How The SAT Reading Section Defies Everything Your English Teachers Say

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How The SAT Reading Section Defies Everything Your English Teachers Say

Written By Olga Shkolnikov, Tutor of Greatness for Enhanced Prep

When anxious teens think about studying for the SAT, they usually take an escape-from-reality nap before rummaging through flashcards. Most study old formulas, practice some questions and read excessively boring passages in preparation for this marathon of a test.

What many SAT test-takers do not know is this: how you respond to math problems in Algebra 2 class or literature passages in English class is the complete opposite of how the SAT wants you to respond to the questions on its four sections.

This is especially applicable when it comes to the SAT Reading section, the only section on the test that does not require any outside content knowledge.

The SAT Reading section consists of five purposefully disengaging passages. Students must answer 52 questions about these passages in a little over an hour.

Unlike in English class, little to no context is provided for these selections. However, high school students are used to discussing the social and historical context of every book they read in the classroom. The College Board attempts to rob students of this context, even though research shows that thinking about a text prior to reading enhances comprehension. 

So what can you do to succeed on this section, despite these challenges?

Students can put themselves in the power seat on this section by focusing on the few sentences of description above each passage (what we call the “blurb”). They can also learn how to actively and purposely read each text by using the Enhanced Prep method of previewing questions before reading.

But this is (literally) only the beginning. After students make it through a passage, the questions (and answers) are really where the SAT trickery escalates. 

Both SAT Reading questions and answers take advantage of how students tend to analyze and make text-to-world connections in school. While a sign of a strong high school reader is their ability to surpass basic summarization skills and to link ideas, on the SAT, this method is actually a recipe for getting most questions wrong!

The key to SAT Reading success is likely to make every English teacher cringe. Instead of creating connections outside of the text, students must strictly zoom in on the text itself. The answer to every single question is found in the text and only the text. Every trap answer plays on possible connections a student might make between ideas presented in the text and those outside of it. In fact, even inferences on the SAT Reading section, conclusions drawn from facts, are really only restatements of the passage’s main ideas.

So, if you are an anxious test-taker who keeps getting those SAT Reading questions wrong, there is nothing wrong with you or your reading abilities. It simply means you are making connections, thinking creatively, and working hard to go above simple summarization. 

Save that awesome brain energy for anything but this test, where strategy and a literal mindset are most likely to serve you best.

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