Master the Test: The SAT Subject Test in Chemistry

Jul 2024

11 Minute Read

Tagged as: SAT

A basic introduction to the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry, what content the test covers and how to prepare for the test

What is the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry?

The SAT Subject Test in Chemistry is an hour-long exam that contains 85 questions; most of these questions are multiple choice, but a subset of questions includes "true/false" answer choices. The vast majority of science concepts that appear on this test appear in a typical, one-year high school chemistry course. As such, many students opt to take this test in the May or June slots right after they’ve finished a year of Chemistry.

Students already studying for the Advanced Placement exam in Chemistry may also want to take the SAT Subject test in Chemistry. The latter test covers a smaller array of topics and (usually) presents these topics in easier questions. Knowledge of some mathematical concepts — such as scientific notation and setting up equations — is required to solve specific problems. However, unlike on the Math exams, a calculator is not permitted.

What is the format of the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry?

By far the most common subject on the Chemistry test is "structure of matter". Students will want to know atomic theory; this includes atomic structure, quantum theory, and energy levels/orbitals. It is also useful to know some of the famous experiments from which our knowledge of the atom developed. Students are also expected to have a handle on molecular theory: how atoms bond to form molecules, how molecules bond to each other (including ionic, covalent, and metallic bonds), polarity, as well as intermolecular forces such as dipole-dipole forces.

A student would also do well to have a very good handle on the states of matter. When it comes to liquids and solids, students might see questions about how molecules bond in these states. You'll also need to know how to interpret diagrams illustrating phase changes. Additionally, questions about gases include all of the previous examples, as well as knowledge of the gas laws and kinetic molecular theory.

Macro-level chemical reactions also appear on the exam. Students will want to have a handle on stoichiometry: molecular formulas, the "mole", Avogadro’s number, and calculations involving chemical equations. That means being very familiar with the concepts that appear on the periodic table: like atomic number and atomic mass. This topic can also include how acids and bases react, solubility, and oxidation reduction reactions.

These topics compose about 2/3 of the Chemistry exam. Less frequently tested topics include thermochemistry, laboratory safety, and rates of reactions. Finally, students will also want to have some lab-experience; many of the questions in the subjects described above appear as an experiment in a lab, or as the data that resulted from such an experiment. Thus, students are also expected to know how to interpret data in a table. That means having a mastery of the metric system!

How should I prepare for the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry?

In a previous post, we discussed the format of the Chemistry test. Now we’ll dive in to how to prepare for this exam:

First off, the test closely mimics the material from a standard high school chemistry curriculum; therefore, the best way to prepare for the exam is to take a chemistry course at your school! Plan to take the Chemistry test right after you've taken a year-long course in the subject. Students often take the May or June exam for this very reason. That way, you’ll still have most of the material at the top of mind.

Since chemistry is a subject of formulas and equations, one of the most important things you’ll need to do is memorize the formulas and equations you most frequently used in your chemistry course and are mostly likely to be tested on during the Chemistry SAT test. You'll need to know how to calculate the dissociation constant of an acid, the molarity of a solution, or the amount of product resulting from a reaction. While you can find online flashcards, writing out your own is doubly helpful, since you strengthen your memory just by writing things down. One thing you don’t have to memorize: The periodic table. They give you one on the test. (Thanks, College Board!)

While about 20% of the exam is fundamental knowledge and recall, analysis and synthesis style questions will also require you to remember important facts like the chemical formula of a perchlorate, electronegativity trends in the periodic table, or how likely aluminum hydroxide is to dissolve in water.

What else appears on the Chemistry test?

The vast majority of questions on the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry are application and synthesis style questions. You’ll need to use your chemistry knowledge to, say, explain how a chemical reaction would occur. These questions may also ask you to make inferences based on data, or apply multiple concepts to solve a problem. Practicing with these types of questions is the best way to prepare-you’ll not only get comfortable understanding how to approach the questions but you’ll get more efficient at answering them, saving you valuable time when you go to take the exam. You may want to review old chemistry tests for practice questions or look through your textbook for examples you can complete.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to prepare by taking an authentic practice test. Sit down in a quiet space, time yourself, and get through as much as you can in the hour allotted. Once you’ve scored your exam and looked over the multiple choice questions you missed, you’ll be able to analyze what topics or question styles you need more work on. Taking one (or more) practice tests will also prepare you for the "relationship analysis" questions on the SAT Subject test in Chemistry, which are true/false-style questions. The Chemistry Test covers a vast range of chemistry topics. You’ll not only have to memorize some important facts and formulas, you’ll also have to apply your knowledge. The trickiest questions on the Chemistry test require you to solve multi-step, cross-conceptual problems. So, review your class materials, study any topics you struggle with, create flashcards, and complete practice tests! We wish you all the best as you prepare for the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry!

What else should I do?

Well, since many colleges, especially selective colleges, require SAT Subject Tests, you might consider also want to check out the SAT Subject tests in Biology or Physics!

Or, to learn about SAT Subject Tests in general, check out our Ultimate Guide!

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