SAT Answer Plan: How to optimize your score – Critical Reading

This article will discuss tips and tricks for the math section of the SAT and is a continuation of the general SAT tips article.

The Critical Reading section of the SAT includes three subsections: sentence completion, which will test vocabulary and your sentence structure; short reading, which will test your reading comprehension using short passages; and long reading, which will require you to read passages and answer multiple questions.

SAT Critical Reading - Sentence Completion

  • Answer the question in your own words
    The SAT will try to trick and mislead you with the answer choices. A better tactic is to try to fill in the black word yourself first, then compare your own answer with the choices. Remember that the correct missing word will rely on contextual cues from the entire sentence, not just from what is immediately surrounding the blank, so make sure that you read everything.
  • Take your time
    It is easy to feel rushed on sentence completion questions because many are very short and the stress of coming reading comprehension questions makes you want to hurry. Try to slow down. Going slow to read and consider the questions carefully will ultimately result in more points than rushing through. If necessary, skip a few with completely unfamiliar vocabulary. Focus on the questions you know you can get right so as not to make careless errors on them.
  • Be aware of transition words and negative words
    The test will include sentences with words like "not", "but", and "although". Remember that when you see these words, what fits in the blank will probably disagree with the content of the sentence. These sentence completion questions are testing your knowledge of sentence construction every bit as much as they are testing your vocabulary.
  • Use root words, prefixes, and suffixes to help you out
    You will probably see many words on the SAT that you are completely unfamiliar with. They do that intentionally. Focus in on the roots, prefixes, and suffixes, and try to think of other words that sound similar in order to zero in on the words meaning. For example, you may have never heard of the word 'diarchy', but if you remember that the prefix di- means two, and recognize 'archy' as appearing in words like 'monarchy', you may be able to guess that diarchy has something to do with two rulers. And you'd be right. Often a vague understanding of what a word might mean is still enough to get the question right.
  • There is an order of difficulty
    Just like the math section, sentence completion questions begin to use more difficult vocabulary the deeper you get into the section.

SAT Critical Reading - Reading Comprehension

The critical reading section of the SAT tends to be the bane of test takers. This section should be approached just like any other, however. Each question is straightforward and objective and will never require anything more than what is printed on the page for you. Don't fear long reading, as these questions are just as easy to crack as any other. And these tips should help you to do that:

  • The answer is found entirely, exclusively, and absolutely in the passage
    There is never any outside information that you will need to know to answer a reading comprehension question. In fact, if you are using outside information to answer a question, you're probably getting tricked. The SAT has been known to include passages about outdated scientific theories in hopes that you will answer the questions with modern science instead of what the passage actually says. Don't be fooled.
  • Don't read like you're studying for class
    Students have a tendency to read passages as if they have to memorize the details for a test later. You don't have to. No question will ever ask you when the War of 1812 occurred, and if one does, all you have to do is look back at the passage. Instead, you should be reading to try to get a general idea of the main themes and tones of the passage. Specific details can always be reviewed later if a question calls for them.
  • Your time should be spent answering, not reading
    As a connection to the previous tip, if you find yourself reading for longer than you're answering, you're reading too closely. Don't read for fine details, but don't skim either. Try to find a balance between the two. Let your eyes go over every word, but if there's a sentence you don't immediately understand, just keep going. There's probably not going to be a question about that sentence anyway. And if there is, that's when you can go back. 'Reading Comprehension' is a misnomer. You don't get any points for comprehending. You only get points for bubbling in answers.
  • Don't be a detective
    Your teachers reward you for unique understanding of the material. The SAT does not. This may seem subjective, but remember that ETS, the company that makes the SAT, hates when students can challenge one of the questions. As a result, there are purely objective reasons not only as to why an answer is right, but also why the other four answers are wrong. Thus, you shouldn't be "reading between the lines" or trying to figure anything out. Simply give the answer that's supported by the text, and cross out the answers that are contradicted by the text.

Make sure to read my other SAT tips, including general SAT tips, SAT math tips, and SAT writing tips.

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