questions, while the Italian test can range from 80 to 85 questions. Students should follow the recommendations for the “non-listening” versions of the French, German, and Spanish tests to prepare for either the Modern Hebrew or Italian exam.


The Latin test is comprised of 70 to 75 questions that cover grammar, syntax, derivatives, translation, and reading comprehension. To do well on the Latin test, students will have to excel at all of the following: choosing Latin words from which English words are derived, translating from Latin to English, completing Latin sentences, choosing alternative ways of expressing the same thought, and answering questions based on short passes of prose and poetry. Because Latin is longer actively spoken (i.e. it is a “dead” language), there is no Listening version of the exam. The College Board recommends the standard two to four years of Latin classes and a gradual development of language skills in order to prepare for the test.



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