SAT Tip of the Week: How to Strengthen your Approach to Passage-Based Questions

SAT Tip of the Week - FullThe Reading Section is often considered the most difficult section of the SAT. Here’s a game-changing tip from a Veritas Prep SAT 2400 tutor that’s guaranteed to boost your score.

At Veritas Prep, we’ve made it our mission to teach students how to simplify their approach to the Reading Section. In particular, students struggle with the passage-based questions because of the sheer amount of information they have to process, as well as the difficulty they face in choosing the most ‘logical ‘answer choice. After all, a passage-based question isn’t like a math question with only one possible answer, right?

WRONG. Each passage-based question only has one correct answer choice. All the other choices are, in some crucial way, not based off of evidence in the passage. In order to 1) prevent students from being mislead by false answer choices, and 2) keep students focused on the main ideas in the passage (instead of all the extraneous information), we teach students to write down a brief sentence that summarizes the main idea after reading only the first paragraph. (If you’re interested in learning the full details of that strategy, you should consider enrolling in a Veritas Prep course, where you’ll spend 9+ hours learning and honing the skill).  Thus, this strategy improves both accuracy and efficiency, as you won’t waste any time reading the entire passage before starting the questions.

While some of my students instantly take to this strategy and begin writing top-notch summaries, others still struggle to come up with a sentence that truly describes the main point of the passage. Often, they’ll ask me, “How am I supposed to figure out the main idea after only reading the first paragraph?!”

The truth is, the first paragraph will nearly always have all the necessary information needed to write a brief sentence that summarizes the whole passage. However, it can be difficult to parse out what information is or isn’t relevant. In other words, it’s not always obvious what information is the primary theme, and what is just introductory material.  In those cases, the italicized blurb before the passage(s) is your best friend.

Take a look at the following introductory paragraph from a long comparison passage set.

This is definitely a tricky first paragraph to process. The author uses dense language and extended metaphors before he ever gets to his main idea. However, if I read the italicized blurb before the passage, I’ll know exactly what to pay attention to (remember, on an actual test, you should read this blurb before reading the passages).

Take a look at the italicized blurb below:

Bam! I now know that the passage is about how nations and people use history, and how that use of history affects them. Therefore, I can deduce that the first author thinks that history is an indispensable guide for those who are ‘lost in confusion’ in the present. My brief summary could easily be a shorthand version of the previous sentence. Additionally, I know that the second passage will discuss how nations and people use history, and it will probably differ from the first in terms of exactly how they ‘use’ history. Let’s take a look at it.

As I read, I ask myself, “According the second author, how do people use history, and how does using it affect those people?” Notably, I could only have come up with this question if I’d read and digested the italicized blurb. The answer is pretty simple – he thinks that history is ‘created’ by historians, and that people will ‘reenact’ the history that the historians wrote. Next, I’d write down a shortened version of that sentence on my booklet for my brief summary.

Like that, I’m done! Now I’m ready to start answering the questions – or continue reading – with a strong understanding of the primary themes of both passages in my arsenal.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter! Here’s another article by Rita on scoring a perfect 2400.

By Rita Pearson

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