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SAT Time Management Strategies, Part 2: Level of Difficulty

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.

Want to join the conversation?

  • starky sapling style avatar for user jojo
    I don't get it, if there is no penalty for guessing, what is the point of the score?
    (0 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Noah Cormier
      What it basically means is that if you choose to guess and get the question wrong; no points will be taken from or added to your final score. So, if you guess you have 1:4 chance of scoring a point; whereas, if you leave it blank you have no absolute chance of getting it right. Hopefully this cleared things up for you :)
      (266 votes)
  • leaf red style avatar for user Bradon Ortiz
    Can working on the SAT backwards (start from the last question of the section are work toward the beginning) on the math section for example, be an effective approach to starting the test? If not, what's a more effective way?
    (21 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Homeskool99
      That's what I considered doing on Math, Bradon, but it bombed out. Here's why:
      SAT Math is my lowest-scoring test. Naturally I thought that if I just got those pesky, impossibly-long-winded, mind-blowingly challenging questions at the end of the test done first, I would be home free to just cruise through the easy ones at the beginning. This is probably similar to what you're thinking.
      Here's the thing, though: You don't lose points for wrong answers, so it's to your advantage to get through as many questions as you can in as little time as possible. So, which questions are you more likely to answer correctly: The easy ones at the beginning, or the difficult ones at the end?
      The easy ones, of course.
      That's why you need to work through the Math test from front to back. Whip through those simple questions as quickly as you can, adding up points for correct answers as you go. Then you can attack the hard questions, and if there are some you don't understand/can't figure out you have those correct answers from before to fall back on. You'll get more questions right and end up with a higher score.
      For the Reading and Writing tests, there isn't any real order of difficulty, so if you want to work from last to first in those, go for it.
      Hope that helps! Lemme know if I should clear something up. Best of luck!
      (145 votes)
  • leafers seed style avatar for user ricky.dartawan
    Would you suggest looking at the questions before reading the passage?
    (35 votes)
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  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user nwaobifrancis
    how do i answer questions that seem to have two evidences
    (9 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Roshni Singh
    Hey, Should I read the entire passage before answering the questions or should I first quickly read the questions once ?
    (15 votes)
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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user Sreeramsmallan
    hey how do i prepare for english in sat
    (6 votes)
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  • aqualine tree style avatar for user Peggy
    Is it necessary to read the whole passage for the writing and language part or it's fine to only read the sentences that are being asked in the questions?
    (7 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Joshua Bodden
    My SAT is on December 1st and a lot is on the line. I have difficulty reading historical/archaic passages. I have to reread the passage several times before I can grasp what its talking about. How do I resolve this?
    (9 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Abdallah Maach
    Hi, I'm in 10th grade and I consider passing either ACT or SAT next year; I'd like to attend Harvard but I have some questions:
    -Should I pass the ACT or the SAT
    -I'm still not sure when to pass the standardised test: junior or senior year?
    -I'd like some advice about what to do: I'm lost, I don't know where to start.
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user Supersanic
      Okay, so you've got some work if you want to attend Harvard. You'll want to do both the ACT & SAT. Do each of them as many times as you can, because you only have to submit your best one. Then, once you've taken the ACT a few times, and the SAT a few times, pick your best score out of both of them and submit that. As for whether your Junior or Senior year, start taking the tests as soon as you can. Try reading test prep books, and prepping here on KA. Good luck!
      (9 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user samster24
    Should I read the whole passage first then answer the questions and go back to the passage if I need to? Or should I read the questions before or answer them as I'm reading? Which do you believe to be the best strategy. My main problem is time, my skills for reading are not bad but i tend to loose focus and time while reading and re-reading.
    (4 votes)
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