Why Dominating the SAT is Like Climbing Trees

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This post was written by Chris Lele, resident SAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in SAT Prep.  For more SAT resources, check out Magoosh SAT vocabulary flashcards and the Magoosh SAT Blog!

Imagine a massive tree, its diffuse branches stretching to the heavens. The tree’s green canopy of leaves is bedizened with luscious fruits, from the very lowest branch (you can reach out and pluck a fruit) to the highest (you’ll have to crook your neck just to spot them). But there is another special thing about this tree: each fruit is exactly the same; the ones that get the sun’s full warmth are no different in size, shape and flavor than the those shaded by branches looming overhead. The name of this tree? The SAT tree.

The SAT tree

So how does the tree of SAT work? Well, clearly you’re not going to get any vitamin C from these fruits. But what you will get is the following: the same number of points. That’s right: the easiest question on the SAT is worth the same number of points as the hardest question. In other words, the fruit on the very lowest branch, the one you can basically just reach out and grab, is just as juicy, just as Vitamin C laden, as a fruit that will require you to scale eighty feet of sap ridden trunk, before you have to Spiderman your way to the edge of a creaking branch.

So which one would you go for first? That’s right—that’s the exact mindset you want to bring the SAT. Do the easy questions first, leaving the hard ones only if you have time. (For other similar tips check out this SAT lifehacks infographic).

Let’s take a walk out on to the branches

You might be wondering how you know which question is easy and which one is hard. Well, for the most part the SAT has made it pretty easier for you. The higher the number within a given question type, the harder the question. The first Sentence Completion? That’s the fruit you can reach out and grab. The Sentence Completion with SAT vocabulary like pusillanimous, lugubrious, and byzantine? Well, that’s some spidey stuff for you.

The only area in which you don’t know the difficulty of the question based on numbering is in the SAT Reading Comprehension section. So the first question you can get can be a mind-bender, a cakewalk, or anything in between. That said, you can get a sense of the general difficulty by looking at the passage. If it’s long and abstract, well think of it as a thorny tree, one that you should only return to once you’ve clambered up more arboreal-ly friendly terrain.

Tree climbing takes practice

This all sounds great in theory, but to really use this knowledge to your advantage you must apply it. Try a Critical Reading section in which you skip the last two Sentence Completions. Or, if it is the section with two medium passages, one that is notably more difficult than the other, do the easy one first. And remember that you don’t get extra points for finishing the test—so don’t just blitz through the tough passage and then bomb every question. Slow down, skip a couple of tough questions (based on if they seem tough), and do your best on the ones that you feel you can answer correctly.

With enough practice, you should find become better at navigating the sections so that you are picking the low-hanging fruit before scaling up to the higher branches. And even if you try for the fruit at the very top, don’t worry. There’s one more special thing about this tree: you can’t fall off of it.