Whether you have already scheduled a day to take an SAT subject test or you're just thinking about it, there are a couple of questions you should be asking yourself. These questions include “How much time is there before my SAT World History subject test?” and “Have I practiced enough?” The most important question is “Does your college require or strongly recommend that you submit exam scores? If the answer is no, there probably isn’t a big need to take this test unless you want the personal accolade. Another reason you might take the test is that you want to major in History or you like the subject and want to communicate your interest to the admissions staff. Either way, you will need to take the exam and you want to learn how to get the best score possible to demonstrate your abilities.

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Get a map and put a pin in regions with important events during a given era or century. (Photo cred Andrew Neel on Upsplash)
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Planning and Prep for the SAT Subject Test

Assuming you have already registered for the SAT World History subject test, the College Board recommends that you start studying 1-3 months before your test date. With this large amount of time before the exam, you should be able to develop a study plan and schedule. These are two very important matters to establish in the beginning. A poorly executed plan can make studying more challenging than necessary and can become a hindrance to effectively preparing. Making a schedule that fits into your daily routines will make all the difference and knowing how you best learn will make it more enjoyable as well.

There are professional organizations such as The Kaplan Institute that will help you organize your days to make it easier to effectively study for this test. They can suggest methods of study that are better suited for your learning style as a way of optimizing your efforts. These advisors can also help you determine your score goal and adapt your study habits accordingly. If you ask, they will guide you through practice subject tests, and often they will have books or pdfs you can take home for further engagement with the material.

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You should be able to develop a study plan and schedule. (Photo by Austrian National Library on Upsplash)

The Format of the World History exam

In preparation for the exam, you will want to know how the test is laid out. It consists of 95 multiple choice questions that must be answered within 60 minutes. Each correct answer is worth one point but unlike other SAT exams, they will deduct a quarter-point for each incorrect answer. A workaround is that no points will be taken away if an answer is left blank so it is better not to guess on questions.

The prompts will be presented in one of three ways, an identification question, an image-based question, and a cause and effect question. In the image-based prompt, you will be shown a picture, symbol, or map and will be asked to interpret said image relative to the question. The identification question will have you choose which answer is most accurate. Lastly, the cause and effect type will be ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions relating to a period or event in history.

The exam is made up of two sections that focus on geography and chronology. The Chronology section is divided into five periods. 'Prehistory and Civilizations before 500 CE' composing 25%. '500 to 1500 CE' will be 25%, '1500 to 1900 CE' is 25%, 'After 1900 CE' is 20% and the remaining 10% will be in a 'Cross-Chronology'. This part of the test will ask you about what caused events of a certain era or how are they linked to events of a different time, similar to cause and effect.

The second section of the exam will be looking at your grasp of geography. Here you will be tested on 'Europe' for 25%, 'Africa' for 10%, 'Southwest Asia' for 10%, 'East Asia' for 10%, and 'The Americas excluding the United States' for the remaining 10%. This can sound very daunting yet in reality you do not need to know what Abraham Lincoln did on February 12, 1829. Instead, think of the greater theme.

Ancient book written in Latin
Learning field-specific terminology will greatly improve your understanding of the test questions. (Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Upsplash)

Having the Necessary Skills

You are likely taking this test because the school you are applying to requires it but at the same time, you probably also have some interest in the narratives of history and the past. While anyone can tell a story and write it down, conflicting narratives are fairly common through history. Your job as a historian or history major is to develop an understanding of the major historical developments and their relationships to other events. Consider the timing and motivation, is there underlying bias or direct causation. In addition to these concepts, a sufficient comprehension of the common terminology such as ‘derivative records’ or ‘compiled work’. Having an understanding of field-specific vocabulary will be a must-know in your grasping of the questions and your overall score on the test. If you miss a word the whole question could go out the window for you.

How would you rate your abilities in interpreting historical knowledge or maps, charts, and graphs? Start practicing reading through these items and deriving information from them. As mentioned earlier there will be image based questions that will require your deduction and analysis of such items as primary sources and maps. A great way to practice this beforehand is to get a world map and start locating regions where important events took place in a specific century or era. This will help you get a visual understanding of where things happened and then you can work on the why.

Effectively finding your weaknesses will be your greatest strength in properly preparing for this exam. The areas that you are already sufficiently strong require less attention which means you should focus on the points that are weaker or less thorough understanding. In those areas of understanding that are lacking, your progress will translate most notably to your increased score.

A map poster with pins in it
One type of question on the test is cause and effect.  (Photo by T.H. Chia on Upslash)

Developing Strategies

Attacking a multiple-choice exam can be made much less intimidating when you look at the potential answers and start deciding which ones are wrong. Multiple-choice tests are probing your knowledge and comprehension but when you aren’t so certain, it becomes a game of probability. The best way to improve your odds in selecting the correct answer is by eliminating two or more of the options.

Another approach to the exam is to jump around. You are not required to answer each question in order. More importantly, you need to manage your time as effectively as possible since you only have 60 minutes. If you come upon a question that you don’t know or have trouble understanding, skip it, move on and return to it later. Once you have gone through the other questions you do grasp, start going over the ones you skipped. A secondary tip is to write down your answers in the test booklet and then fill them all in later once you have read through the whole test. Remember that in this subject test you will be penalized for wrong questions so it is better not to guess.

Lastly, think thematically. The College Board offers a great outline and SAT world history study guide that can help you see the big picture questions. In it, you can learn how the questions are worded and what the diagrams may look like. Bringing all your strategy, planning and reasoning together will help you get the best possible score.

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