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Preparing for SAT Subject Tests online

By on Oct 24, 2008 in Reviews | 3 comments

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I gave the SAT Subject Tests about a month back, and this post was scheduled to come out around that time. Didn’t materialize. Better late than never, so here it is. This post is about online resources to prepare for the SAT Subject Tests (earlier known as SAT II). Requirement for giving the SAT Subject Tests depends from college to college – so it’s best for you to list down the colleges you want to join and check up their individual requirements. The College Board database of colleges should be adequate to guide you to the official website of the colleges you want, from where you can look up info.

There’s a staggeringly large amount of resources (and free ones at that) which are available for the SAT Reasoning Test; so it would be natural to expect that there should be at least a sizable amount of preparation material for SAT II online. Surprisingly, there is hardly any! Forget study material, there aren’t even many sites offering tests – whether free or paid. Before you look those up, I would suggest that you go through the SAT Subject Test Preparation Booklet that the College Board itself releases. A new version comes out every year, but the content stays the same; nevertheless, to check up for any newer versions, run this particular search by clicking here.

Just two companies which have tangible offerings: Petersons, and SparkNotes. Petersons.com offers simulated SAT Subject Tests, but not study material. Compared to SparkNotes (which I’ll get to in a moment), Petersons.com’s offering is costlier. I haven’t used it, but I believe (from the system requirements it has given) that it uses a Java applet to serve the mock test questions – which would probably suck. Not the questions, that fact that you can’t adjust the font, et al. (I hate 8pt size font and aliased text that is standard baggage with Java applets.) You also need to buy tests for each subject separately, and your tests will be active for 90 days.

SparkNotes is the one I used. Started by college graduates who wrote online textbooks to help undergraduates out, SparkNotes was bought by Barnes & Noble a few years back. It’s still written mostly by college graduates, but the standard is quite good. Although Barnes & Noble nowadays sells SparkNotes’ textbooks in printed form, the SparkNotes website still offers its material online. The catch? No downloadable PDF version – you need to read the book page-by-page, online, for zilch. Sure, it’s tedious, but it does a helluva job in acquainting you with the things you’d be expecting.

My rating of SparkNotes’ SAT Subject Test prep services: 8.3 / 10

The site also offers online testing services. You can buy tests for an individual subject for $15 – or buy tests for all subjects for $25. The latter makes sense of course, because you’ll probably be giving the Subject Test for more than one subject. Unlike Petersons, your tests will be active for a period of one year. I have used a LOT of e-learning services over the years (because I’m a big supporter of the e-learning concept) and I must say that SparkNotes’ implementation of its online testing service simply THE BEST that I’ve ever come across. Most other online test services which I’ve come across screw up at some place or the other.

SparkNotes’ online test service is brilliantly executed – starting from the progress meter at the top, the sidebar which gives you quick and direct access to any question while showing you its status, the distinction between a flagged question and a guess – everything makes your testing experience that much more easier. Specifically, I liked the ability to distinctly mark an answer as a guess or flag it for review – and then track your success on it later. Most other test services generally just allow you to mark a question for review; but SparkNotes’ ability to mark an answer as a guess allows you to find out how good your guessing abilities are. The post-test analysis gives you a clear view of the areas which need work. Again, most online test services have analysis, but none of them is as beautifully represented as SparkNotes’ version.

In-depth explanations for each and every option for each question in the post-test review provides an insight into what traps the test-makers lay. SAT II is more a test of how many questions you can attempt in the very limited amount of time that you get and NOT fall for the traps that are laid to make you choose an incorrect option. Please note (and this is for any subject) that the scaled score which SparkNotes gives you may vary by plus-minus 20 on the actual test, depending on the performance of others giving the test. I gave SAT II tests for Math (level 2) and physics, so here’s specific talk on both.

Math Level 2

Test comprises of 50 questions to be done in one hour. If you’ve taken calculus and trigonometry classes in high school and are confused between taking Math Level 1 or Level 2 I would suggest you go for the latter. Though the syllabus of Level 1 is easier, it’s much harder to get a high score in Level 1 than Level 2 because easier questions mean that more people get questions right.

SparkNotes’ material on Math Level 2 is good, especially because it teaches you how to actually do the math; rather than The Princeton Review‘s approach of shirking work. The only omission I found was that standard deviation and linear regression were topics not covered by SparkNotes, but have been asked in the actual SAT II Math Level 2 tests. About the simulated tests that SparkNotes gives, I would say that they are of a slightly lower level than the actual test. By ‘slightly’, I mean exactly that – the level is just a bit lower. The easy and medium difficulty questions are of the actual test level, but some of the more advanced difficulty levels in the actual SAT are a bit tougher than SparkNotes’.

Calculators are allowed in the math test. Yes, they are necessary – there will be some questions which you simply can’t solve without one; and many which you can’t solve quickly without one. Having said that, if you don’t know how to solve a question the ‘normal’ way a calculator won’t help you. A basic scientific calculator with support for solving quadratic equations will be sufficient. There’s no need to get a graphing calculator because there are hardly any questions which need graphing ability; moreover, those select few questions which do make it through the cracks can be solved using a bit of scratch work. Graphing calculators are needlessly complex for the tasks set in SAT II and would be a hindrance instead of a helping hand. So stick to a scientific calculator.

Physics

SAT Subject Test for Physics consist of 75 questions to be answered in an hour. Calculators are NOT allowed; therefore, the questions are designed to test your theoretical knowledge rather than plug-chug arithmetic skills. Just because it tests theoretical knowledge doesn’t make it ‘easier’, because the answer choices given can have more enticing traps to trip you up. SparkNotes’ book on physics for SAT II is more than adequate. The post-chapter questions should help you figure out any weak points. I found the full-length tests that SparkNotes has for the Physics SAT Subject Test were of an equal level to the actual test.



3 Comments

  1. Chirag

    October 24, 2008

    Post a Reply

    Thanks for the post. Will be definitely needing such advice a year from now…will refer to this post again then :)

  2. Ankur

    October 24, 2008

    Post a Reply

    @Chirag: You might want to take it in 11th itself. Workload is much less, and in case you need to give it again, then you can without missing application deadlines. You still have to time to register for the December 2008 and later tests.

  3. Brother,
    Thank you for the post. But I have some more queries:

    Could you provide me the links which will let me know the tests required for an admission into the MIT, Caltech, Yale, like that, Please?

    Secondly, you are experienced, so please say if an adequate amount of preparation of AIEEE standard will suffice for the SAT II..

    And lastly, is SAT I compulsory for appearing in the SAT II??

    Awaiting reply,
    Good luck,
    Thank you.

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