SAT Foreign Language Subject Test

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students taking a SAT exam in a room with a long table.

SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests: Your Questions Answered

Over the past few decades, language learning has become more prevalent in high schools across the country. Not only are more classes being offered in foreign languages, but more students end up deciding to further that learning of a second language into the collegiate space. Since language isn’t touched upon at all in the SAT and ACT exams, students with a desire to prove their aptitude in the field to colleges might be happy to learn about the SAT Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests.

Tutor explaining something to a student.

These collective Foreign Language Subject Tests comprise the largest portion of the 20 different themed exams offered to high school graduates. Students aspiring to further their education in one of these foreign languages can use this exam as a great way to display their dedication and aptitude to pursuing this subject academically – especially when applying to highly selective programs or universities.

However, even those intending to attend a general college can benefit greatly from taking the SAT Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests. These exams make it easier to stand out amongst a crowd of fellow applicants and works to increase your chances of gaining admittance. The dedicated team at AdmissionSight is here to do everything we can to help you achieve your academic goals. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to answer some questions you might have about the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests.

What are the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests?

The SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests are a collection of individual exams each of which assesses a student’s comprehension of a particular language. There are SAT Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests. The one you choose will depend on your academic interests, what classes you’ve taken previously, and what majors you want to pursue in the future. While there’s no official mandate for students to take any of these Subject Tests, the AdmissionSight team highly recommends it for students interested in pursuing related fields of study. Each of the Foreign Language Subject Tests is scored on a scale from 200 to 800, and students have exactly one hour to complete them. All questions are multiple-choice – as is the case for all Subject Tests. While the scores and time allotments don’t vary, the number of questions does between these exams. Here’s the breakdown:

Language Spanish French Chinese Italian German Latin Japanese Korean
No. of Questions  85 85 70-75 80-85 85 70-75 80 80

What kind of skills are tested on the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests?

While ‘language skills’ could be a condensed explanation of what’s assessed on the SAT Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests, this response doesn’t let students know how to prepare. At AdmissionSight, we believe in preparing as much as possible, and knowing the exact skills that will be tested on each exam is a critical component of that preparation. With that in mind, here’s an overview of what skills are tested on these Foreign Language Subject Tests:

  • The knowledge of which words, in particular, represents a specific part of speech.
  • The ability to recognize some fundamental idioms in cultural contexts.
  • The capability of selecting the most appropriate expression or word to complete a sentence is a grammatically correct way. Some of these problems are expressed as parts of a larger paragraph.
  • The understanding of concepts such as tone, style, themes, supporting ideas, main ideas, the temporal and spatial setting of a passage. These selections will be derived from letters, flyers, ads, articles, magazines, newspapers, historical works, fiction, and other written mediums.
  • The ability to comprehend spoken language in order to determine what is being presented or expressed.

What are the exceptions to these general rules?

It’s important to keep in mind that not all of the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests come with a listening portion. Furthermore, those that do come with that option are also available without the listening portion. As of now, the French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests are the only ones with this listening component. Italian and Latin only have a written portion. It’s also critical to note that the content of the Latin test, for obvious reasons, differs slightly than some of the other SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests. Namely, the Latin exam focuses more on English to Latin translations (and vice-versa), determining the correct Latin words, and understanding appropriate grammar. Given the fact that Latin is no longer spoken anywhere in the world, there will be no questions related to cultural idioms or other such topics.

Students in a group activity

What do the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests contain?

Spanish Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Listening section

  • Pictures – choose the sentence most accurately describing what the person in the photo might say or what the photo is presenting
  • Rejoinders – select a potential continuation of the provided short conversation
  • Selections – answer specific questions related to extended listening portions
Reading section

  • Structure and vocab
  • Reading comprehension
  • Sentence completion

French Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Listening section

  • Pictures – choose the description that is most accurately describing the photograph
  • Short dialogues – provide answers to general questions related to monologues or short dialogues
  • Long dialogues – provide answers to more targeted questions related to longer monologues or dialogues
Reading section

  • Vocabulary (roughly 16–20 questions)
  • Structure (roughly 16–20 questions)
  • Reading comprehension (roughly 20–25 questions)

Chinese Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Listening comprehension – this is based on short, spoken narratives or dialogues, usually about everyday subjects. There are two primary types of questions: 1) a spoken exchange, questions, or statement followed by three potential spoken responses; 2) a spoken monologue or dialogue with a text question or multiple questions (written in English) about what you heard 33%
Usage – this portion requires the logical and structural completion of sentences. The questions are offered in four different columns, making it easy for the questions and answers to be shown in four variants in order to represent the Chinese phonetic alphabet (Bopomofo), phonetic transcriptions (i.e. Pinyin romanization, simplified Chinese characters, and traditional Chinese characters. You’re free and encouraged to use the version with which you’re most familiar and comfortable. 33%
Reading comprehension – this part tests your understanding of the central and supporting settings, themes, and ideas within passages. Each passage is written in both simplified and traditional Chinese characters, and all of the questions are provided in English. A majority of the questions revolve around the specific meaning although it might take some inference to answer other questions. 33%

Italian Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Reading comprehension 40%
Vocabulary in context 30%
Structure in context/Grammar 30%

German Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Listening section

  • Version 1 – includes short monologues and dialogues along with one or two questions that are multiple-choice in nature. The dialogues, monologues, questions, and answers are all recorded. The questions are printed in the book as well.
  • Version 2 – includes longer monologues and dialogues with multiple questions that are also multiple-choice in nature. While questions and speaking portions are recorded, they’re not printed in the book. Answers are also not recorded and only appear in the book.
Reading section

  • Structure in context/Grammar
  • Vocabulary in context
  • Reading comprehension through the use of passages and other stimulus materials

Latin Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Derivatives 5%
Syntax and grammar 30%
Reading comprehension and translation – this part contains three to five passages of content and one or two poems. Each poem precedes a series of questions that include one question demanding that the student scan the primary four feet of a particular line of what’s known as a dactylic hexameter verse or it requires that a student determine the number of emissions in a given line. 65%

Japanese Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Listening comprehension – this portion is based on short narratives and spoken dialogues which typically revolve around the normal subject matter 35%
Usage – this portion will feature questions that require you to finish Japanese sentences in a grammatically correct way based on the appropriate vocab and context. These usage questions can show up in two separate ways. The left column will feature Japanese written in romaji, which is a typical Romanization of the language. In the right column, you’ll see the Japanese written in the typical Japanese script including furigana for all of the kanji. Students are encouraged to use the writing system with which they’re most familiar. 30%
Reading comprehension – the text will be written in katakana, hiragana, and kanji but without furigana. However, the questions regarding reading comprehension will remain in English 35%

Korean Subject Test


Percentage of Test

Listening comprehension – this part revolves around spoken, short narratives, and dialogues that focus on everyday subjects. The listening questions and associated answers are provided in English. 35%
Usage – all of the questions are written in Han’gŭl and students have to finish these Korean phrases or sentences to ensure they’re logically and structurally correct 30%
Reading comprehension – these questions revolve around passages that are entirely written in Han’gŭl. Students will need to have a literal understanding of their meaning. There might be some inference questions provided, and all of the questions are given in English 35%

What should I have before taking the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests?

Although the AT Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Korean Subject Tests all cover a different language, they all include very similar components that assess much of the same skills. With that in mind, AdmissionSight recommends that students have a certain number of skills and years of study behind them before attempting to take these Subject Tests. It’s not that you can’t earn a passing grade before achieving these milestones. Instead, it’s about maximizing your chances of passing and ensuring you’re not wasting your time.

a group of international students, each holding the flag of their origin country

First and foremost, we recommend that high school students have at least 3 to 4 years of experience studying the given language or an equivalent 2 years of advanced classes. This ensures that you’ve covered a vast majority of the topics that could be on the Foreign Language Subject Test that you choose to take. It’s also important that you and your teachers have noticed a growing level of competence in your chosen language over those years in terms of both readings, speaking, listening, and comprehension.

What resources can I use to prepare for the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests?

Sample Questions 

A great way to familiarize yourself with the types of questions that you’ll find on the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests and the skills that will be assessed is to review some sample questions online. The resources listed below offer a few sample questions for each language. While these aren’t official questions that were used on previous exams, they can still be a great resource for getting comfortable with the format of the tests.

Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Korean

Free Online Study Guides

Student Guide for the SAT Subject Tests

Instead of downloading 8 different study guides for all of the SAT Foreign Language Tests, you can simply use this Student Guide that includes helpful information on all 20 of the SAT Subject Tests, including all of the Foreign Language topics. No other free study guide is as comprehensive or helpful. You’ll get access to official sample questions along with detailed answers – the links to which you can find below for all of the Foreign Language exams. Along with accurate questions, this student guide also comes with test-taking tips and various strategies for making the most out of the test.

Answer Guides: Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Korean


Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests: Second Edition

Official study guide books are hands-down the best resources you can get to prepare for any of the SAT Foreign Language Subject Tests. This book gives you 20 different full-length Subject Tests that were administered in the past to previous students. Naturally, there are answers and detailed explanations provided for each question to help you determine what you got correct and what you got wrong. In addition, this official study guide comes with strategies for taking the exam, unique approaches you can take, advice for choosing the best time to take the test, suggestions on how to be as ready as possible, and more.

View of shelves full of books.

There will also be detailed instructions similar to what you’ll find on the actual tests. You’ll have information about each Foreign Language Subject Tests, the different topics to be covered, and advisable coursework. Perhaps the best part of this official study guide is the inclusion of two CDs to help with the 6 listening tests for some of the Foreign Language Subject Tests. Students who wish to replicate the conditions of the test to the best of their abilities can get an accurate assessment of how they’ll perform on the real exam. Just be sure you study up beforehand to not waste the chance to see how you’ll do.

AdmissionSight is your college admission specialist 

The college admissions process isn’t the most transparent or clear cut process in the academic world. Many students find themselves confused, frustrated, or downright intimidated by the process. That’s where AdmissionSight can help. We’re dedicated to helping students gain admittance to the college of their dreams and achieving their academic goals. Our team of college admission specialists has an excellent track record of getting students into some of the most prestigious schools in the country. Whether you need help editing an essay, choosing a summer program, or acing your SAT Foreign Language Subject Test, we have the expertise to help. Please contact us today to learn more.



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