Read Right: The 3 Key Strategies for SAT Reading

Many students go into a standardized test reading section ready to tackle the passages and questions as they would in English class. Herein lies the problem, however. At its core, the SAT Reading section does utilize some of the same skills that you develop in your high school English classes. These skills alone are not enough to ace this section though; you need to know what the SAT is going to throw at you and how to approach this section to make it feel easy. Read on to learn the three key strategies to crushing the SAT Reading section.

SAT Reading Strategy #1: read smart, not hard

The SAT Reading passages are usually quite dense – the natural science ones can get very dry and technical while the older language of the history passage can be hard to comprehend. This leads many students to make one of two mistakes: they either read too quickly and don’t end up understanding what the passage is about, or they spend too long trying to understand every single word of the passage. What these students forget is that the purpose of this section isn’t to actually read, it’s to answer questions. Therefore, all of the reading you do, and how you do it, should be dictated by the questions that you’ll have to answer.

The best way to do this is by utilizing the Chunking Method:

  • First, you’ll break your passage up into 3-4 chunks. Find natural stopping points (AKA ends of paragraphs) when you’re doing this.
  • Next, you’ll go in and read your first chunk. Read for comprehension, but don’t get caught up if you don’t know a certain word or are having trouble understanding one specific sentence.
  • Once you’re done reading that piece of the passage, go ahead and answer all of the narrow during reading questions that you can.
    • These questions should be easy enough to find, as they are provided to you in order of the passage.
  • Then, you’ll move on to your next chunk and rinse & repeat.
  • Leave all of the broad after reading questions, as well as the proof-pairs, until the end so that you’re answering them once you have a good understanding of the passage as a whole.

This method eliminates the need for much memorization and re-reading, as it minimizes the amount of time between you reading a specific part of the passage and you answering questions referring to that part of the passage.

SAT Reading Strategy #2: be literal

The SAT Reading section isn’t the most straightforward reading comp section you’ll find out there, but just like any other, it relies heavily on the passage at hand. This means that the best answer to every question is the answer that is most closely supported by the passage. Ultimately, you’re going to have to make some inferences as you’re answering questions. These inferences, however, are very small. You do not want to infer too much.

One way the SAT tries to trick you is by making wrong answer choices partially true. Sometimes all but one word in an answer can be correct, but that one wrong word invalidates the entire answer choice. Watch out for words like that. Other times, the test will specifically use key terms from the passage in the wrong answers, but not in the right ones. Don’t just blindly pick an answer choice because it has the key term you’re looking for.

Lastly, when the question tells you where to go (a certain line number or paragraph), you do want to go there, but remember to read for context. You will often have to read a little bit before and after the mentioned lines in order to fully understand the meaning.

SAT Reading Strategy #3: read for theme

Though these passages can be dense or hard to understand, one good thing is that they are very focused: each passage has only one main idea and it stays on topic. Because of this, if you work on identifying this main idea while you’re reading, you can use it to help you answer big picture questions and even choose between possible answer choices in some of the narrow questions as well.

Putting these strategies to the test

Now that you know the best SAT Reading tips and tricks, you’ll want to get comfortable with them through practice. Check out some of our self-directed test prep options if you’d like to dive a little deeper, see these strategies in action, and practice on your own. Our tutor-led prep options may be best if you’d like more of a helping hand as you learn to use these strategies on SAT practice passages. Either way, the best thing you can do for your SAT success is to get a head start on preparing.

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