One benefit to the Reading Comprehension questions on the SAT test is that not every passage is nine paragraphs long. You’ll come across short passages – alone, and in pairs. Less reading time leaves more time for analysis and careful study of the questions posed. Remember that you can complete the questions within any SAT section in any order, so if the longer passages stress you out, you might want to tackle the shorter ones to get your brain “warmed up.”
So how should your approach change from longer to shorter passages? For longer passages, it makes sense to thoroughly read and take short notes on the important information presented (main idea, the function of each paragraph, the author’s point of view, any details that feel important to you, etc.).
Shorter passages, however, will usually only be accompanied by 1-2 questions. Therefore, it makes sense to read the questions first before looking at the passage. Quickly identify the pieces of information you’ll need to find. There’s no point in trying to focus on the author’s point of view if it isn’t necessary to answer any of the given questions!
Let’s look at a question first, then scan the short passage to find the answer!
The following is an excerpt from The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. Du Bois
Mr. Booker T. Washington represents the old Negro attitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his program unique. This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington’s program naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life. Moreover, this is an age when the more advanced races are coming in closer contact with the less developed races, and the race-feeling is therefore intensified; and Mr. Washington’s program practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races.
Again, in our own land, the reaction from the sentiment of war time has given impetus to race-prejudice against Negroes, and Mr. Washington withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens. In other periods of intensified prejudice all the Negro’s tendency to self-assertion has been called forth; at this period a policy of submission is advocated. In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing.
1. What is the philosophical argument that underlies Mr. Du Bois’ opinion about Booker T. Washington’s beliefs?
(A) Washington’s philosophy is really not that different from Du Bois’.
(B) Du Bois’ argument is less philosophically credible than Washington’s.
(C) Both men think that African-Americans deserve economic advancement, social acceptance, and dignity.
(D) Du Bois is critical of Washington’s advocacy of economic progress before social progress.
(E) Du Bois disagrees with Washington about basic human rights.
The correct answer is (D). Du Bois and Washington promote the same goals for African-Americans: economic advancement, social progress, and human rights. However, their approaches to bringing about these changes are different; Washington believes that economic progress should come before social progress, while Du Bois believes social progress must come before economic.
The takeaway: analyze the short passages on the SAT after reading the 1-2 questions!
Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing advice to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.