Literature Subject Test

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The Literature Subject Test gives you the opportunity to highlight your strengths in reading and interpreting literary texts from a variety of historical periods and genres. Taking the test also gives you the opportunity to showcase your interests and enhance your college application.

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Important Notes

Offered in August, October, November, December, May, and June.

Test Basics

Scoring, Timing, Number of Questions

Points Minutes Questions
200-800 60 ~60 (Multiple Choice)

Getting Ready for the Test

  • Knowledge of basic literary terminology, such as irony, stanza, image, tone, alliteration, and speaker (highly specialized terms are not covered).
  • Understanding of the following literary concepts:
    • Overall meaning, including effect and theme
    • Form, including structure, genre, and organization
    • Use of language, including word choice, imagery and metaphor
    • Meanings and connotations of specific words in context
    • Narrative voice, including tone and attitude
    • Characterization in narrative and dramatic selections
  • 3–4 years of literary study at the college-preparatory level
  • Close, critical reading in English and American literature from a variety of historical periods and genres
  • Reading of complete novels and plays — not just excerpts
  • Independent, critical reading of poetry, prose, and drama

Three sets of classifications describe the selections on the Literature Subject Test.

Source of Questions Approximate % of Test
American literature
Written by authors from the United States
English literature
Written by British authors
Other literature written in English
Past tests have included writers from India, Ireland, Canada, and the Caribbean


Chronology Approximate % of Test
Renaissance and 17th century 30%
18th and 19th centuries 30%
20th century 40%


Genre Approximate % of Test
Prose passages
Primarily excerpts from fiction and essays
Primarily entire poems, although some selections are excerpted from longer works
Drama and other 0–10%

Download the SAT Subject Tests Student Guide (.pdf/6.3MB) for more information on the topics.

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The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests, Second Edition

Get the only study guide available for all 20 SAT Subject Tests.
Features include:

  • 20 full-length, previously administered Subject Tests
  • New, detailed answer explanations for all test questions
  • The most up-to-date tips and approaches on selecting which tests to take, the best time to take the tests, and how to best be ready for test day
  • The latest versions of the instructions, background questions and answer sheet
  • Detailed descriptions of every Subject Test, including topics covered and recommended course work
  • Two audio CDs for all six Language with Listening Tests

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Additional Things to Know

There are six to eight sets of questions on the test, each based on a different literary text.

Each selection is followed by a date (usually of first publication). Questions don’t ask about the historical background of the content, but you may find the date helpful when orienting yourself to the selection.

Each set of questions addresses some features of the literary selection that may be distinctive or even unique. For example, if a poem presents a complex reading task, the set may also include some questions that focus on the meaning of specific words or lines in order to measure your ability to read and understand the poem accurately.

Please note that this test reflects what is commonly taught in high school. Due to differences in high school classes, it’s likely that most students will find questions on topics they’re not familiar with. This is nothing to worry about. You do not have to get every question correct to receive the highest score (800) for the test. Many students do well despite not having studied every topic covered.