When approaching a reading passage on the SAT, it can feel overwhelming to go through all of the information in the passage and extract the little tidbits that are truly useful in answering questions. While it is wonderful to read in a more lackadaisical way when sitting at the beach with a tale of vampire love affairs, this method of reading is more about following plot and big picture than about gleaning important details. If you feel like you have trouble wading through the information and finding what is important, fear not! There are a few strategies that may help you to navigate the reading section more effectively.
1. Read the question (not the answers) so you know what you are looking for
2. Read and answer questions as you go
3. Find the answer in the lines referenced (when applicable)
4. Find the section that answers the question (when lines are not given)
5. Ask what the passage is doing or accomplishing
6. Formulate your own answer then look at the answer choices
Let’s try to apply some of these strategies with an example question. Generally, a sample piece of text would be the next thing we would look at, but instead we are going to invoke rule one and look at the first question before we approach the text.
In lines 1- 4 “invokes..more complex” the author states the images invoked by sweatshops to accomplish which of the following.
Before we look at the passage or the answers, let’s take stock of what we know. We know the answer we are looking for is going to be in the first few lines of the passage. We also know that the author is going to use images to DO something, that is to say, to accomplish some literary or rhetorical goal. Good! Now we can read the lines referenced, and a little before and after, to figure out what the author is doing.
“The mere word ‘sweatshop’ invokes images of poor and destitute people, mostly children, working in the worst possible conditions for next to no compensation, but is this an accurate portrayal of those who work in what are referred to as ‘sweatshops’ or is the reality of these workers, and the places in which they work, slightly more complex?”
Before we look at the answer choices lets look at what the passage is doing. It lists all these terrible things people think about when they think of sweatshops, but there is a “but” right after this description! What follows implies that there is some incongruence between this perception and the reality of a sweatshop. This feels like a pretty good answer for what the passage is doing: it is showing that there may be a difference between what people think about sweatshops and what might actually be the reality of sweatshops. With this knowledge, let’s look at the answer choices and start eliminating answers.
A) Demonstrate the awful working conditions of sweatshop workers
B) Call into question the ethics of employing children
C) Show an opposing viewpoint to that of the “globalization economy”
D) Exemplify a misguided perception
E) Invoke pity for those who must endure such difficult work
Because we know that the passage is showing a contrast between reality and perception, any answer choice that simply says that the section is showing the harsh working conditions of sweatshops can be removed, which eliminates (A), (B), and (E). We are left with (C) and (D) which both indicate some kind of opposition of views, but (C) breaks the cardinal rule of the reading sections, which is “The answer is in the passage.” We may see “globalization economy” mentioned later, but so far, this topic is altogether absent from the passage which leaves us with (D), an answer choice that almost exactly matches our derived answer choice.
The reading section can be very challenging, but by using these steps to read for what is truly important, you can become a master of parsing out the information that will help you rock the SAT. Happy Studying!
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.