Getting 700+ on the SAT Chemistry Subject Test
Unlike the SAT reasoning test, the SAT Subjects Tests depends more on your knowledge in certain topics. All you need to do here is understand the concepts and do as many practice problems as you can. The best way to achieve get high scores in the Chemistry Subject Test is to take as many practice exams as you can after understanding the concepts.
The test will not only test you on your qualitative understanding of chemistry, but also quantitative. You are therefore required to possess high school level algebra skills. The qualitative chemistry part of the test, including the laboratory questions, can be learned even with no background in chemistry. It will take a longer time however if you have no chemistry background, but doable if taken seriously.
Before taking any exam, you need to familiarize yourself with the topics of that exam. Here is the breakdown of the Chemistry Subject Test taken directly from College Board website:
Structure of Matter (25%):
Atomic Structure: including experimental evidence of atomic structure, quantum numbers and energy levels (orbitals), electron configurations, periodic trends
Molecular Structure: including Lewis structures, three-dimensional molecular shapes, polarity
Bonding: including ionic, covalent, and metallic bonds, relationships of bonding to properties and structures; intermolecular forces such as hydrogen bonding, dipole-dipole forces, dispersion (London) forces
States of Matter (16%):
Gases: including the kinetic molecular theory, gas law relationships, molar volumes, density, and stoichiometry
Liquids & Solids: including intermolecular forces in liquids and solids, types of solids, phase changes, and phase diagrams
Solutions: including molarity and percent by mass concentrations, solution preparation and stoichiometry, factors affecting solubility of solids, liquids, and gases, qualitative aspects of colligative properties
Reaction Types (14%):
Acids & Bases: including Brønsted-Lowry theory, strong and weak acids and bases, pH, titrations, indicators
Oxidation & Reduction: including recognition of oxidation-reduction reactions,
combustion, oxidation numbers, use of activity series
Precipitation: Including basic solubility rules
Mole Concept: including molar mass, Avogadro’s number, empirical and molecular formulas
Chemical Equations: including the balancing of equations, stoichiometric calculations, percent yield, and limiting reactants
Equilibrium & Reaction Rates (5%):
Equilibrium Systems: including factors affecting position of equilibrium (LeChâtelier's principle) in gaseous and aqueous systems, equilibrium constants, and equilibrium expressions
Rates of Reactions: including factors affecting reaction rates, potential energy diagrams, activation energies
Including conservation of energy, calorimetry and specific heats, enthalpy (heat) changes associated with phase changes and chemical reactions, heating and cooling curves, entropy
Descriptive chemistry (12%):
Including common elements, nomenclature of ions and compounds, periodic trends in chemical and physical properties of the elements, reactivity of elements and prediction of products of chemical reactions, examples of simple organic compounds and compounds of environmental concern
Including knowledge of laboratory equipment, measurements, procedures, observations, safety, calculations, data analysis, interpretation of graphical data, drawing conclusions from observations and data
The Test Format
Familiarizing yourself of the format of the exam is very crucial. Know what type of questions are asked, and how are they graded. There are three types of questions in the SAT chemistry exam in order of their appearance in an actual test:
Classification Questions: you will have a set of lettered choices followed by a set of numbered questions or statements. You will match each number to the letter choice that fits it BEST:
If you matched letter A with number 1, but letter B matches better with number 1, then you’ll lose the point, even if letter A is not wrong for number 1
A letter choice can be used more than once or even never
Relationship Analysis Questions: in each question, you will state if statement I is true/false, then do the same for statement II. Then if statement II is a TRUE explanation for statement I you have to fill in the circle CE (correct explanation):
If you messed up one of the statements or the got the CE circle incorrect, you will miss the point for the entire question
The only scenario where you should consider filling the CE circle is if both statements are true. In any other case, leave the circle blank.
SAT Chemistry is the only subject test with this kind of question
Five-Choice Completion Questions: an ordinary multiple choice type of question
All you need to do is choose one letter for each numbered question
If you are only studying chemistry for the SAT Subjects Test, then avoid studying from textbooks. Textbooks will over prepare you and consume more time than necessary. From a personal experience, I would recommend one of the following books to understand the exam concepts and tackle practice exams:
1 - Princeton Review:
- Very reader friendly with simple vocabulary and clear illustrations
- The structure and flow of the book is very clear and not confusing at all
- It has exactly what you need for the test in terms of concepts, nothing more and nothing less.
- Straight to the point and concise
- Excellent source of practice tests and problems, although some say the problems in this books are easier than the actual tests (I recommend not relying on this book alone. But if you do, and you master this book and solve all its problems, you are for sure getting above 700).
- Not a very friendly read
- Over prepares you for the test, as it contains material you do not need to know for the test
- Excellent source of practice tests and problems
- If you master this book, understand all it’s concepts and solve all the problems, you are for sure getting in the 760 – 800 range
- College Board stuff: Make sure you have your hands on college board materials including the SAT subject tests guide. This way, you will get the most realistic picture of how the test is going to be like, since they make those tests. If you mastered College Board tests, then you will be fine.
Sometimes outside resources can be useful too. Some concepts like electrochemistry or acids and bases
(especially buffers), might be puzzling at first. Whenever I was puzzled by any chemistry concept I would
go to the following places:
Khan Academy Chemistry videos: very nice and easy to follow explanations of basic chemistry concepts. Almost every topic in the exam can be found in his chemistry playlist.
Google! Google can take you to a lot of very very useful sites that will help you explain any concept you are confused about
How to Study… Actually
I will summarize everything I did that helped me in bullet points:
Read the books (Princeton and Barrons) and make sure you understand the concepts
Have a notebook with you; summarize what you learned in each chapter. Writing things down makes helps you memorize all the facts
Make sure you understand some of the graphs and pictures and know how to label them. Example: phase diagrams, reaction coordinate diagrams
Make flashcards or chart of tedious things you need to memorize, such as molecular geometries
Besides knowing how to read the periodic table, make sure you understand the periodic trends and apply them on an actual periodic table
When I did not understand concepts upon first reading, I watched khan academy videos. After the videos, the readings seemed easier and clearer to me.
When you’re taking a practice exam, do the following:
Time yourself for an hour
Be objective with yourself when correcting
Mark all the questions you got wrong or not sure of, and go back and understand why were you wrong and write it in your notebook.
Mark all the questions that were not specifically explained in the book and also write what you learned in the notebook
Prepare for the next practice test
Minimizing your concept studying resources indeed makes you more focused, but find any chemistry SAT sources you can get for more practice tests to expose yourself to a wider variety of questions and perspectives. But especially make sure you take practice tests from College Board.
No calculators are allowed. Mathematical questions are usually easy rations, simple operations and logarithms so you don’t need to worry. Also, a periodic table will be provided, it contains all the elements and their atomic and mass numbers
Although some parts such as descriptive chemistry and laboratory may require previous experience with chemistry, this small gap can be compensated by taking as much practice tests as you can.