02 May 2011

The official list of things to circle on SAT & ACT reading passages

Warning: while this may look like an awfully long list of things to circle, chances are that only a handful of these words/phrases will show up on any given passage. This is also not intended to be a exercise in memorization; rather, it is to get you thinking about the kinds of ways in which authors indicate to their readers the most important aspects of what they’re trying to say.

Furthermore, the point of looking out for these things is not to turn your reading into a transition hunt at the expense of actually absorbing what you’re reading. Just circling transitions mechanically and not thinking about what role they play in the passage at large will not get you very far and may in fact make things harder for you. However, if you actively consider them in relation to the point of the passage once you’ve established it, they will help you establish a general “map” of the key places in the argument.

Major Transitions:

Supporting:

And

So

For

In fact

Indeed

Of course

Therefore/Thus

Consequently

As a result

In addition

Also

Furthermore

Moreover

Likewise

Similarly

Contradicting:

But

Yet

However

(Al)though/Even though

Despite

While

Whereas

Nevertheless

Rather

Comparison/Contrast:

In comparison

In contrast

Just as…so

Explanations:

Because

Since

Explains

The answer is

Giving you the point:

The point is

The goal/aim is

To sum up

In other words

After all

In the end

The (main) idea

Important Information:

Important

Key

Crucial

Essential

Fundamental

It is true/not true

It is clear/unclear

Strong Language:

Absolutely

Unequivocally

Exceptionally

Extraordinarily

Unquestionably

Definitely

Always

Never

Nothing

Inevitably

Fundamentally

“Unusual” Punctuation:

Question Marks – Indicate rhetorical questions. Questions are prime targets for inference questions because information is often implied but not stated.

Colons – Explanations Dashes – Explanations or supplementary (qualifying) information

Semicolons – Imply a relationship between two thoughts that is not necessarily spelled out — likely spot for inference questions to deal with

Words in quotes – Used figuratively. The answer to at least one question will depend on your understanding of how a word in quotes is being used, even if the question doesn’t ask about it directly. Often indicates skepticism.

Italicized words – Used to emphasize, underscore, call attention to, highlight

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