How to dominate reading comprehension on the SAT


Reading comprehension on the SAT: time to kick back, put your feet up, and soak up some light reading? Not so much. As you know if you’ve taken any practice tests, SAT reading comprehension isn’t exactly leisurely. The passages often focus on strange, unfamiliar subject matter, and it’s not like you have Wikipedia at your disposal to give you a quick background of the material at hand. What’s more, the clock’s a-ticking.

That said, here are some quick tips to help you make the most out of the time allotted for reading comprehension questions:

  1. Don’t spend all your time reading the passage. Instead, skim for main ideas. Focus on the first paragraph to find the main idea, and then try to get a grasp on the general argument of each subsequent paragraph. If it helps you, feel free to jot down a few notes on main ideas.
  2. Easy passages first! If you’re into science, the easy passage for you might be the one that focuses on the biochemical make-up of pheasants. If you’re more of a literature type, you’ll probably gravitate towards the discussion of Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter. Either way, get the easy subject matter out of the way so you’ll have more time to tackle the tough stuff later on. 
  3. Read the questions carefully. In fact, read them more carefully than the passages. Make sure you know what the question is asking before you try to answer it. There might be answer choices that are technically true—but that don’t answer the question at hand.
  4. Answer general questions before detail questions. Detail questions will generally take more time to answer, as you’ll have to search through the passage for evidence. If you’ve skimmed well, you should be able to answer general, main-idea questions without too much of a problem.
  5. Don’t get creative. Hate to break it to you, but the SAT doesn’t want your opinion. You should be able to find evidence for all your answer choices in the passage—not in your head. 
  6. Don’t freak out. This one goes for the whole test. Keep a steady pace, but make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to understand the general outlines of the passage, and the angle of the question, before attempting an answer.

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