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SAT Subject Test U.S. History: Taking a Look at Format and Content

The SAT Subject Test in U.S. History usually contains about 90 questions that you have to answer in one hour. The questions tend to get harder as you move through the test (question 90 is usually more difficult than question 1). Still, the test has easy and more difficult questions dispersed throughout it, so when managing your time, don’t assume that question 60 will necessarily be more difficult than question 30. Whether a U.S. history question is easy or difficult usually depends on how comfortable you are with the question’s subject. For instance, if you’re a Civil War buff, you don’t want to spend a bunch of time trying to answer a tough World War II question early on in the test because you may not get to an easier Civil War question later on.

Managing the answer sheet

The answer sheets for the SAT Subject Test in U.S. History have bubbles for 100 questions, but you mark answers for only 90 because the test usually has only 90 questions. (Honestly, the SAT Subject Test answer sheet is like every other standardized test answer sheet. No surprises here!)

Before you start answering questions, find out how many questions you have and put a little pencil mark under the last question on your answer sheet. If, for some reason, you fill in an answer after your pencil mark or don’t fill in enough answers to reach that mark, you know you’ve done something wrong. Be sure to erase the pencil mark before you turn in your answer sheet.

Looking at question types and subject matter

The SAT Subject Test in U.S. History asks questions in a couple of ways. Included in the standard-issue, five-answer, multiple-choice questions are

  • Questions that ask you about direct facts and concepts: The SAT Subject Test in U.S. History rarely requires you to recall dates and other specifics, like how many soldiers died at Gettysburg. But you do need to know the major events and overall characteristics of each era in U.S. history and how the events relate to one another. You can often eliminate an answer choice because you know that it doesn’t belong in the era that the question is testing you on.
  • Questions that ask you to find the exception: Many questions on the SAT Subject Test in U.S. History ask you to find which answer choice isn’t right. These questions often end with a capitalized EXCEPT. For instance, “All the following SAT Subject Test in U.S. History questions are designed to make you pull your hair out EXCEPT”.
    So you don’t get confused about which type of answer you’re looking for, rephrase the question in a positive way before you look at the answer choices. You could change the sample question to “Which of the following SAT Subject Test in U.S. History questions are designed to help you hang on to your hair?”
  • Questions that ask you to interpret charts, maps, and cartoons: These questions are sometimes easier than the other types because most of the information you need to answer the question is in the question booklet — you just need to know how to analyze it. The most important point to remember about analyzing charts and graphs is to make sure you know exactly what the data refers to. For instance, if you had to compare information in a graph that charts family income, you may need to know that the female head of household category differs from the single-parent household category.

The only drawback to interpretation questions is that they can sometimes be time-consuming, so make sure you don’t spend too much time analyzing a map or picture.

The SAT Subject Test in U.S. History can cover any material related to U.S. history from the year 1100 on, but about 80 percent of the test questions deal with history after 1790.

The test contains questions regarding all aspects of American history but focuses primarily on U.S. politics, economics, and society. A few questions deal with the cultural aspects of different eras and U.S. foreign policy. You can pretty much expect a little bit of something from each era of the United States’ relatively short history.