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How to Ace Literature

lolcats4lolcats4 Registered User Posts: 3,203 Senior Member
In the spirit of the thread I created after taking physics and chemistry last May - http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/sat-subject-tests-preparation/512788-some-advice-those-taking-chem-physics-june.html - I feel obligated once more to share my advice on dealing with the Literature test since I got an 800 on it and missed only 1 problem (to my knowledge).

First off, in case you have read this thread: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/sat-subject-tests-preparation/340613-advice-lit-test-i-scored-800-a.html?highlight=Literature

I completely agree with part 1 of disgraces' post ("Thinking Right"), but disagree heavily with the rest of the post - namely, all of the reading materials/websites. They aren't bad, but they will not help you score an 800. If you've already read disgrace's post (I recommend it so you have a 2nd perspective) you'll notice I repeat a few things because they are that important lol.


1. The SATIIs can be much harder to study for than the SATI - it seems like you can find SATI tests all over the place. No such luck for the SATII's.

2. You will need CB's blue practice test book for the subject tests. The one literature test in it is critical! Take it about one week before the real thing to gauge your level of preparation (doing this the night before isn't very helpful)

3. Vocab and technical terms - if you have worked with the Barron's book, like I did, you will be inundated with literary terms. This is huge overkill - there was ONE question on my lit test that had a direct vocab question ("Which of the following was NOT used in the passage" - Apostrophe, Metaphor, etc...). There is some basic literary vocab tested indirectly in some answer choices, and possibly 1-2 vocab-in-context questions, but studying for them is a waste of time given their low volume in the test and the fact that they aren't that hard.

4. Reading for the Literature test will help you score higher - FALSE, for two reasons: One - you cannot become a better reader overnight. Two - the Lit test will have obscure passages and you can't possibly hope to have already read them. If you insist on reading, I recommend reading some Shakespeare (google his sonnets) and reading it without translation. But the benefit is somewhat limited, so don't waste too much practice time doing this - only if you are really unfamiliar with poetry.


Literature is a fancy name for Critical Reading on steroids. No more easy short passages. And don't be fooled by the lack of vocab - it's sprinkled into the passages and answer choices.

Because of this, realize that every answer choice has to be 10000000000% the RIGHT answer choice. The college board can't afford to put ambiguous choices in the questions. I lost sight of this when I was preparing, and had a hard time until it "clicked" that it was just CR with poetry. There is a reason every wrong answer choice is wrong. Find it.

The Literature test also LOVES to put in two correct answer choices. But, the one that is ultimately RIGHT is the MOST CORRECT one. And it's very easy to tell the difference with practice. Remember that there can't be 2 right answers.

Don't try to bring your own interpretations to the table. The writers only test you on THEIR interpretation, which is sometimes so easy and obvious you can lose sight of think. Lesson - don't overthink things.

Specific Tips

1. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS LOOK FOR "NOT, EXCEPT" QUESTIONS. They appear so frequently on Lit that it almost gets tiring....and that's exactly the point! Don't overlook these!

2. Always choose the MOST CORRECT CHOICE. This is the one that is SUPPORTED by the text. The next best one "feels right" but there is no evidence to back it up. This is by far the trickiest thing about Lit.

3. Let the questions teach you the passage. What do I mean by this? A lot of the time you might have no clue what a poem meant. In this case, observe the five answer choices - one of those 5 is CORRECT! It becomes much easier to know what's going on when you're limited to 5 different interpretations of the passage. Some are obviously wrong, and then a quick re-scan of the beginning/end will tell you which answer choice is right, and now what the poem is about.

4. BEWARE the "wrong answer theme." I've noticed that many of the answer choices to different questions, all for a single passage, focus on a theme that is COMPLETELY WRONG. This means that if you falsely interpret the passage, you will be tempted down the "wrong answer path." That's why it's crucial to understand the passage, which you can improve through practice:

5. Passage comprehension by itself isn't too hard - of you have a ton of time. Doing it under pressure is what's difficult. This is why taking practice tests is THE BEST WAY TO GET A GOOD SCORE! After using practically all the Literature prep books, here are my thoughts on each of them:

Barron's - Ridiculously hard practice tests, too focused on the technical side of literature, some of the answer choices are ambivalent. What's good about it is sheer number of practice problems, and it provides great LESSONS on literary elements. Stay away from the tests though. My scores on Barron's tests were usually below 700.

Princeton Review - Terrible Review section, practice tests are fairly realistic, if not slightly harder. Problem is that there are only 4 tests. My scores were about 720 on PR.

Kaplan - By far the best prep book. The tests are very realistic, and the review is pretty decent. Try to do ALL of the 8 tests. My scores were about 780-800 on Kaplan.

6. Practice speed, speed, speed. Forcing yourself to move on quickly through the questions might actually make you more accurate (I find I scored higher on tests where I limited myself to 50 minutes, as opposed to tests where I gave myself unlimited time).

Final Thoughts: Don't take Literature unless you're fairly confident in your reading ability. The main thing that makes this test difficult is the time limit.

If you have any specific questions for me feel free to ask. Good luck to everyone who takes the test :)
Post edited by lolcats4 on

Replies to: How to Ace Literature

  • laststopformelaststopforme Registered User Posts: 876 Member
    @lolcats4 - Very nice guide to the Lit exam. I have one comment:

    "Barron's - Ridiculously hard practice tests, too focused on the technical side of literature, some of the answer choices are ambivalent. What's good about it is sheer number of practice problems, and it provides great LESSONS on literary elements. Stay away from the tests though. My scores on Barron's tests were usually below 700."

    I personally thought the passages in the Barron practice tests - especially the poetry ones - were closer to the actual questions when I took it than Kaplan. ALSO - if you are a literary freak like me, knowing all of the cool obscure terms in the Barron's book is kind of fun!
  • lolcats4lolcats4 Registered User Posts: 3,203 Senior Member
    ^ yeah, I enjoyed reading Barron's for learning literature as a subject, and I think the terms are fun too, but it doesn't help much with the test :P

    Interesting that you thought Barron's was closer. Just shows that you should use multiple prep books just in case
  • lolcats4lolcats4 Registered User Posts: 3,203 Senior Member
    double post -_-
  • nbafan135nbafan135 Registered User Posts: 690 Member
    i took literature for some reason in early jr yr and got a 560. not good at all so now im trying to pull up. I have the PR book and thats it. For the few days before the test in nov, what to you suggest for me to do? Besides literary terms and practice, I honestly dont know what I can do
  • lolcats4lolcats4 Registered User Posts: 3,203 Senior Member
    If you know what metaphor, apostrophe, simile, parallelism, and antithesis mean, you are set for literary terms.

    See if your local library has Kaplan, and read the review + take as many practice exams as you can. REVIEW EVERY EXAM's EXPLANATIONS, including for questions you got right.

    If you can't get Kaplan, do the same with Princeton Review
  • nbafan135nbafan135 Registered User Posts: 690 Member
    cool i know what those mean.

    ill try to find kaplan. if i dont ill hope pr does well. think i can pull off a 700+ by nov?
  • lolcats4lolcats4 Registered User Posts: 3,203 Senior Member
    What was your last practice test score, and in what book?
  • ChoklitRainChoklitRain - Posts: 2,625 Senior Member
    Will my 800 CR be relevant for this test? CR is my favorite SAT section, but I don't read much poetry.
  • lolcats4lolcats4 Registered User Posts: 3,203 Senior Member
    I don't think it's really all the relevant. My first practice test was in the 600's, even though I got an 800 CR on my first and only SAT1 sitting.

    An 800 CR might suggest you'll have an easier time "learning" the test, but I don't think it'll help you score well.

    But, on the flip side, if you can master Lit you can pretty much dominate the CR every time. I've taken a few practice SAT1's for my retake and I hardly ever miss even a single CR question now :P
  • southeasttitansoutheasttitan Registered User Posts: 1,928 Senior Member
    I got the exact same score on Lit as I did on CR (780).
  • sahalissahalis Registered User Posts: 25 New Member
    I didn't study at all and got a 790 on the Lit Sat 2 (in Oct.) The first time I took it I got a 700 (Didn't study there, either). On the other hand, I got a 670 CR on the regular SAT, and I studied and took classes for that (Yeah, I'm retaking). I think doing well the Lit test has a lot to do with whether you're a natural for it or not.

    I've heard a lot of people say that the lit test was hard. One girl, who was in AP English with me and got a 5 on the exam, thought it was so hard she dropped her scores. She got an A in the class and a I got a B, and a 4 on the exam. Go figure.
  • van_santvan_sant Registered User Posts: 597 Member
    ^i find the strongest english students are the ones who dont do well on these things while the weaker ones have an easier time-- at least in my school. it sort of makes sense. not that im calling any of you with high lit scores weak students, of course
  • redfishbluefishredfishbluefish Registered User Posts: 16 New Member
    thanks for the reviews on the lit books
  • ArachnotronArachnotron Registered User Posts: 1,761 Senior Member
    lolcats4, how much more difficult is the SAT lit test than the SAT CR? On a scale of 1-10, please rate the difficulty of each exam?
  • lolcats4lolcats4 Registered User Posts: 3,203 Senior Member
    CR is about a 5/10, Lit is 9/10
This discussion has been closed.