Last Updated: Jul 2, 2014
Typically, general questions have very general answers. Ask people where the best restaurant in town is and you will likely get a variety of answers. Yet when it comes to the question in the title of this post, almost everyone answers the Critical Reading section. And that’s not surprising: featuring really tough words that not even many adults know, the verbal section strikes fear into even those who get all A’s in their English classes.
But the point of this post isn’t to make you think that the test is diabolically difficult so you end up hating the SAT even more. It’s to help you learn to tackle the part that’s hardest for you—be it the verbal section or any other part of the test.
Though it may be tempting, do not think you can ignore SAT vocabulary and merely use strategies to try to game the Critical Reading section. Strategies may help a little, but if you don’t know the meaning of four out of the five answer choices, good luck.
Does that mean that you should memorize 5,000 vocabulary words? No, not at all. In fact, a mere 250 can make a big difference, as long as those 250 are high-frequency words (you can get a lot of those in this SAT eBook from Magoosh). You might also want to pay careful attention to those words that show up repeatedly in the College Board tests (many are in the eBook—but not all). Remember, a little vocab learning can go a long way.
The reading passages
For many, learning vocabulary isn’t super tough—it just takes commitment. What really fills students with dread are the long Critical Reading passages that tend to be specifically chosen for how boring they are (the business role women played in pre-Victorian England?!). One way to combat the overwhelming urge to fall asleep is to pull a trick on yourself: convince yourself that what you are about to read is extremely interesting (oh, wow, this paragraph is talking about how the economic role of women changed in Victorian England!).
You’ll need to practice this technique often and you’ll also have to get good at answering questions. Still, being able to get through the passage without falling asleep is a major accomplishment in and of itself and will give you a better chance at answering the questions correctly.
Of course, the Critical Reading section is just that—a section. For some, the hardest part is staying focused for four hours—on a Saturday, no less. So if you are really good at vocabulary (which doesn’t apply to many), or if some other aspect of the test flusters you (guessing penalty), figure out what it is and work at it. For example, wake up a little earlier on a few Saturdays leading up to the SAT, or try taking one practice test without guessing at all (because it makes you sweat profusely) and another in which you guess—just make sure to have a towel handy!