The SAT Reading Comprehension: Basic Principles
In This Article:
In the first step you identified the main idea of the passage. This should have occurred by the end of the first paragraph, or by first sentence of the second paragraph at the absolute latest.
In the second step you then picked up the pace, forcing yourself to ignore the details as much as possible. The passage might have a second major idea, but on the SAT such passages are rare. You're underlining very little if at all, but you re circling words like but, although, and however if you encounter them; sentences that contain those words often come in handy later.
Now, in the third step, your goal is to see what the main idea of each paragraph is; its function in the overall passage. Each paragraph will develop the author's main idea in some way, and the only thing you care about nowbefore you get to the questionsis how each paragraph as a whole fits in to the passage as a whole.
An SAT Passage Can Unfold in Only So Many Ways
Under the previous step we discussed the role of the opening paragraph of an SAT passage as either presenting the main idea itself or setting up the main idea, in which case the main idea would occur in the first sentence of the second paragraph.
After the passage states the main idea, the main idea will be elaborated or supported. The author can elaborate or support the main idea in various ways, including the following:
- defining a key term
- providing details
- offering examples
- comparing a related idea
- quoting an expert
After the author supports the main idea, be alert for any opposing ideas orespeciallyqualifications. An idea is qualified when its scope is limited, such as when exceptions to the idea are pointed out. Qualifications to the main idea will almost always be introduced with the direction reversal words we discussed earlier, "but" being the most common, followed by words like although, despite, except, however, though, and yet. Qualifications are also sometimes introduced with words and expressions like of course, admittedly, not the only, and so forth.
The passage will not always qualify the main idea of the passage, but it often does. So, after the passage states the main idea and supports it, and then possibly qualifies it, how else can the main idea be developed; where else can it go?
The final way the main idea may be developed is by extending or applying the idea into another area, to show the idea's significance or wider relevance. The main idea is applied when the author answers the further question, So what?
The basic format of all SAT passages, then, is simple: introduce the main idea (possibly with the conventional wisdom); elaborate and support the main idea with details and examples; and then possibly qualify the main idea or apply it.
Following the Development of a Passage: An Illustration
The next passage illustrates a wide range of development techniques. Before reading the discussion below the passage, try to determine how each sentence moves the passage forward.
- In the past, how has one civilization conquered
another? Many historians have concentrated on
the technological superiority of one side over the
other's. Undoubtedly, technological advances such
as the development of metal weapons or gunpowder
or even the stirrup for horses enabled one
civilization to defeat another.
But the conquering side often had invisible
allies, too. Europeans took over the North
American continent from the native population as
much by introducing not always unwittingly
microbes and viruses into a populace that had no
immunity to them, as by their muskets and other
technologically advanced weapons. A growing
acknowledgement among historians of the role of
this phenomenon will undoubtedly lead to a radical
reinterpretation of many historical events.
Discussion: The first sentence is a rhetorical question that is answered in the second sentence by the introductory statement. The third sentence supports the introductory statement with two examples (metal weapons and gunpowder). The fourth sentence contradicts the introductory statement with opposing idea (invisible allies). The fifth sentence qualifies the opposing idea by saying that both factors (technological superiority and invisible microbes) can answer the initial rhetorical question, and that many historians were not completely mistaken. The sixth and final sentence applies the main idea to the larger scope of history in general.
If You Can, Anticipate the Passage's Likely Development
One way to stay actively engaged in the passage is to anticipate how it is likely to develop. For example, if a question is asked in the passage, we would expect an answer to follow. A problem stated in one paragraph should be followed by a solution in the next paragraph. A general statement should be followed by an example.
You won't always anticipate the development correctly, but that doesn't matter. What's important is that you think as you read. Apart from thinking being a good idea on its own, thinking as you read prevents you from overloading your short-term memory with details because your brain is already occupied.
More on: SATs and Other Tests
From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
If you'd like to buy this book, click here.