SAT and ACT Reading Tip: Whenever a question gives you a set of line numbers to refer to, always start a few lines above and read to a few lines below to establish context.

One of the most common errors that test-takers make on both the SAT and ACT Reading is to read only the lines referred to in the questions. After all, if the question refers you to line 15, then shouldn’t the answer be in line 15?

Here’s the problem, though: it might not be.

A line reference only tells you that a particular word or phrase appears in a given place. It does not indicate that the answer is necessarily in that place.

Remember: a lot of the time you’re being asked to identify the role a particular set of lines plays within a larger argument, and frequently that role isn’t apparent from reading the lines themselves. It’s apparent from what comes before…occasionally after.

In general, if the lines in question are relatively close to the beginning of a paragraph, you want to start from the beginning of paragraph. Think of it this way: the role of most information in a paragraph is to support the point made in the topic sentence, so if you go straight to the topic sentence, you’ll automatically get the point of the rest of the information. And chances are you’ll save a whole lot of time.