An Introduction to the SAT Test Critical Reading Passages


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Oct 9, 2012
It is not a secret that the Critical Reading section of the SAT presents you with probably some of the most boring reading you will ever encounter. Oh yeah… it can be brutal… BUT – boring reading or not, it is something that you must overcome. And just because it is boring, does not mean you can just blow it off, take a nap or space out. A common situation we run into during SAT preparation is the student who does really well on reading passages that she finds bearable, but horribly on passages that bore her to tears. Don’t be that person! You don’t want to give up valuable points just because you are not able to focus on a passage. The SAT is a mental test. It tests your mental toughness in a way similar to the way an athletic competition tests your mental toughness. You cannot play your best if you are not in the game mentally; if you are not in the game mentally on this section of the SAT – it will eat you alive. Critical reading passage questions do not come in order of increasing difficulty. They are organized chronologically – based upon where you might find the information in the passage itself. Each Critical Reading passage question has 5 answer choices and we categorize those choices as follows. We like to say that each passage question has: 1. The Right Answer 2. The “Pick Me!” Answer 3. A Plausible Answer 4. Another plausible Answer 5. The “What the heck?” Answer The Right Answer: All Critical Reading passage questions have “the Right Answer” that gives the proper answer to the question they are asking. This is the one you ideally would like to select each and every time. (Duh…) The “Pick Me!” Answer: Most Critical Reading passage questions have what we call the “Pick Me!” answer choice. This is the carefully crafted answer choice that SEEMS good and logical and is sitting there raising its arm and looking at you saying “Pick me!!! Pick me!!!!” If you stare at it long enough you may very well say “OK buddy! I pick you!” only to wish you hadn’t… The Plausible Answers: Easy/Medium Critical Reading passage questions have a 3rd plausible answer choice that seems reasonable based upon what you have just read. Medium/Hard Critical Reading passage questions have a 4th plausible answer choice that seems reasonable based upon what you have just read. The “What the heck?” Answer: Most Critical Reading passage questions have one answer choice you can eliminate right away because it makes no sense at all based upon what you just read. The reason we like to categorize the answer choices in this manner is that many students approach the Critical Reading passage questions by using a Process of Elimination approach, which is a logical and sensible way to approach multiple-choice questions. But this approach leaves students with the dreaded 50-50 dilemma – they get it down to two answer choices that both seem really good, and they can’t decide which one to pick. This is in large part because they get it down to the Right Answer and the “Pick Me!” Answer. This brings us to the million dollar question: How do I avoid the dreaded “Pick Me!” Answer? Reading passage tip #1 will show you the way: Reading Passage Tip #1:Come Up With Your Own Answers It is hugely important that you come up with your own answers to the Critical Reading passage questions BEFORE you look at the answers they provide for you. Doing so will help you avoid falling into any little traps they might be setting for you. After you read a question, do NOT look at the answer choices. Go to the lines referenced in the question and answer the question yourself. Then go back to the answer choice that best matches YOUR answer. By coming up with your own answer before looking at the answer choices, you make it far less likely that the “Pick Me!” answer will trick you because now you are looking for an answer choice that matches YOUR answer and in most cases, the “Pick Me!” answer will not match what you come up with. (Disclaimer: Use common sense here – Sometimes the question asks something like “all of the following are mentioned in the passage EXCEPT or some other question that logically requires you to look at the choices in order to answer the question.) Here are a few other key tips to keep in mind when approaching Critical Reading passage questions: Reading Passage Tip #2:Reading is Fundamental! Many people suggest that the best way to approach the reading comprehension on the SAT is to SKIP reading the passages and go right to the questions and THEN read the passage once you have looked at all the questions. We would STRONGLY advise against this. Unless your goal score on the Critical Reading is around a 500 or you are running out of time on a particular section, our advice would be for you to read each passage before you dive into the questions. Reading Passage Tip #3:Most Nearly Means Questions Make sure when you are answering questions that ask what a word most nearly means in the “context of the passage” that you do not jump the gun and simply select the definition you most commonly associate with the word. These questions will say something like: the word “shines” in line 8 most nearly means When doing these questions do NOT look at the answer choices before you come up with your own answer. Go to the sentence referenced in the passage and come up with a word that YOU think would make sense in place of the word they are asking about. Then go to the answer choices and select the answer that is closest to YOUR word. Reading Passage Tip #4:Space Cadet Syndrome If you find yourself spacing out like we described earlier, you might want to pause after each paragraph and say to yourself, “Do I know what I just read?” Perhaps even take a second to jot down in the margin the main idea of the paragraph. Reading Passage Tip #5: For those of us who forget things quickly… One of the rare times we recommend answering questions before you finish reading the entire selection is on the “double passage” sections. When you finish PASSAGE 1, go to the questions and answer all of the questions that you can that deal with what you just read. Then read PASSAGE 2 and answer all the questions that you can about that passage. Reading Passage Tip #6:Chronological Order Use the fact that the questions come in chronological order to your advantage. If you are attempting to find the information to answer a question, and the previous question directed you to lines 12-15 and the question AFTER the one you are working on directs you to lines 26-30, then you might want to start by looking between lines 15 and 26 for your information. Reading Passage Tip #7: First things first… The first paragraph is VERY important. It sets the tone for the entire passage. Make sure you have a clear sense of the main idea of that opening paragraph before you move on to read the rest of the passage. Reading Passage Tip #8: It’s all about attitude, baby… We cannot stress enough how important your mindset is heading into the Critical Reading passages… If you are negative about the passages, then it will be a painful and very difficult process. If you go in with the attitude that you are going to beat the heck out of the reading passages, answer all its silly little questions correctly, laugh at the pathetic little passages as you accumulate all of your points so easily – then you will indeed have the last laugh. To do well on the reading comprehension, you have to WANT it… sogo get it…
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