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Specialized Preparation Needed for the SAT Chemistry Subject Test

ThinkstockPhotos-658148844Students who decide to take the SAT Chemistry subject test generally feel that they are well suited for the test because they are doing well in the high school chemistry course they are taking at their high school. What I have found though is that they may not be aware of the specialized preparation that is needed in order to get a top score on the exam beyond their study for the course they are taking at school. There are several reasons for the need for specialized preparation for the exam. This article explains what those are and what the student can do to be better prepared for the test.

The SAT test is more comprehensive than the typical high school course.

The SAT chemistry test draws questions from all topics that are found in the typical high school chemistry textbook.  However, the typical high school chemistry course rarely covers all topics in the textbook being used due to lack of time in the school year. For this reason students who are preparing to take the SAT test typically find there are questions on topics that they have not studied during the chemistry course they are taking at school. Therefore students find that it is wise to take a diagnostic practice test when they start prepping for the SAT test to find topics they are not well prepared for. Then students can study those chemistry topics that they have not covered in the classroom using one of the specialized study guides for the SAT chemistry exam. Nowadays these can be found online as well as in hard copy. 

Relationship analysis questions on the SAT chemistry test

Besides the typical multiple choice questions that are found in most standardized exams, the SAT chemistry test has a unique type of questions that is not found on any other type of chemistry test.  These are called relationship analysis questions.  Students will not have encountered this type of question previously, so they require specific study to be able to consistently answer them well. Each question consists of two statements. First, students must decide separately whether each statement is true or false. Then if both statements are judged to be true, then they must decide whether the second statement is a good explanation of why the first statement is true. If it is, then the student fills in the CE oval on the answer sheet. CE stands for Correct Explanation. It takes quite a bit of practice to become proficient at answering this type of question, so practice answering this type of question is an important part of preparing for the SAT chemistry test.

Calculators are not allowed on the SAT chemistry test.

In the typical high school chemistry course students are allowed to use scientific or more advanced types of calculators to do the calculations required on the exams for their courses. However, no calculators are allowed to be used to answer the questions on the SAT chemistry exam.  Because of this fact, students preparing for the SAT chemistry exam need to practice answering the questions requiring calculations without the benefit of a calculator. Though the arithmetic on the SAT exam is generally not difficult, it can be challenging for students who have become used to doing all of the calculations on a calculator for their coursework.  

Knowledge of unfamiliar lab equipment

Lastly, the SAT chemistry test may include questions that refer to lab equipment and procedures that students have not had the opportunity to use in their high school courses. Typically, the experiments done in high school chemistry courses vary greatly, and the lab equipment used may also vary widely between schools. Therefore, students will need to do some research about lab procedures and equipment that they have not encountered in their high school courses in order to be prepared for questions on the SAT exam that refer to this equipment. 


Based on these unique aspects of the SAT chemistry exam, students who plan to take the exam should expect to spend at least a couple of months of specialized preparation for the exam besides their usual study for their coursework.  Taking a diagnostic practice exam at the beginning of their preparation for the SAT exam will be very important in planning a course of study that will lead to a high score on the test.

About the Author

Tim Gasser, Owner, One-to-One Tutoring Course, Redwood City, CA

3332 Spring St, Redwood City, CA 94063

Telephone:  (650) 363-8799