Long knives out

Just so you know: some of the essays on the critical reading portion of the test will be boring. Wait, you already knew that?


This is a bad strategy.

There’s nothing you can do about the essays themselves, but you can modify your strategy for reading them to mitigate the boredom. It’s very easy: break them into pieces. Just like you wouldn’t eat a steak all in one bite, your probably shouldn’t scarf down the SAT reading passages. I like to attack them in paragraph chunks. Generally, paragraphs carry a smaller germ of an idea that’s easier to grasp, allowing you to focus on it instead of on the whole idea of the whole passage. So read the first paragraph (which is usually super-important anyway) and then start attacking any questions dealing with the lines cited in that paragraph. Skip any main idea or purpose questions–save them for last, when you have read through the whole passage. Then read the second paragraph and do the same as you did with the first paragraph: answer the questions dealing with any cited lines. Follow this procedure until you’re done with the second, and then complete any whole passage questions.

This strategy has a number of benefits.

  1. It cuts down on boredom. Instead of contending with an 80-line behemoth, you have to fight a much smaller creature–maybe 10 lines of text. This stops your mind from wandering, as it sometimes might do in the midst of one of the SAT’s longer passages.
  2. It keeps you focused on lines that questions are asking about. Instead of reading the whole passage and then going back and rereading certain lines, you answer questions about stuff you just ingested. The information is fresher, so you’ll be able to think about it more quickly.
  3. It allows you to complete questions more quickly. This is especially important for people who sometimes run out of time. By eschewing reading the entire passage, which can sometime take precious time, you get to the questions faster and actually put some answers on the page. If you have five minutes left and an entire passage to do, it’s probably pointless to read the whole thing. Target your resources intelligently to rack up as many points as possible.

Some people don’t like this method, preferring the traditional read-then-answer approach. If that works for you, fine. But try this out a few times, and you might start to see improved scores that come from the more intense focus that this method allows you to generate.