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Dear Mitch,

I know that on the math sections of the SAT the problems in each section are supposed to go from easy to hard, which is why a lot of people say you should try to go in order so that you're not spending your time struggling over hard ones when you could be picking up points from getting a bunch of easy ones right.

Is this true for the reading comprehension section too?


Warren V. L—t



Dear Warren V. L-t,

Good question, and one of the ones I happen to find more interesting than most SAT related questions, though I truly enjoy them all.

Here's the story on the increasing difficulty concept: It certainly appears that the authors of the test are interested in maintaining the tradition of "easy-medium-hard" progression within each section despite the subject (reading, writing, and math). BUT, the easy/medium/hard assessment is often a subjective determination, and if you happen to be a person who loves geometry, for example, and finds it to be easier than any other area of math, then even if the test-writers put a geometry one near the end (the area reserved for the questions most challenging in their opinion), for you that question may be far easier than the half-dozen algebra questions that precede it.

Still, for the most part, in the math sections, there are enough ingredients in a problem that can be generally agreed upon to be a certain level of easy/hard, due, in part, to the level of education that it is usually taught and how much of it requires abstract and /or multi-step reasoning and process.

But READING passages, which is what you are asking about, are more complicated and more subjective to assess. The reason for this is that there is a strong direct relationship between the SUBJECT of a reading passage and how a particular individual will be able to comprehend it. It turns out that natural interests and prior knowledge from experience is probably the most important yet most unpredictable ingredient of the mix. For example, if the last passage is about horses and the riding of horses, and it just so happens that your hobby is horse riding and you've been working on the weekends in a stable since you were ten years old, you are far more likely to find the passage engaging and recall more – even if you disagree with it – than the 'wizard of the class' who has never been within a hundred feet of a horse.

So, what should you do? Start the reading section at the beginning. Then, after the midway point if you are finding it to be a challenge worse than you had anticipated, glance down and around at the other passages to come... and if a topic strikes your fancy, like motorcycles or government or native housing, take a stab at it no matter how close it is to the dreaded finish line (the end).

Good luck; I'll be thinking of you on test day.

Hope this helps,