- SAT Time Management, Part 1: The Two Passes Strategy
- SAT Time Management Strategies, Part 2: Level of Difficulty
- SAT General Tips Share Space
- Dave answers student questions about the SAT
- Effective strategies for each SAT section
- PSAT/NMSQT inside scoop: Khan Academy interviews the College Board
How does knowing about the Level of Difficulty of a question help you take the SAT?
Collect raw points
Every question – from the most basic arithmetic to the most advanced quadratic function, from the simplest grammar fix to the most challenging inference question on the most complicated reading passage – is worth the same.
Some questions are straightforward, and might take 10 seconds to solve, and some are very difficult, and could take more than five minutes - but every question is worth one raw point.
The most important thing you can do to collect raw points and maximize your score is first to focus your time and energy on answering the questions that are easiest and quickest for you, and then try to tackle the more difficult and time-consuming questions – if you have time.
A Difficulty Level Overview
The Math Test
It's pretty easy to figure out the difficulty level of questions on the Math Test - sections here generally increase in difficulty as they go on. The first few questions are the easiest, and the last few are the hardest.
TOP TIP: Know where the easier questions live and do them first! Both math sections on the Math Test begin with multiple choice questions (MCs), and then move on to a handful of student-produced response questions (these are sometimes called Grid-Ins). The first few Grid-Ins are always easier than the last few multiple choice, so don't spend too much time on those hard MCs before you give the first few Grid-Ins a try.
The Reading Test
The passages on the Reading Test are of differing levels of complexity. Within each passage, the questions are asked as they emerge logically in the order the relevant information is presented in the passage. This means that the difficulty is a mixed bag.
It's ok to skip the questions that are hardest for you! The last thing you want to do is get hung up on a hard question in one of the first passages and run out of time. There are easier questions throughout the test - even in the last passage! By skipping hard ones as you go, you can help ensure that you will have time to give the last passages a good look – they might be easier for you! For more on this, check out the article on The Two Passes Strategy
WARNING LABEL: If you don’t have trouble completing all the questions in the time allowed, then try to complete all of the questions in each passage before moving to the next passage - these strategies are meant for students who sometimes feel crunched for time!
TOP TIP: Trust yourself! Despite what some people say, the questions are not designed to trick you. If a question seems straightforward, it probably is. If an answer looks right to you, go ahead and trust yourself and select it (NOTE: this is assuming you're using other critical strategies like "answer the question that is being asked" and "choose the answer that has the best evidence to support it").
The Writing and Language Test
As in the Reading Test, the difficulty of the passages and the questions in the Writing and Language Test is a mixed bag.
Many students find the so-called “stemless questions” that require you to choose the best version of a part of a sentence to be quick (but beware - they are not necessarily easy!) Many students also find the “sentence addition” questions time-consuming (eg: “At this point, the writer is considering adding the following sentence…”).
If you find yourself running out of time on the Writing and Language Test, use the Two Passes Strategy to skip the hardest questions and return to them later if you have time.
NOTE: Try not to jump around from passage to passage any more than is absolutely necessary – too much jumping around is likely to slow you down and confuse you.
TOP TIP: Keep Moving! The main takeaway here is that there are some easier questions at the end! Don't get hung up on hard questions in the first couple of passages. Do your best to avoid running out of time and leaving easier points on the table from the passages at the end of the section.
WARNING LABEL: If you don’t have trouble completing all the questions in the time allowed, then try to complete all of the questions in each passage before moving to the next one - these strategies are meant for students who sometimes feel crunched for time!
WAIT! Should I guess?
Finally, there is no penalty for guessing, so don't leave any questions blank. That's right - there is no penalty for wrong answers.