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The SAT Reading Comprehension: Basic Principles

Improve Your Score by Unlearning Old Habits and Acquiring New Ones
You know that to change your score you have to change the way you take the test. Changing the way you approach the reading passages will likely be harder than changing the way you approach sentence completions. Your reading habits have formed over the past ten years or more, and have probably served you well in school. These same habits, however, are ill-suited to the demands of the SAT Reading Test. Still, by practicing the use of the new techniques in this chapter and the next, you can develop new reading habits for the SAT.

If you're already scoring high on the reading questions—say, one or two reading mistakes in the entire test, under timed conditions—don't change your overall approach; it's clearly working for you. Still, the techniques in this article can be added to your repertoire. So until you're consistently achieving a perfect or near perfect score on the reading questions, you should adopt these new techniques.

Repeat after Me: Quickly through the Passage, Slowly through the Questions
Most students spend far more time on the passages than they should, not leaving enough time for the questions. The key is to get through your initial read of a passage as quickly as possible so that you have enough time to work through the questions carefully. As you answer the questions you will need to reread a passage every so often to verify a detail or to clarify a point, but your initial reading of the passage should be quick.

Your goal is to read a passage quickly for the one or two key ideas, then read the questions and the choices very, very slowly! If you have eight minutes left for a medium-length (500-word) passage followed by six questions, you should try to get through the passage in two minutes or less so you'll have six minutes for the questions. As a rule of thumb, pace yourself so that you have at least a minute on average for each question. If you generally need more time than that to read a passage or to analyze and answer the questions, you'll need to leave some blanks.

We'll talk about leaving blanks later. The key point here is to recognize the importance of speeding up on the passage and slowing down on the questions.

As I said earlier, the shorter the passage the more carefully you must read. Indeed, you may paradoxically need to spend more time reading a 150-word, one-paragraph passage than you will to read a 450-word, three-paragraph passage.

Our Approach to the Passages in a Nutshell
Since your ultimate aim is to answer the questions, you'll want to spend as little time on the passage as possible and as much as possible on the actual questions. Here in a nutshell is our general approach to reading a passage and answering its questions:

    Step 1: Read the passage slowly until you get to its main idea, then race through the rest of the passage as quickly as you can.

    Step 2: As much as possible, force yourself to skim over specific facts and details.

    Step 3: The passage may have a secondary idea but your primary goal now is to get an overview of the passage's organization (the basic way each paragraph develops the main idea).

    Step 4: Get to the questions as quickly as you can and chop your way through the choices using aggressive process of elimination. Scavenger hunt back to the passage frequently to verify details.

That's all there is to it. We'll have to modify this approach slightly for certain types of passages, but those four steps form the basis of a powerful method for answering reading questions as quickly and accurately as possible.

Before I throw you into the deep end by giving you a full-length SAT passage and its questions, I'd like to discuss the first two steps above.

Next: Page 7 >>

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.

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