Taking the reading and comprehension portion of the SAT isn’t as daunting as many believe it to be. Being prepared and having a few simple strategies will allay anyone’s fears and ensure the most points gathered in the least amount of time. If after reading this advice you find you still don’t finish the section, consider taking a speed reading course to better prepare you for the next time you take it.
- the easy questions first
- refresh your vocabulary
- learn how to read non-fiction
- read the questions first
- read with your hands
- make assumptions
- freak out
- forget the guessing strategy
- forget your glasses
- run out of time
If the subject of a passage interests you or is something you know about, do it first, even if it's last on the test. If you've always liked stories of famous people and have trouble with historical writing, then first go to the famous people passage, even if it's last on the test. Lead with your strength to build confidence and score points.
If you don’t understand the words you read, then comprehension is a big issue. Now is not the time to cram new words into your head, but it is a great time to revisit the words you know. Search the web for SAT vocabulary lists and you will find many sites that will help you review the most commonly found words on the exam.
Most the articles on the SAT are non-fiction or factual. Most factual writing plants the main idea of a paragraph in the first sentence. This is also called the topic sentence. If you take any magazine or textbook chapter right now and just read the first sentence of each paragraph, you will be able to follow the writer’s outline and get much of the main ideas. What you don’t get are the details or explanation. So when you are answering questions about the reading, you will quickly know which paragraph to look into for the answer.
The questions tell you what you need to be reading for. Is it a name, an amount of money, an action someone took, or do you have to make an inference based on the facts you read? It helps to keep your proverbial antenna up so you can constantly be looking for these pieces of info. Looking for the answers to the questions can be quite intimidating, however, if you can figure out what word(s) are the most important – or key – in the question, then you can look for that word or a similar one in the text to quickly locate where the answer might be.
If you are reading the SAT on paper, you can use your the pointed index fingers of both hands to read with. Place the left hand pointer finger at the beginning of the line you are reading and place the right pointer finger on the end of that same line on the margin area. Then as you read, pull your fingers straight down the page slowly, but continually move your eyes across the lines as you pull your fingers down the edges of the text. This will focus your attention, which gives you better comprehension overall, and helps you keep your place.
When you answer the questions, answer based on what you read about, not what you know. Everyone knows different things, so there could never be just one right answer. But if you stay with the content that was written about and make your inferences from that, you will have a better chance of getting the answer correct.
A lot of the paragraphs you will read about on the SAT will be of things you probably don’t like or don’t have interest in. Don’t freak out about it. Just read what is written and answer the questions. And remember to do the passages you have interest in first just in case you run out of time.
There is no such thing as a guessing penalty on the SAT. There is, however, a wrong answer penalty. The way scoring is weighted is that for every question you get right, you get one point. For every question you don't answer, you get 0 points. For every question you get wrong, you get -1/4 of a point. The wrong answer penalty is designed so that students who guess randomly won't earn extra points for the effort. This means you should never guess randomly on the SAT. However, if you can rule out at least one answer choice on a question you don't know, it is worth it to guess.
If you need to wear glasses or contacts to read, even if you just have a mild vision impairment, remember to wear them. Having to squint or otherwise strain your eyes is the last thing you want to deal with when you are taking the SAT. The SAT requires you to be at the top of your game and you will be at a great loss on this exam without them.
Hopefully, you will finish the entire exam, but if you are running out of time you should skim the questions first (not the answers), then skim the passage quickly looking for key words from the questions to zero in on an appropriate answer.
Doing well on the reading part of the SAT means being prepared and having some good strategies. Refreshing your vocabulary, understanding the paragraph structure and learning to focus your reading attention by using your hands will help you be prepared for the exam. While taking the test, remember to look for the passages that interest you and reading the questions first will focus your attention to the most important pieces of information. Remember the guessing penalty info and don’t freak out. You can always take the test again.