How to Read for the SAT and ACT: Three Methods

Posted by Colleen on 11/15/17 5:57 PM

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One of the hardest sections to prepare for on the SAT and ACT is the reading section. For the other sections, like math and English, there is particular content to learn. For the reading section, however, the exam is testing how well you understand and interpret what you read. Most importantly in this section, you need to manage your time well. What are some strategies for approaching the section efficiently and thereby gaining maximum points? I break down three methods below.

What Strategies Should I Follow?

Everyone reads differently. When I work with students, we try different methods of reading the passages and answering questions. It is well worth your time to find out what works best for you. Here are three strategies. Many students follow one of these, but what works best for you might be some combination of the following.

1. Read the entire passage carefully, then answer the questions.

Taking time to read the passage means that you can pay attention to what it is saying, without having to keep track of what the questions are. The downside of this method is that if you take your time reading the passage, you have less time to answer the questions.

This method might be good for you if: you are a careful reader and can understand most of the passage’s details from one reading.

This method might not be for you if: you like knowing what information you will need to answer the questions or if you like rereading parts of the passage while answering the questions.

2. Skim through the passage so that you can know where to find information once you get to the questions.

With this method, you don’t spend as much time reading and understanding the passage as in Method 1. Instead, you get a broad sense of the purpose and content of the passage, so that you can know where to look for the information you need once you get to the questions.

This method might be good for you if: you like spending time on the exam going back to the passage while you answer questions. It might also be good for you if you understand the passage content best when you read it twice. If you are going to read the twice anyway, it saves a lot of time if you just focus on the big ideas on your first time though.

This method might not be good for you if: you like knowing what the questions will be or if you have trouble skimming. If skimming means that you either remember nothing or that you take as long as your normal reading pace, then don’t skim!

3. Read the Questions First

For this method, you read the title of the passage to understand its main theme and then jump straight to the questions. Skim the questions and see what they are asking about. Are they looking for the meaning of the passage? A close reading of particular words? Keep these questions (and even particular lines) in mind. Then, go through and read the passage. As you find answers to the questions, mark them down. Finish any remaining questions once you finish the passage. 

This method might be for you if: you like to know what you should be looking for in the passage. Do you get lost, or do your thoughts wander off? Knowing the specific information that you need to look for can help you keep on track.

This method might not be for you if: you find it difficult to remember the questions and read at the same time. Do you get distracted thinking about the questions, causing your mind to drift away from the passage? Maybe it’s best to stick to reading the passage with a clear mind first and then move on to the questions.

How Do I Know Which Method to Use?

Take practice tests and go through practice passages. Do one method for a couple passages, then switch to another. Which feels more natural? Which method is fastest? And which method lets you earn the most points? One method will probably stand out to you, but if not, don’t feel afraid to experiment. Learning how you read will gain you points, so your time is well spent. Plus, the more practice tests and passages you see, the more you will be prepared for exam day. 

Where Do I Go from Here?

Looking for more practice on the reading section? Check out my posts on practicing reading, types of reading questions, and answering reading questions, or get in touch with Cambridge Coaching to schedule private tutoring sessions and practice your reading strategies!

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Tags: ACT, SAT