What's the Hardest Part of the SAT?

Many students consider Critical Reading section the most challenging aspect of the SAT. Others get stressed out by the time constraints. Read on for a few tips from the test prep experts at Magoosh to help you tackle the part that's hardest for you.

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.

The vocabulary

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.

Something else?

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!

For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

sat SAT vocabulary

About Chris Lele

For the last 10 years, Chris has been helping students excel on the SAT, ACT, and GRE. In this time, he’s coached five students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Amari Toussaint

Amari Toussaint

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me narrow my school choices down from 10 schools to four and then two. It also gave me information on a school I had never heard about or thought about attending until now, which is the school I will be attending in the fall. I am thankful for CollegeXpress and its helpful tools.

Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace

High School Class of 2019

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is that it features student writers so I get an inside perspective from students slightly older and farther along than me. I realize that other college websites also utilize student writers; however, I relate the most to the college writers that I read articles from on CollegeXpress.

Maria  Fernanda

Maria Fernanda

High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress is always telling you with time to spare when to apply for certain scholarships, what they require, and if you’re eligible or not. They also provide helpful tips for both incoming college students and current college students, such as what to absolutely have in your dorm.

Casey Kammeyer

Casey Kammeyer

$500 Refer-A-Friend Scholarship Winner

I love the site CollegeXpress; it has been very helpful finding colleges and getting them to send me information. It has also been very, very helpful with finding tons of scholarships. Also, I told many of my friends about it and they love it as well!

Caitlin Eaton

Caitlin Eaton

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2021

I first discovered CollegeXpress during my sophomore year of high school while researching colleges that interested me. My SAT prep class the following year further familiarized me with the opportunities available through the organization. CX has personally helped me by exposing me to a diverse selection of schools as well as scholarships and life tips that have provided valuable guidance in my college search.

This scholarship will help me adjust to college life without worrying as much about tuition. This gives me more room to truly explore and benefit from all aspects of higher education. I plan to study Conservation Biology and work protecting species/ecosystems. I’m looking forward to getting field experience and seeing firsthand the problems research is solving.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Ohio University

Athens, OH

High Point University

High Point, NC

John Carroll University

University Heights, OH