Originally Posted by My SAT Guide
4aii. Passage-Based Questions
The bulk of the SAT reading is composed of 48 passage-based questions. These questions ask you to read either a single passage or a pair of passages. The questions will then ask about certain aspects of the passages. Here is a sample set of questions about a passage that I wrote:
The following passage was written in 2011. Recently, the Kepler telescope had discovered several earth-like planets outside our solar system.
Is there another earth? It is a question that has plagued mankind for millenniums, going back to the time of the Greeks. The recent discovery of the planet Kepler-22b has sparked even more interest in this ancient topic. This planet was discovered by the Kepler satellite, a marvel of modern technology. Costing $600 million, Kepler was launched into a heliocentric orbit trailing the earth. The satellite is designed to stare incessantly at the same batch of stars, watching for a miniscule drop in starlight that could indicate the existence of a planet. Since its 2008 launch, Kepler has identified over two-thousand potential exoplanets. However, critics have expressed contempt towards projects such as Kepler; they assert that such projects are wasteful, and that money would be better spent on problems back on earth. What these critics don’t realize is that projects such as Kepler help advance our knowledge and inspire children to study science. In addition, they represent a microscopic fraction of America’s federal budget.
1. In lines 9-10 (“projects…science”) the author express his belief that projects like Kepler
a. are neither harmful nor important
b. should be funded, so long as they don’t divert funding from other projects
c. are very important and cost relatively little
d. were already thoroughly done by the Greeks
e. require the help of the military
2. In line 10, “microscopic” is closest in meaning to
3. The main purpose of this passage is to
a. present an unbiased assessment of the utility of Kepler
b. inform the reader about recent discoveries in the field of astronomy
c. explain the purpose of Kepler and defend it against its critics
d. press the government to step up funding for various research facilities
e. explore the philosophical debate about the discovery of earth-like planets
These questions were written to have similar wording, format, and style to those found on the SAT. These are probably easier than the real thing, but they give a sense of what to expect.
The first question asks you to interpret the author’s attitude, and gives line numbers that direct you to where the answer can be found. You’ll want to look beyond just the line numbers given; the entire passage may provide clues. When you read the surrounding lines, you can tell that the best answer is C). The author discusses how little these project cost in context with the entire federal budget, and also says how projects such as Kepler “advance our knowledge and inspire children to study science
Question 2 asks for the definition of the word in context. These questions can be tricky because all of the answer choices may be possible definitions. The important thing is to find what the best definition in context is. This makes A) negligible the best answer.
Question 3 asks you to assess the entire passage to find the author’s intent. You will find that there are key passages and sentences that can help reveal the answer. Specifically, the author’s rebuttal to Kepler’s critics along with the description from lines 3-6 (“Costing…planet”) reveal that the answer is C).
This sample passage was meant to show you the types of questions to expect on the SAT. Now let’s look at some strategies that can help you tackle these questions.
Basically, there are two methods of attack when it comes to passage questions. The first is “question first” and the second is “passage first.” As the name implies, “question first” looks at the questions before even reading the passage; the thinking behind this is so that you know what to look for when you read the passage. There are some variations to this strategy, but I’ll try and describe it as generically as possible .
Step 1) Skip the passages and head straight for the questions.
Step 2) Look at the questions, paying close attention to any questions that have line references.
Step 3) Mark up lines that the questions refer to.
Step 4) Read the passage, paying close attention to the passages marked.
Step 5) Do any questions that remain.
Obviously, there are variations to this general strategy. Some people like to answer questions as they go, and move back and forth between passage and questions . However, the idea is that by looking at the questions first, it enables you to know what you’re looking for.
The other method is the conventional passage first, where you read the passage before answering the question. This is what most people do, but there a few things that you can do to increase your score considerably. Most of these tips are fairly generic, and are available from a variety of sources.
• Mark the passages. Underline sentences that reveal author intent, style, or attitude towards the subject.
• Circle words that may have questions about. In particulars, words that have multiple meanings.
• Write brief notes and words that summarize the main idea of paragraphs. Be sure not to make them too elaborate; one or two words are fine.
• Pretend to be interested. Even if the passage is about how bacteria eat, pretend to be interested because it will make you more focused on the passage.
• For the questions, have an answer in your mind before looking at the choices; then, choose the one that most closely matches your guess.
• Read carefully. One or two words can make a big difference. This is especially true when you have dual passage questions, and it asks for what the author of one passage thinks.
• Stay focused. Losing focus will often slow your pace, causing you to have to rush the last several questions. Thus, it is important to keep up a steady tempo.
• Circle questions you skip so that you know to go back to them. Skip questions when it’s taking too long to answer them.
• Go back to the passage, especially if line numbers are given. After all, the answers are in the passage.
One last note about the critical reading section as a whole: If you finish and have time left to go back, I recommend that you check the sentence-completion questions. Read back the answers to yourself , and if time permits, check the passage questions. Also, be sure to do any questions you skipped.