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How do I study for the SAT Reading section?

Students who get good scores on tests in subjects like Physics or Biology often ask me how to “study” for the SAT Reading section. The short answer is: there’s nothing to study. That’s actually good news. The Reading section is not content based - it’s not testing your knowledge of English the way science exams test your knowledge of Bio, Chem and Physics. That means students can actually pick up the most points on Verbal by using test-taking tricks.

Here’s my SAT Reading Strategy. It will save you an enormous amount of time and doesn’t require that you make notes on the passage or even comprehend the passage fully. After all, the SAT isn’t asking for comprehension - it’s asking for you to pick answer choices.

How to immediately increase your SAT Reading score in 5 steps:

1. Do the passages as they appear. Don’t try to find an “easy” essay to do first. Read all of the questions first. Do not read the passage first. Do not look at any of the answer choices.

2. Do the questions in order - easiest to hardest.

  • Easiest: Specific Detail questions (tell you exactly where the answer is located in the passage)

  • Easy: Main Idea, then Primary Purpose questions

  • Medium: General Detail questions (ask you general things about the passage)

  • Hard: Inference questions (ask you to infer about things the passage “suggests”)

  • Hardest: Roman Numeral questions

3. Once you’ve decided on a question to tackle, read the question again. Don’t look at the answer choices. Go to the part of the passage where you think the answer will be located. Read only in the area where you think the answer is located. Do not read the passage from the beginning.

Where to look for the answer?

  • Specific Detail questions point you to a specific place in the passage, or a give you word or phrase in italics or quotes to search for.

  • Main Idea questions - the answer is in the first two sentences of the passage.

  • Primary Purpose questions - read the first two sentences, then the first sentence of each subsequent paragraph.

  • All other questions - skim the passage for keywords from the question stem.

4. Once you’ve read enough to get an idea for an answer, do not read the answer choices. Instead, frame your own answer in your mind. Make it short and to the point.

5. Match up your own answer to the answer choices, if you see a match, that’s proof you got the question right. If you don’t see a match, cross out answer choices that don’t make sense.

What if I can’t decide between answer choices?

If you are between answer choices, go back to the passage and read a little more around the specific area where you think the answer will be. Repeat the strategy, framing another answer in your mind. Now you only need to match it up to the answer choices left. Then choose an answer and move on to the next question.

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