SAT English Literature Subject Test

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Student reading a book in a library

SAT English Literature Subject Test: Your Questions Answered

If you’ve come across this post, there’s a good chance you already have a rough idea about the SAT Subject Tests. For those not privy to that information yet, there are 20 supplemental tests that college students can opt to take in addition to the standard college-prep exam. The subjects include maths, sciences, and humanities.

Students typically focus on one of these exams that’s related to their subject of interest. The SAT English Literature Subject Test is a fantastic way for students to highlight their interest in the field and stand out to admission officers. This is especially true for students hoping to gain admittance to highly selective programs or esteemed schools.

AP English Literature and Composition Exam

Regardless of where you’re applying though, taking the SAT English Literature Test will top off your application perfectly. The admission experts at AdmissionSight are dedicated to helping students prepare as best as possible for their college careers. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to answer all of the questions you could have about the SAT English Literature Subject Test. Whether you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist or simply want a major in English, we’ve got you covered.

What is the SAT English Literature Subject Test?

The SAT English Literature Subject Test is a voluntary exam that graduating high schoolers can take in order to illustrate their aptitude and interest in the subject. Those taking the exam will be assessed on their capability of understanding and recalling certain ideas covered in college-prep English courses, including reading skills and the interpretation of literary texts.

SAT scantron test

At AdmissionSight, we strongly recommend that all students interested in pursuing an English-based program to take the SAT English Literature Subject Test to further increase their likelihood of acceptance. Some colleges and programs even require applicants to complete the exam. Similar to all Subject Tests, students are limited to one hour when taking the English Literature exam. There are roughly 60 multiple-choice questions, although this can vary slightly. The score is between 200 and 800. The test is administered half of the year in the months of June, May, August, October, November, and December.

What are the benefits of taking the SAT English Literature Subject Test?

Let’s face it. You’ve already had your fair share of college prep tests. Between the SAT, ACT, other preparation you’ve done, taking yet another test isn’t at the top of your to-do list. With all of the application work you have yet to do, why would you put time towards the English Literature Subject Test?

That’s a fair question, and AdmissionSight has your answer. We know what it takes to get students into their dream colleges and having this test in your arsenal of academic prowess can greatly increase your chances of gaining admittance to your ideal program. Here, we’ll take a look at some tangible benefits of taking the SAT English Literature Subject Test:

  • Admission officers will take notice – With millions of students applying to colleges throughout the state each year, it’s crucial to do everything in your power to stand out during the application process. Taking this voluntary English Literature Subject Test will certainly catch the eyes of admission officers.
  • You might meet some requirements – While it’s technically optional, there are some highly selective programs and prestigious schools that will require incoming students to complete this test. It’s their method for determining the most ideal candidates.
  • Colleges could give you credit – One of the greatest advantages of taking the SAT English Literature Subject Test is the potential to earn college credit for entry-level courses. Some colleges treat this test like AP-level high school courses and will grant you credit just for passing it – giving you a major head start during your first year.
  • Successfully illustrate your interest in the field – Everyone applying to your dream program will have an interest in the same field. The key to a successful application is justifying your admittance by highlighting and stressing your dedication to pursuing the subject matter academically. Having the SAT English Literature Subject Test on your application is a great way to show this.

When should I think about taking the SAT English Literature Subject Test?

All those benefits might sound great, but that still doesn’t mean that all students should rush to sign up for the SAT English Literature Subject Test. Since your senior year is such an important period, you have to be diligent about where you spend your time. With 19 other potential subjects to choose from, you’re probably wondering when it’s a good idea to take the English Literature Subject Test. Here, we’ll offer a few possible scenarios when AdmissionSight thinks its best to pursue this exam:

1. You’ve recently completed an English Literature course.

One of the best times to take the SAT English Literature Subject Test is immediately following the completion of a related high school course. The months you’ve spent attending class, learning new concepts, memorizing definitions, studying for tests, and doing homework can all be put towards getting a great score on the test. All of the material will be so fresh in your mind that you won’t have to spend much extra time preparing for the test. If you’ve completed an AP English course, you’re even in a better position since the Subject Tests are often considered to be easier than these classes. Either way, scheduling this test right after completing an English course is a great strategy.

2. You want to major in English or a related field.

It’s no doubt that the SAT English Literature Subject Test is a specialized exam that demonstrates your dedication to the academic field. While it’s optional and any student can take it, this test is ideal for those with a plan to major in English or a related field. You prove to admission officers that you’re adept in the subject matter and willing to go out of your way to pursue it academically. While great course grades and relevant extracurricular activities can help illustrate your passion for English, taking the SAT English Literature Subject Test is the best way to double-down on that interest to really drive the point home to admission officers. If you want to major in English, this test will increase your chances of making it into some of the best relevant colleges and programs in the country.

What kind of skills are tested on the SAT English Literature Subject Test?

Anyone who has ever taken an English or Literature course knows the myriad topics that can be covered. Calling this exam an “English literature test” doesn’t really help explain what can be found on it. Here at AdmissionSight, we believe in being as prepared as possible. So, we’re going to break down the different skills that will be tested on the SAT English Literature Subject Test. You’ll be assessed on your ability to recall basic terminology in the field of literature, including speaker, alliteration, tone, image, stanza, and irony. You’ll need to be able to identify these concepts in actual pieces of literature.

unidentified student taking an exam

To be more specific, you’ll be tested on your ability to describe the overall meaning or theme of a piece. You’ll need to identify the form, genre, organization, and structure. The test will also assess your ability to determine narrative voice, tone, and attitude as well as the use of language in certain word choices, imagery, and metaphors. You’ll need to properly characterize dramatic and narrative selections and know the meanings or connotations of certain words given the surrounding context.

What’s recommended to have before taking this test?

AdmissionSight recommends that you have at least 3 to 4 years of literary courses at the college-prep level before taking the SAT English Literature Subject Test. You should have a wealth of experience reading American and English literature from a wide variety of genres and historical periods. This reading should have been critical, close, and purposeful.  You should also have experience in reading plays and novels. Short excerpts or summaries aren’t going to cut it. Ideally, you independently and critically read drama, prose, and poetry – among other forms. While there aren’t any requirements for taking the exam, we recommend you having these skills to ensure you’re prepared enough to make taking the exam worthwhile.

a male student taking a test

What does the SAT English Literature Subject Test Contain?

Question Sources Percentage of the Test
English Literature (produced by British authors) 40–50%
American Literature (produced by American authors) 40–50%
Remaining English Literature (previous exams have included pieces from the Caribbean, Canadian, Irish, and Indian writers) 0–10%


Chronology Percentage of the Test
The 17th Century and the Renaissance 30%
The 18th and 19th Centuries 30%
The 20th century 40%


Genre Percentage of the Test
Prose Passages (especially excerpts from essays and fiction) 40–50%
Poetry (especially complete poems, however, some pieces are taken from longer works) 40–50%
Drama and Other 0–10%

What resources can I use to prepare for the SAT English Literature Subject Test?

Free online resources

The SAT English Literature Subject Test has most likely forced you online to find helpful resources for preparing and studying. Luckily, there are many reliable sites and documents you can use completely free to prep for the test. Here are a few:

Sample English Literature questions online

These aren’t technically official questions that have been approved or used on previous SAT Subject Tests, but they’re still an excellent starting point to get a rough idea of what kind of material will be covered on the test and in what format the questions will be asked.

Student Guide for the SAT Subject Tests

This is a comprehensive study guide that features realistic questions and detailed answer explanations for each of the 20 SAT Subject Tests. You’ll also find helpful test-taking tips and other general information about the exams. This is the perfect resource for students who are thinking of taking more than one of the tests to get a better idea for what each offers. However, it can still be helpful if you’re only planning to take the SAT English Literature Subject Test.

Official study guides

Official study guides differ from unofficial sources because the sample questions offered more accurately reflect what you’ll find on the real test. In fact, some of the questions were even ones used on the previous Subject Tests, making them really helpful materials to use when preparing for the SAT English Literature Subject Test. Here’s what AdmissionSight recommends:

Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests 2nd Edition

This official study guide will give you a complete SAT English Literature Subject Test that was actually administered in the past. It comes with detailed answer explanations for each question so you understand why the answer is correct, along with up-to-date test-taking tips. Similar to the free resource above, this official study guide offers these resources for each of the 20 Subject Tests. You’ll also get helpful tips for choosing which test to take, the best time to take it, and more. This study guide also comes with 2 CDs.

What else should I know about the SAT English Literature Subject Test?

It might seem like a lot to take in, but there’s a direct correlation between how much you know about the test and how prepared you’ll be to take it. Keeping that in mind, we’ll go over a few more things you should know about the SAT English Literature Subject Test. There are only 6 to 8 sets of individual questions on the exam that are each based on a separate piece of a literary text. There’s a date accompanying each selection to denote the time of publication. While the questions don’t relate to this information, it can be helpful when trying to orientate yourself with the selection.

a male student reading a book in between shelves inside a library

Each of the questions sets addresses a different feature of the piece of literature that might be distinct or unique. For instance, if there’s a complicated poem, the set of questions might ask about the particular meaning of words or entire lines given the context of the piece in order to assess your ability to understand the poem accurately. For this reason, be sure to always read the pieces in their entirety before moving on to the questions. This is a  good strategy for any test, but especially for the one with questions that correspond to the preceding texts.

Don’t forget that your high school only represents one curriculum out of hundreds of others that have to be taken into account when making the SAT English Literature Subject Test. In other words, you shouldn’t expect each question to correspond to something you studied in class. It’s not uncommon, at all, for students to come across a few concepts that are unfamiliar. This boils down to the fact that the test creators have to accommodate the curriculums of countless high schools. Fortunately, you can still come away with a perfect score even if you don’t get all of the questions correct. There are a good number of students that still do fantastically on the exam despite not being familiar with each and every concept.

AdmissionSight can help you get into the college of your dreams

AdmissionSight has built a reputation as one of the premier providers of specialized college admission assistance in the entire country. We’ve helped hundreds of students accomplish their academic goals. No matter what kind of student you are or what your background is, we can create a custom plan to help you get the best education possible. Our team is composed of the most experienced and knowledgeable admission specialists who have the expertise to help you get into the college of your dreams – even the most prestigious Ivy League Colleges. Whether you need assistance writing your application, want some tips for choosing the best summer program, or require help prepping for the SAT Subject Tests, AdmissionSight can help! Contact us to learn more.


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