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A frequently asked question about the SAT Critical Reading section is: “Do I need to study vocabulary in order to do well on this portion of the test?” The short answer is “Yes.” Although the focus of your preparation for the Critical Reading should certainly be on strategy, excelling on this part of the test does require that you are familiar with some difficult words. Very often you will be able to use process of elimination (the most powerful strategy for sentence completion questions) to narrow a question down to 2 or 3 answer choices, in which case you should guess. However, the most challenging questions will often include extremely difficult words for all 5 answer choices, so studying SAT vocabulary is a good investment of time that is linked directly to a higher score.
Once you have made the decision to study vocabulary, the next issue is how best to do it. The classic strategy is to use flash cards, and it is the most effective. Working with flash cards for as little as an hour a week will improve your vocabulary dramatically and you will find that the sentence completion questions become significantly easier. Another bit of good news is that the SAT vocabulary questions, like the entire SAT, are extremely predictable. The test has been recycling the same vocabulary for years. So rather than becoming intimidated by the amount of vocabulary being tested, we can anticipate the words that will appear on the test. All efficient preparation for the SAT begins with the same simple fact: The SAT is predictable and the test asks the same questions in different form year after year.
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