The kind of reading the SAT asks you to do is probably unlike any other kind of reading you’ve ever been asked to do. It’s almost certainly different from the kind of interpretive reading you’re asked to do in English class.

For starters, the SAT is a test about arguments, not a test about literature, and your own personal interpretation of the texts you are asked to read matters not one little bit. In fact, the only thing that matters is the author’s intention: what point she/he is attempting to make in a given piece of writing and, just as importantly, how she/he conveys that point by using specific words, argument structures, and rhetorical strategies (such as metaphor, analogy, anecdote, repetition, etc.)

The skill that the SAT requires is therefore something I like to call “rhetorical reading.” Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and reading rhetorically simply means that you are reading primarily to determine the point of the passage and the function that various words, phrases, and pieces of information play within it (Do they support the point, or do they contradict it? Do they emphasize an idea or question it? Strengthen it or cast doubt on it?) Everything else is more or less irrelevant.

And contrary to what the College Board would have you think, reading this way is an acquirable skill, not an innate ability. It just takes some getting used to.