SAT Exam Tips for the Critical Reading Section


Note: These tips apply to the current version of the SAT. They do not apply to the reformatted SAT which begins in March 2016.
by Speed Reading Expert, Richard L. Feldman, Ph.D. (Columbia University)

Use the four-step method for critical reading passages.
Don’t begin a long SAT passage by reading it line by line: Each passage is long and difficult and you clutter your brain with endless details. Fortunately, critical reading questions test only a small fraction of the information in the passage. You can usually answer questions without reading every sentence in the passage.

The four-step method helps you locate the main ideas of the passage before you focus on the details. This approach, main ideas before details, allows you to read faster and more effectively.
Here are the four steps:

Step 1: Skim the passage.
The purpose of skimming is to locate the sentences in every paragraph that are likely to state the main ideas. Skimming helps you get the “big picture” first. One method of skimming is called blurb-2-1-1-F. Start with the blurb (the italicized introduction at the beginning of the passage), then read only the first two sentences of the first paragraph. Continue by reading only the first sentences of the remaining body paragraphs. For the final paragraph, read both the first and last sentences.

If you find you can’t seem to grasp the main ideas using this approach, try reading both the first and last sentences in every paragraph instead.

Sometimes a passage is very long but contains only one or two extremely long paragraphs. Here is an alternate skimming method in this case: Read the blurb and both the first and last two sentences in every paragraph.

Step 2: Try to answer some questions.
After you skim the passage, you probably know its main idea or purpose. At this point, try to answer as many questions as you can. If you can’t answer a particular question, cross out obviously incorrect choices and move on to the next question. Even if you can’t answer several questions at this step, reading the questions will help you understand the passage more effectively. Fortunately, most critical reading questions are VIC (vocabulary in context) and line reference questions, which can be answered during this step.

Step 3: Search for the answer to each question that you skipped in Step 2.
Quickly locate and read the portion of the passage containing the answer to each question. Keep in mind that certain questions, including those about the main idea, may not be found in any particular part of the passage. Answer as many questions as you can during this step.

Step 4: Use POE (process of elimination) to answer remaining questions.


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