Standardized Test Prep: How Not to Care about the Reading Comp

Posted by Andrew Jungclaus on 10/23/13 1:14 PM

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A novel but surprisingly effective approach to taking the SAT

One of the most difficult parts of standardized tests like the SAT or ACT is the reading comprehensions section, in which you are compelled to answer tedious questions about dismally boring passages, or worse, oversimplified questions about passages which might otherwise be interesting.  They key to getting through this section without either falling asleep or getting angry?  A practiced indifference.

Today's lesson is this: You are forbidden to care about Reading Comprehension passages

That may seem like a very strange thing for a tutor to say.  And it's true, I’m being a bit facetious. Obviously, you need to care about how well you score on the critical reading sections of the SAT, GRE, PSAT, et cetera. But one of the most important tips I’ve found for my students in New York to keep in mind has been to completely disengage from the content of the reading passages, both long and short. These standardized test reading passages are filled with little traps and interesting facts designed to slow you down, and maximizing your score will always involve employing an analytic rather than a personal lens for reading. Of course, the danger here is disengaging too much, but try keeping the following mental cues in mind for getting your preparation off on the right foot.

Like Pierre, say “I don't care!”

This is one of the hardest things for my students to internalize, but it’s always the first step toward doing well on the critical reading sections of the SAT. With the wide range of reading selections that the test makers cull from scientific journals, newspapers, and literary reviews, there’s bound to be reading that makes you stop and think: “Huh, this looks interesting.” But believe me when I say that displaying a genuine level of interest in these articles will only do you harm – personal engagement with the text will slow you down and put you into the wrong frame of mind for answering their questions. My advice is always to read the brief explanatory blurb at the start and tell yourself: “I do not care. I do not care. I do not care.” before diving in.

Be a machine 

Your priority with these reading passages should be to mine them as quickly and as efficiently as possible for the right answers, and this usually involves two things: facts and tone. Without going too much into the strategy for critical reading right here, I always tell my students to follow along with a pencil as they’re reading so that they can underline the facts that seem important and circle the clues to author’s tone. You can make these passage based reading selections work for you, and one of the keys is in developing your own shorthand, note-taking, and underlining strategies to move through them without getting bogged down.

NEVER let your opinions matter

The College Board just doesn’t care! Remember, the SAT tests neither opinions nor knowledge—only reading comprehension. It can be so easy to say “Well, this choice seems reasonable” or maybe if the passage is historical and it relates to the period you just finished up in AP US History you might say “Well, I remember from class that this actually happened…” Just stop. Your answers are in the passage, and if you’ve effectively mapped it with your own shorthand, this is all you’ll need. Of course, this takes practice, but the first step is always to seal yourself off from outside experience.

Of course, this isn’t all there is to acing critical reading sections on the SAT, GRE, and ACT – but it’s a good start to getting your head in the game. Start your practicing early, and if you’re in need of coach, our tutors are always available in New York, Boston, and online!


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Tags: ACT, SAT