Test Prep | January 2013

Test Prep: 3 Ways That The Hobbit Demonstrates Proper Test Day Strategy

by Rory Hatfield | StudentAdvisor.com

A mainstay of young adult literature for over seventy years, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has finally been adapted for the big screen. Despite the fantastic, mythical setting of Middle Earth, Bilbo Baggins is a pretty identifiable protagonist for college-bound teenagers: he leaves his home for the first time, embarks on a journey in a new environment, makes new friends, and returns home a wiser, more experienced person. Heck – even Gandalf could pass for a professor as he pores over manuscripts.

Curiously enough, Bilbo’s journey doesn’t just mirror the college experience – it also reflects excellent test taking strategies for getting into school in the first place! Throughout the first Hobbit movie (An Unexpected Journey) Bilbo demonstrates these three ways to excel on the SAT.

1. Stay Well-Nourished


One of the more charming attributes of Hobbits is their love of good food, and Bilbo is certainly no different – his pantry is stocked with delicious breads, meats and cheeses:

These alluring foodstuffs actually represent an oft overlooked part of Test Day success – keeping your energy up by eating nutrient-dense snacks during breaks. Noshing on granola bars and sipping juice won’t gain you points on the SAT, but it sure can help you stave off the mental mistakes and stress that stem from hunger and thirst.

You wouldn’t sit all the way through The Hobbit without munching on some refreshments, so why deprive yourself of food during a longer, more fatiguing endeavor? Do yourself a favor: pack a bag of your favorite, hearty snacks the night before the test - apples, peanut butter, whole wheat crackers, etc. – so you’re not sprinting towards the vending machines for a last-minute pick-me-up.  

That said, there is a time and place for improvising on Test Day…

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2. Make Up Examples for the SAT Essay


Captured by hungry trolls and watching his companions slowly roasted over an open fire, Bilbo found himself in quite the pickle (so to speak):

Unarmed and outsized, our plucky hero managed to save the day by, well, lying through his teeth. Bilbo stalled for time by spinning yarns about the proper way to cook dwarves (skinning instead of roasting) and why they shouldn’t be eaten right away (parasite infestation). By the time the trolls wised up to Bilbo’s deceit, it was too late – Gandalf arrived with the morning sun, and the rays of dawn turned them to stone.

Now, it’s likely some of you find writing a twenty-five minute essay just as hard as fending off a trio of ugly, ravenous cave monsters. The solution for getting through both challenges, coincidentally enough, is the exact same: making things up. SAT and ACT essay graders are forbidden from letting errors of fact negatively affect your essay score; in other words, you won’t be penalized for lying. You have free reign to fudge minor details (you went to Paris with your family, not the French Club) and outright fib (you went to Paris, Texas, not Paris, France)! Graders can’t tell if your essays are true, false, or somewhere in between – all they can assess is how specific, relevant, and convincing your examples are.

Remember – turning to stone and freezing up on Test Day is “for the trolls”: if you can’t brainstorm actual examples for your essay, just make them up!

Now, don’t feel obligated to pull examples out of thin air – the prompt’s quotation is a great place for inspiration. Looking in the test booklet for answers is also a great strategy for another section…

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3. The Answers to Critical Reading Questions Are Right Under Your Nose


Things didn’t get any easier for Bilbo after escaping from the trolls. Trapped inside a mountain, separated from the dwarves, and knocked into a ravine by a goblin, our hero found himself staring eye-to-eye with this guy:

Gollum agreed to lead Bilbo out of his lair if the hobbit could beat him in a game of riddles; if Bilbo lost, though, Gollum would eat him alive.  Trapped under a mountain with a walking cavefish, Bilbo wasn’t exactly flush with escape routes, so he agreed to play.

Midway through the game, Bilbo was stuck on the riddle “Voiceless it cries, wingless flutters, toothless bites, mouthless mutters.” However, once he noticed waves rippling through Gollum’s pond, he was inspired to correctly shout out “Wind!” Later, when Gollum almost had Bilbo stumped with “This thing all things devours; Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town, And beats high mountain down”, our hero shrewdly discovered the answer from Gollum’s taunt: “time’s up!” and went on to win the game.

Adopt Bilbo’s strategy on Test Day by finding answers to Critical Reading questions right in the passage. Just as Gollum drew on his environment to form riddles, the test maker likewise writes questions that exclusively stem from the Reading passages. Even if you’re familiar with a passage’s topic, don’t rely on that prior knowledge to answer questions; instead, search for clues embedded in the question stems, like line numbers and quotes from the passage. If you’re asked to find the thesis, scour the introductory paragraph for hints. If you need to find out why the author uses a particular phrase, find it in the passage and read immediately above and below it for context. That strategy got Bilbo out of a tricky, tense situation – it can work for you, too!


Rory Hatfield teaches pre-college classes (SAT/ACT/PSAT) for Kaplan's Live Online division full-time; and is also a student at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, where he is earning a Masters in Instructional Design. He has taught numerous courses and events for Kaplan, including sample classes on college admissions, writing an effective personal statement, and whether to take the SAT, ACT, or both.

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