I was recently invited to do an interview about SAT vs. ACT Reading on the “Tests and the Rest” podcast, which is run by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin and covers a wide range of issues related to standardized testing and college admissions. (This is actually the second time they’ve had me on; my previous interview, in which I discussed SAT vs. ACT grammar, can be found here. I’m not sure when the new interview will air but will post something when it does.)
I had a great time chatting with Amy and Mike, and as I looked at my notes, the thought popped into my mind that in all my years of running this blog, I had somehow neglected to devote a post to that particular topic. It also occurred to me that perhaps I’d actually done such a post and simply forgotten about, but when I went back and checked, it turned out that I had in fact never devoted an entire post to that particular topic. So I’m putting it up now. (more…)
Announcement: I realize this is coming on the late side (long story involving proofreaders, How to Write for Class, and the Random House permissions office), but I am planning to release updated editions of my SAT reading and grammar books, as well as my ACT English book.
Now, before you get your knickers all in twist over which editions to buy, here’s what you need to know: (more…)
When it comes to Reading questions on the SAT and ACT, nothing induces fear — or at least groans — like inference questions. Some of this reaction is undoubtedly due to the fact that they often seem so fuzzy. Part of the problem, I suspect, stems from the fact that when people talk about inferences, they’re not always talking about the same thing.
One type of inference is more based on formal logic — that is, it involves the types of conclusions that can be drawn from various premises, and whether those conclusions can be considered valid. (more…)
From time to time, I get emails asking me to provide suggestions for SAT/ACT reading prep materials, and it finally occurred to me that I should create a formal SAT/ACT Reading Resources Page with all of my recommendations grouped in one place.
In the past, when I’ve received these types of requests, I’ve simply pointed people to Arts & Letters Daily; however, that site contains a huge number of links, some of which go to publications well beyond the scope of college-admissions exams. As a result, I’ve identified a smaller group of (online, free) magazines whose articles I find most reflective of SAT/ACT reading, and provided links to those.
I’ve also included a list of suggested authors, both fiction and non-fiction, classic and contemporary, in case you want to do some poking around on your own. And if you’re studying for the SAT, I’ve included links to a number of key historical documents.
While going through all of my quizzes to make some edits/updates, I noticed that while there were an awful lot of grammar exercises, I was sorely lacking in the reading quizzes department — and that was really a major oversight (oops!) since for a lot of students, that’s the hardest part of the test. So I’ve decided to remedy the issue. (more…)
1) Start with your favorite passage(s)
You’re going to be sitting and reading for over an hour (well over an hour, if you count the Writing section), so you don’t want to blow all your energy on the first couple of passages. Take a few minutes at the start of the test, and see which passages seem easiest/most interesting, and which ones seem hardest/least interesting. Start with the easy ones, and end with the hard ones. This is not the ACT; you have plenty of time, and taking a few minutes to do this step can help you pace yourself more efficiently. You’ll get a confidence boost upfront, and you’ll be less likely to panic when you hit the harder stuff later on.
2) Be willing to skip questions
Unless you’re absolutely set on getting an 800 or close to it, you don’t need to answer every question — in fact, you probably shouldn’t (although you should always make sure to fill in answer for every question, since the quarter point wrong-answer penalty has been eliminated). If your first reaction when you look at a question is that you have no idea what it’s asking, that’s probably a sign you’re better off moving onto other things. That is particularly true on the Reading section because questions are not presented in order of difficulty. A challenging question can be followed by a very easy one, and there’s no sense getting hung up on the former if you can answer the latter quickly. And if you truly hate graph questions or Passage 1/Passage 2 relationship questions, for example, then by all means just skip them and be done with it.
3) Be willing to skip an entire passage
This might sound a little radical, but hear me out. It’s an adaptation of an ACT strategy that actually has the potential to work even better on the new SAT than it does on the ACT. This is especially true if you consistently do well on the Writing section; a strong score there can compensate if you are weaker in Reading, giving you a respectable overall Verbal score. Obviously this is not a good strategy if you are aiming for a score in the 700s; however, if you’re a slow but solid reader who is scoring in the high 500s and aiming for 600s, you might want to consider it.
Think of it this way: if four of the passages are pretty manageable for you but the fifth is very hard, or if you feel a little short on time trying to get through every passage and every question, this strategy allows you to focus on a smaller number of questions that you are more likely to answer correctly. In addition, you should pick one letter and fill it in for every question on the set you skip. Assuming that letters are distributed evenly as correct answers (that is, A, B, C, and D are correct approximately the same number of times on a given test, and in a given passage/question set), you will almost certainly grab an additional two or even three points.
If you’re not a strong reader, I highly recommend skipping either the Passage 1/Passage 2, or any fiction passages that include more antiquated language, since those are the passage types most likely to cause trouble.
4) Label the “supporting evidence” pairs before you start the questions
Although you may not always want to use the “plug in” strategy (plugging in the line references from the second question into the first question in order to answer both questions simultaneously), it’s nice to have the option of doing so. If you don’t know the “supporting evidence” question is coming, however, you can’t plug anything in. And if you don’t label the questions before you start, you might not remember to look ahead. This is particularly true when the first question is at the bottom of one page and the second question is at the top of the following page.
5) Don’t spend too much time reading the passages
You will never — never — remember every single bit of a passage after a single read-through, so there’s no point in trying to get every last detail. The most important thing is to avoid getting stuck in a reading “loop,” in which you re-read a confusing phrase or section of a passage multiple times, emerging with no clearer a sense of what it’s saying than when you began. This is a particular danger on historical documents passages, which are more likely to include confusing turns of phrase. Whatever you do, don’t fall into that trap! You will waste both time and energy, two things you cannot afford to squander upfront. Gently but firmly, force yourself to move on, focusing on the beginning and the end for the big picture. You can worry about the details when you go back.