The College Essay
June 15, 2017

Reading Comprehension Tips

Author: Tonianne B.

Is there enough time?

During ACT or SAT Prep, my students are always concerned about the reading section: will they get it done in time? For ACT students in particular, it’s a daunting prospect. ACT students have to read four passages and answer ten questions per passage in thirty-five minutes. That’s 8 minutes and 45 seconds per passage and its corresponding questions. If the student is a not an avid reader (and even if she is), that’s a seemingly superhuman feat.

But it can be done.

And while the SAT reading section is a bit kinder on time (5 passages, 52 questions, and 65 minutes), the strategies used to cut down on time for the ACT reading section are just as applicable for the SAT reading section.

It’s always best to practice these techniques regularly.

The more you practice, the more natural the approaches will feel. Plus, additional practice builds confidence in the student, which cuts down on time consuming anxiety on test day.

There are different strategies I go through with students in depth in sessions, but they take time and practice. If the test is in a couple of weeks, and you’re just starting now, then try the line strategy. It’s not as precise as something like the active reading method, but the latter method requires quite a bit of practice. The line method can be learned and mastered fairly easily in a couple of weeks (or even a week if you work on it every day).

Practicing the line method in 3 steps:

  1. Start with the questions that ask you about specific lines, but DON’T JUST READ THOSE LINES. Read two or three lines up and two or three lines below. This will give you context for the answer. The test makers know that you’re probably going to use this method, and they want to trick you, so be careful when answering. The tests are always going to have answer choices that seem especially attractive if you’ve only read the lines mentioned. The real answer is one that usually takes context into account.
  2. Then go to questions that have italicized words, dates, names, or keywords. You can skim the passage for those specific words and dates. When you find them, read a bit above and a bit below and then try and answer. Remember, the word or date is probably mentioned more than once. If the answer is not where the word/date was first mentioned, then it might be at another point in the essay.
  3. Finally, if you have time, you can answer the more global or inference oriented questions. Those are ones that ask you about the main idea of the passage, what the author would agree with, etc. These questions are a bit harder when using this method, but because you’ve gone through all the other questions already, you’ve probably read enough of the passage to get a good grasp of what the passage is about and what the author’s opinion is. If you’re really worried, read the first (or topic) sentence of each paragraph, and pay attention to the author’s word choices: word choices that are negative give a negative opinion and vice versa.

They key to this method is confidence. You’re probably going to be nervous about not reading the passage, which might make you go back and forth on an answer. This defeats the purpose of the entire method: cutting down on time. This is why it’s so important to practice this strategy consistently in the one or two weeks leading up to the test. The more you practice, the more confident you will be.

This isn’t the only strategy available to students, but it is one of the fastest. Just remember to stay calm and trust in your answers.

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