SAT Subject Test English Literature Basic Strategy Outline


61-63 questions in 60 minutes. By the time you have completed the last question in a passage, no more than that many minutes should have elapsed.


How to read the passages:

In general, these passages are more difficult than those found on the SAT or ACT, so you will need to read more slowly in order to get what you need. Adjust your pace according to the difficulty of the passage, and prioritize understanding what you have read over being fast.

Prose: Read very much like SAT or ACT reading passages, although your pace will on average need to be slower due to the greater difficulty. First, determine whether the passage is fictional or factual. If it is fictional, concentrate on characters, plot, and setting. If it is factual, concentrate on main point first and foremost and secondarily on tone. Tone is the author’s attitude towards his subject; it can be thought of as a sliding scale from 0 to 10 with 0 being completely negative and 10 completely positive. Look for thesis statements, topic sentences, etc., to help you figure out the main point.

Poetry: Concentrate on what it is talking about on its most basic, literal level. Do not get interpretive. Read it as though it is prose, focusing on the punctuation (in poems where conventional punctuation is used) rather than the line breaks. Often the title can provide a very literal hint to what a very figurative poem is really talking about. Try to translate difficult language into plain English to gain a better understanding. Be certain to read slowly enough to make sure you get it.

Drama: Concentrate on characters, plot, and setting, with an emphasis on characters.


How to address the questions:

-Unlike on the ACT but much like on the SAT, it is not always the best idea to read every answer choice before ever going back. Use your head on this. Usually it makes most sense to do so, but other times it does not.

-Use process of elimination, especially on very difficult questions that do not have an obvious correct answer.

-Use common sense.

-Make sure the answer is consistent with the main point of the passage, even on questions that are asking something very specific.

-Make sure the answer is consistent with the words in any portion that is quoted in the question.

-Avoid extreme answers, specifically those containing absolute language (always, never, perfectly, etc.)

-Choose an answer that is specifically supported by the text rather than one that is a pretty good interpretation of the text. Remember that the correct answer must be impossible to argue with; therefore, you need specific textual justification to support your answer.

-When a question refers you to certain lines, you should consider the context of the referenced lines in addition to those lines themselves.


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