“4 things worth knowing about the SAT critical reading section”


June 7, 2013 – By: Caroline Duda

With the beginning of summer and the end of the school year very nearly upon us, now is the perfect time to begin thinking about preparing for next year’s SAT. But where should you start? While the Critical Reading section may seem most familiar to many of the students who take the SAT, it is also a portion with one of the longest preparation times. As you begin to build a game plan to tackle it (and, really, strongly consider starting now), use the four things worth knowing that are discussed below to guide your process.

1. You can’t learn vocabulary in 24 hours. Rome wasn’t built in a day. While vocabulary practice is an excellent way to increase your score on the SAT, know you’ll need time to do so. Cramming can be a tempting option if you find yourself growing nervous the night before the test, but you’ll only forget those words or confuse their meanings. Precision is key to success when dealing with the Critical Reading section.

Instead, focus on several new words each week. Identify their roots (which may come in handy with other unfamiliar vocabulary) and any prefixes or suffixes. Then try using these words in context, in your day-to-day life. You’ll find that they stick better than they would have had you crammed right before the test.

2. Not everything you read is important. When you first glance at the passage-based section of the Critical Reading exam, you may wonder how you’ll possibly manage to absorb everything in the time you’re given. Factor in that the passage topics may be unfamiliar to you, and you’ve got a frightening situation on your hands. The good news is that you only need to focus on certain parts of each passage.

As you read, note the main idea of the selection. What is the author claiming? What is his or her purpose? What are the arguments that support this main idea? Most questions in this section of the test will ask you about big ideas, not small details.

3. There is no perfect response. Keep this in mind as you work through those long passages or sentence completions. While x + 11 = 3 has a single correct answer, the Critical Reading portion of the SAT tests your ability to differentiate between several possible responses. Language like “most closely means” is a clue to look for the answer that has the best fit. If it isn’t ideal, that’s okay.

Process of elimination, here, is still a good friend to use. One, perhaps two, answers will not fit at all. Cross them out. Then pay close attention to the words that remain. How does each change slightly in meaning? Which compliments the context of the sentence best? You will find it gets easier to work with shades of gray the more you practice.

4. You can and should prepare for this test. All too often, I hear high school juniors and seniors declare the Critical Reading section “easy,” not to mention “a waste of time to study for.” The answers are already in the passages, right? And we all learn how to skim for important information well before junior year, right?

It’s not quite that easy. While many SAT test-takers are accustomed to completing vocabulary tests and examining a passage for comprehension clues, the SAT environment is an entirely new beast. To best it, review. Allotting yourself sufficient time to study the contents of the exam and practice the strategies mentioned here and in other articles will go a long way toward ensuring that you earn the score you want.

 Caroline Duda, a professional SAT tutor, has an impressive track record of helping students prepare for the exam and learn the tools and techniques they need to increase their SAT score.

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