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Test-taking tip #1*

This tip goes for dozens of questions on the SAT, most LSAT questions, and numerous questions on the ACT, GRE, GED, A.P.s, SAT 2s, Praxis tests, and myriad other standardized tests.

Read the question stem before the stimulus.

By doing this, the prompt makes more sense because you know what you are looking for.

Some examples:

1. Sandra went to 12 more EDM concerts last year than Joaquin, who went to 8 more than his sister, Amelia. If Kecia went to twice as many as Sandra, who attended 25, how many more concerts did Kecia see than Joaquin?

The underlined portion, the question stem, tells us that we need to know the difference between the number of concerts Joaquin and Kecia saw. So when we go back to the stimulus – everything from Sandra to 25 – we focus on the parts leading us to those two bits of information and IGNORE anything else, such as who went to 8 more than his sister, Amelia.

2. If Tamara speaks on courtesy, which one of the following must be true?

Although the stimulus here is short (from the LSAT’s games (analytical reasoning) section),* reading the question stem first lets you know to add to the diagram enough information to see what game pieces will be locked in place after you apply the stimulus. Those are the ones that must be true! If you are solving without a diagram (not usually recommended), you know immediately to eliminate any answer choice that could be false. For a thorough explanation, sign up for one of our courses at Astounding Score!

In the SAT’s Writing and Language Section, you should practice enough that you can quickly identify question stems like “…, which of the following choices best most accurately demonstrates this intent?” and revert immediately to the stimulus.

In the LSAT’s arguments (logical reasoning) section, reading the stimulus first may confuse the reader and almost always results in having to re-read the stimulus.

Conclusion: Read the question stem before the stimulus.

*Although this is labeled #1, the tips in this blog are presented in random order


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