Perhaps some of you have heard of Adam Mansbach’s surprise best-seller Go the F**k to Sleep. The parent of a toddler, Mansbach wrote the book, which promptly rose to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, to convey the sheer hell of living with a three year-old who simply will not go to sleep.

While I don’t deal much with toddlers, there is one frustration I confront regularly that makes me believe I understand Mansbach’s exact sentiment — that is, a student’s total and utter unwillingness to go back to a Critical Reading passage and read. And at those moments, after I’ve said five or six times, “what does the author say?” only to be met with repeated blank stares, or “well, I feel like he’s saying…”, I do in fact want to say: “Go back to the f**ing passage and tell me, as literally as you possibly can, what it actually says. Not what you think you remember it says. Not what you feel it might be saying. Not what it makes you think of. What is actually says.”

I have lost track of the number of times a student, upon discovering that the answer is, say, (E) rather than (B), proclaims that he or she doesn’t really feel that the scenario described in (E) occurs in the passage. At which point I promptly go back to the passage and read an entire paragraph’s worth of exactly what was described in (E). It’s usually so obvious that the student can’t even argue.

So newsflash: going back and reading very carefully is the only way to be 100% certain that your answer checks out. If you are not willing to do this, the bottom line is that your score will most likely not improve dramatically regardless of how many practice tests you take.

Again, let me reiterate: if you refuse to go back and read, you have virtually zero chance of getting a score above 750 and a very minimal chance of getting one above 700.

Maybe you’ve heard about the 700 wall? This is often what it comes down to. I’ve had many students who came to me scoring in the 600s. Those who were willing to accept that they needed to go back and check everything out — and who saw that they actually got the answer that way, rather than just playing Russian roulette with process of elimination — ended up with scores in the 700s, in some cases very high in the 700s.

The ones who kept on insisting they didn’t need to check, who consistently refused to try to see the relationship between the correct answer and the specific wording in the text, and who remained perennially stuck on what they thought rather than trying to figure out what the author was saying, simply could not break 700 no matter how hard they tried. It was always hit or miss, not steady improvement. Yes, they got most of the answers right, but they also always got just enough answers wrong so that it really hurt their score. And some of them took literally dozens more practice tests than my higher-scoring students did — even if both had started out in approximately the same place.

Now, if you’re already consistently going back to the passage and having trouble understanding what it’s actually saying or are not certain how to locate the information necessary to answer the questions (not necessarily in the line numbers given), that’s a different story. You need to either work on building your literal comprehension (learning vocabulary and/or familiarizing yourself with “serious” college/adult-level writing) or on learning the types of words and phrases that you need to look out for.

But if neither of things is an issue for you, just go back and read the f**g passage.

Trust me. It works.