Pillar VI: Don’t Be Intimidated by the Seemingly Difficult

Words of “Wiz-dom”–: Many students find the SAT intimidating and allow that psychological impact to reduce their scores. That’s why we spend all our time in this course raising you confidence. Everything we do is related to improving your belief in your abilities to handle this test. The test writer puts items on the test that are seemingly very difficult. However, the emphasis has to be on “seemingly.” Restating the information like we discussed in Pillar II will go a long way toward reducing the “seemingly difficult” to “manageable.”  For example:

18.  What is the remainder when 2215 is divided by 10?

(A) 2
(B) 3
(C) 4
(D) 6
(E) 8

Answer to Question #18

In the Reading Test sections of the test, many students are intimidated by the reading passages because are long and boring and the questions are “hard.” Do you agree? The specific strategies that deal with resolving these issues will be taught during the Critical Reading lesson. They are too important to introduce them as part of a Pillars lesson.

The same is true for the Sentence Completion questions. However, here the problem is “intimidation by vocabulary.” Certainly it helps to have a strong vocabulary, I’d never belittle that issue. However, while you’ll augment your vocabulary during the next several weeks, you will see very few of the new words on the test. So, there are a couple of things to work on that will help. First, work on learning prefixes, root words (stems) and suffixes. They are the keys to unlocking “families” of words not just one word as you do when you memorize a new word. Second, trust your instincts. Sometimes words don’t seem right in the context the test writer presents. Sometimes words feel like they have a positive or negative connotation. You’re probably right. How many times have you said, “I’ve heard the word before but don’t know what it means”? So you heard it in a context, probably several times and you have a subliminal contextual clue. Don’t be intimidated into not using these feelings. Third, when you see a difficult word, think about other words that may have the same stem. For example, “anachronism” has a root of “chron.” You may not have memorized the meaning of “chron” but you know what “chronological” means. At least you recognize it has something to do with time. So you’ll ask yourself, “Is ‘time’ part of the topic of this Sentence Completion question?” If so, then you’re on track towards the right answer. If not, eliminate that answer and go on. It’s all part of thinking like the test writer. The more you think that way the more your confidence will go up. The more your confidence goes up, the more your score will go up.

See if your English teacher can provide you with a list of roots and stems. It should include not only the stems and their definitions but also sample words for each stem.

There are also some great sites on the web that can help with this subject. My favorite is:


This link gets you t the prefix list.  At the bottom of that page you’ll see links for the stem and suffix lists.  If you use these materials send them an email thanking them. The author’s email address is at the bottom of the web page.

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