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How to Attack the SAT Critical Reading Section Effectively

NoitaraperpNoitaraperp Posts: 578Registered User Member
edited January 24 in SAT Preparation
Hello CC community,

I'm not allowed to post links, but if you want to see a better formatted version that's easier on the eyes you should just google "How to Attack the SAT Critical Reading Section Effectively". Keep in mind that I can edit/update the eHow but I can't edit this CC page after a while. My approach is somewhat more conceptual and I hope this method helps you. Please make any suggestions as you see fit - they're very helpful. Sorry but I like to write in huge paragraphs. Here we go:

Do you want to learn the most infallible and least error-prone method of attacking the SAT Critical Reading Section? Learn from someone who knows. I was accepted into Harvard with a 2400 (that sounds pretentious but you should know where I'm coming from). I first have to tell you that achieving a great score on SAT CR is not easy and there's no single silver bullet. As with everything, this method requires repeated practice and experimentation before results can show. Please read on as I share with you my successful method of tackling CR.

Step 1. Let's start with the approach. You have probably encountered people in your daily life who snidely demean the SAT or at least the experience of taking the SAT. However, you must approach this important experience with a fundamentally different mindset. Okay, perhaps the SAT is a test full of tricks - a test purely to be gamed. If so however, learning to work within a system is a very valuable skill to have in life. Furthermore, I believe that the fundamental basis of the SAT is not its tricks, but its call for a rapid comprehension of certain situations, a supple maneuverability, and a positive approach to the material. After all, a multiple-choice test with any semblance of difficulty can be said to contain tricks. How good is your knowledge if you can't manipulate it to a small challenge? Don't demean your opponent - that's a recipe for disaster. The last quality, a positive approach to the material, is the most important and the one you can control the easiest. However, it does not come naturally (as can be seen with scores of grumbling teens) and takes reinforcing.

Step 2. A second word about approach: You didn't pay CollegeBoard 45 bucks so that you could be nice. When you're faced with five choices on a question, you've got to be ruthless. Stop internally justifying why one answer could be right, and instead make the shift to asking yourself why that answer could be wrong - play Devil's Advocate, as cliched as that may sound. I can't tell you enough how much this shift in thinking has helped me when I have been stuck between two seemingly correct choices. Despite appearances, all choices ARE different and one is certainly the best, or else CollegeBoard would be losing thousands of dollars to successful lawsuits. Keep this in mind. You have got to find the right answer and I will show you how.

Step 3. It is my intention to focus mostly on the long reading passages in this How-To, since that is where the majority of the CR questions lie and since these questions give many test-takers a higher level of grief. For sentence completions, my biggest advice is to stop wasting your time on tricks, to buckle down, and to start attacking vocabulary lists. Direct Hits is vouched for by many and proven to be most effective, though I personally used Princeton Review's Word Smart I and II cover to cover (perhaps not as efficient as the previously mentioned title). One problem is retention, so what I did was that I made flashcards for every word I didn't know in the book (it came out to about 1000 words). It takes a long time, but it pays off for the SAT, your reading, your writing, and your life. Only if you really know the words will you be able to confidently answer sentence completions (and consummately schmooze at cocktail parties). For the short passages, it's all about absorbing the small paragraphs as efficiently as you can before going on to answer the questions. They're considerably easier if you keep your mind, and obsessing about the short passages (going back to double or triple check) are a huge time drain. Most of the time, it's a quick fact check paired with a tone question. If you practice a lot on long passages, short passages will be an easy relief for you.

Step 4. Now, onto the long passages. I had loads of trouble with these before I found this method. I am going to give you my step-by-step method of attacking them, which I have found extremely effective, albeit somewhat more time-consuming. Before anything, you MUST read the short blurb before the passage. It gives you a sense (though always limited) not only of what the passage is going to be about, but also of the position and possible tone of the author. You will then be able to perhaps place yourself into the author's shoes. This is a good point right now to tell you that you MUST love the passage you are reading. Force yourself to love it - throw yourself into the passage with gusto. It works. Though it's quite ludicrous to be super-enthusiastic about a boy and his alfafa patch, with your enthusiasm comes retention, heightened focus, and an oddly vicarious interest in the passage. My general mental approach was a huge contributing factor in my getting an 800 in CR and a 2400 on the SAT.

Step 5. After you have read that thrilling blurb, don't start reading the passage yet. Quickly jump to the questions, and as fast as you can, skim every question for line number references (don't read the choices or the full question yet). On some passages almost every single question has a line reference - on most others it's about over half. Very rarely will you see a passage with question without any line references (perhaps only rarely on a six question passage). Anyway, once you see a line reference (In lines 23-25 of the passage, the author is saying that...), you should bracket not the lines, but the sentence contained within the lines. This mark-up will allow you to focus in on that sentence once you begin to read the passage. Based on the question, you want to make a small annotation. For this question: (In lines 23-25 of the passage, the author is saying that...), you might make the annotation MEANING next to your marked-up sentence. Other annotations might include: SAYS THIS BECAUSE, REFERS TO, HOW SIMILAR TO PASSAGE 1, BACKS UP WHAT BEFORE (think crude caveman notations - they're more efficient). Go through all of the questions. Perhaps some of the references will not have any line numbers. If you see (In the last paragraph...), just put brackets around the last paragraph along with an annotation. If you see a general question referring to the passage as a whole, on the question circle the number of the question with a large circle. This means it's a general question and must be answered AFTER all the specific questions. I find this is always a very comfortable way of attacking the questions based on how CollegeBoard writes these questions.

Step 6. Once you have marked up all the line references as fast as humanly possible, then the real art begins. You must read the passage. There is no way around reading every single word. But HOW you read it is the true art. Read the unmarked sections quickly yet efficiently, absorbing it briefly but not truly pausing to analyze. ONCE you hit a marked section, slow down and absorb it. If you feel that it would not disrupt your flow to answer the corresponding question, do so. If not, keep going a little more. A vast majority of the line reference questions (even complex ones such as inferences) can be answered after reading from the beginning to the point of reference. In a few instances, it may help to read past the point of reference, but NEVER read the whole passage through without pausing to answer questions. Your retention will be terrible and it's much better to handle the passage in small, manageable chunks. Also, when you answer a question, just circle in the answer in the test booklet. DO NOT BUBBLE IN THE ANSWERS UNTIL YOU FINISH THE ENTIRE PAGE, SOMETIMES EVEN THE PASSAGE. This is a huge time saver and it prevents you from making bubbling mistakes. The time saved is not necessarily the time difference in bubbling, but the time saved because it prevented you from breaking your focus. This is very important in CR. Don't break focus. If you're very low on time however, you can bubble as you go.

Step 7. Once you have tackled all the line and paragraph references ruthlessly, you should have already finished reading the entire passage and because you had focused in on the passage in numerous instances, you should also be well-equipped to answer your circled general questions. I always find it's easier to answer these general question at this point, seeing as how you hit up the passage numerous times already along the way. Remember to never choose an answer unless you can truly back it up with evidence from the passage. Even "inferences" do not stray far from the text. If they did, then the "best answer" would be up in the air. Do not be misled by the word "inference" - it's a misnomer. A large number of these can actually be pulled straight from the passage. It's all about the passage - not what you think or have learned thus far in school. Being one with a text and not extracting too much from it is a valuable skill to learn. Don't put words into the author's mouth. Another very helpful thing to remember when viewing the choices is that extreme choices (including the words ALWAYS, NEVER, or BEST) are rarely ever correct because they fall under the hard-to-prove category of generalization within inductive reasoning. Though you've heard this tip many times and it sounds obvious, it is so helpful (yet easy to forget) and you often find yourself internally justifying these kinds of generalizing answers. Just say no (in a ruthless yet eternally positive way).

Step 8. My method of tackling long passages is somewhat time-consuming, but time is something that can be reduced through assiduous practice. This method is so effective in getting the right answer, and I fully vouch for it from personal expereince. What I also did during practice was that I gave myself twenty minutes instead of twenty-five in the standard CR sections, and I rapidly tried to utilize my developed method. It was extremely difficult to meet the twenty-minute deadline at first but I got better and better at it through practice. While time can be addressed easily through practice, a fundamentally bad approach to the passages cannot. You should try out this method if you are having trouble with CR passages - be open. This method was THE contributing factor for my rise from a 500 to an 800 in CR. Thanks, and tell your friends about this article. My CC is Noitaraperp. Good luck!

I can answer any questions on this thread as well.
Post edited by Noitaraperp on
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Replies to: How to Attack the SAT Critical Reading Section Effectively

  • aluminum_boataluminum_boat Posts: 1,413Registered User Senior Member
    Thanks. I think my biggest problem was losing focus.
  • eg2333eg2333 Posts: 420User Awaiting Email Confirmation Member
    Wow, amazing read. I love the idea of marking the line references previously. I bet a lot of times you are able to anticipate the question just by knowing what line reference it is before you even read the actual question. Also, the answer circling is another great tip I have not heard until now.
  • MrWheezyMrWheezy Posts: 445Registered User Member
    Granted I only took one real SAT and one practice, I never thought about step 2 and using reference markers... Ingenious method.
    Thanks XD

    Quite off-topic,but how many practice test did you take until you reached a 2400? How did you prepare for the math/writing section?
  • NoitaraperpNoitaraperp Posts: 578Registered User Member
    ^To be honest, I took 25 practice tests before I got a 2400. That sounds like a lot, but it didn't feel like much because they was spaced out quite evenly between June and March. After a while, as crazy as it sounds, I somewhat enjoyed taking practice tests. I really wanted to overcome this small challenge. I'm not going to talk about math or writing right now but I may in the future.
  • andyjo24andyjo24 Posts: 107Registered User Junior Member
    Nice post!!!! It was REALLY helpful!! I have one question, though. Would you recommend your method for ANY type of reading passage, such as scientific, literature, and history ones?
  • NoitaraperpNoitaraperp Posts: 578Registered User Member
    ^Essentially, yes. Again, the art of pausing to answer questions is one that must be developed through feel. On scientific passages it's easier to pause because what's written is usually more set in stone - in literary passages, especially first person, impressions can drastically change so sometimes reading a bit further can help. Nonetheless, I have found that a majority of the line reference questions (even inferences) can be answered after reading from the beginning through the point of reference, even in literary passages.
  • archi92archi92 Posts: 688Registered User Member
    Woa. 25 practice test? I assume that you didn't only use the BB book, would you tell me which prep book did you practice on?
  • orange peelorange peel Posts: 647Registered User Member
    noita- how important is vocab and essay? is memorizing vocab crucial? how many new words do u suggest if im missing 1-2 sent. completion per test? you said you recommend direct hits, but might I remind you that, DH consists of only 300 some words. Is that all you would recommend?
    As for the essay, how crucial is this and how do you get better? is it OK if I can only think of "common" examples? ive seriously done quite a few essays and all i can think of is "the motor industry", "school", an event that happened in my life,
  • aluminum_boataluminum_boat Posts: 1,413Registered User Senior Member
    ^. If you're missing 1-2 there's no point in learning more. At a certain point luck is involved. You could use that time to work on passage based questions
  • eg2333eg2333 Posts: 420User Awaiting Email Confirmation Member
    So I've tried out your method and I found it pretty decent. I tried it on a reading section and I missed more than I usually do using my method (I just read the entire passage and answer questions), but I think it was because I was literally reading a paragraph and going to the questions right after which kind of broke my flow, although I still like the idea of marking the lines.
  • icecube100icecube100 Posts: 24Registered User New Member
    I've been struggling a lot with the critical reading section and this seems like a nice idea. Right now my cr score is in the high 500s, so hopefully with a lot of practice tests and this "skill," I'll be able to move up to the 700s!

    Thanks!
  • NoitaraperpNoitaraperp Posts: 578Registered User Member
    eg2333 wrote:
    I tried it on a reading section and I missed more than I usually do using my method (I just read the entire passage and answer questions), but I think it was because I was literally reading a paragraph and going to the questions right after which kind of broke my flow, although I still like the idea of marking the lines.

    I felt also that it was choppy at first, but with more practice I found that its ease increased and gave me better accuracy.
    orangepeel wrote:
    noita- how important is vocab and essay? is memorizing vocab crucial? how many new words do u suggest if im missing 1-2 sent. completion per test? you said you recommend direct hits, but might I remind you that, DH consists of only 300 some words. Is that all you would recommend?
    As for the essay, how crucial is this and how do you get better? is it OK if I can only think of "common" examples? ive seriously done quite a few essays and all i can think of is "the motor industry", "school", an event that happened in my life

    Well, this thread is only really about CR - I may talk about the essay and other sections later. I'd say that if you're only missing 1-2 sentence completions, just learn the words in the ones you got wrong - you probably don't need to learn more from an external source unless it would build your confidence. I'm not familiar with Direct Hits, but someone strongly recommended it so I included it in the article - if its short on breadth, then Rocket Review I heard is good. Though I won't talk at length about the essay, just remember one crucial thing - you can use any topic as long as it is specific (and vivid at that), relevant, and somewhat insightful. You can even make it up, as long your ruse is not too obvious. The graders want to see how strongly and vividly you piece together an argument.
  • NoitaraperpNoitaraperp Posts: 578Registered User Member
    archi92 wrote:
    Woa. 25 practice test? I assume that you didn't only use the BB book, would you tell me which prep book did you practice on?

    Yeah, it sounds like a lot. I read on CC that a certain Xiggi recommends only using the Blue Book for practice tests. While I agree that these tests are real and are perhaps the most indicative, they were written by humans, not some godly forces. Other humans in other companies have somehow managed to realistically replicate these SATs, some obviously better than others. It is true that some companies (PR and Barron's) make the practices tests a little harder in order to prep students better. Rather than misleading me by presenting a higher level, these tests actually prepared me better for the test. Eight BB tests were the tests I saved until later. I first used PR's 11 Practice Tests (these were all slightly more challenging than the real tests but mirrored them quite well). I took a few Barrons tests as well but they felt sort of lousy and unprofessional (no offense to Barrons).
  • BobbyCTBobbyCT Posts: 1,123Registered User Senior Member
    Very impressive tips and I appreciate you sharing them with us. Just out of curiousity, what are your thoughts, if any, on the ACT test?
  • 92jjxx92jjxx Posts: 333Registered User Member
    noitaraperp, wut websites or books do u recommend reading to help with CR in general? i've heard nytimes, economist, and discovery magazine are good ones.
    since i wanna spend more time doing practice tests and studying vocab than "casual reading," i just need some suggestions of good reading material thats not too time consuming
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