SAT Tip of the Week: Breaking Down the Critical Reading Section

SAT Tip of the Week - FullOver the last two weeks, we reviewed how to break down the SAT. First, we examined the Writing Section and then we investigated Math. Today, we finish this series with Critical Reading.

For a lot of students, Critical Reading is the most daunting aspect of the SAT. Whether it is because it seems vague and esoteric, critical reading can psyche out even the most advanced students. This is unfortunate because, in reality, critical reading is objective and quite similar to the math and writing sections. Overall, it is a fairly easy topic to prepare for.

Students make the mistake of comparing critical reading on the SAT to English class. In English class, students analyze the text and make assumptions about what author is really saying. In English class, there are a variety of possible interpretations that could possibly be right. This couldn’t be further from the truth on the SAT. Once students are able to get over this mental block, the critical reasoning section becomes a lot easier. Here are some helpful tips that any student can use to boost their score by a substantial margin.

There is only one right answer. While this is inherent in any multiple choice test, students often overlook this. This is what separates the SAT from high school English. There are no assumptions on the SAT. There is a clear, evidence based reason for why one answer is right on the test and the other four are wrong. Inference is key, as each correct answer has to have substantial evidence to prove that it is the right solution to the particular question. There are a variety of strategies you can employ to elevate your score but the most effective one is a pretty simple. Don’t assume. Every correct answer on the SAT has a reason for being right. Instead of trying to justify why answers could be right, a much better strategy is to attack the answer choices and prove to yourself why some answer choices are wrong.

Awareness of questions. The critical reading portion of the SAT is comprised of three sections. Two twenty five minute sections and one twenty minute section. There are two types of questions in critical reading. Sentence competition questions which deal with vocabulary, followed by passage based reading which deal with reading comprehension. There are nineteen total questions that deal with sentence completion, in addition to a few passage based reading questions that deal primarily with vocab. Each sentence completion question tests you on either five or ten vocabulary words. All in all, this means that the SAT is testing you on anywhere between ninety five and one hundred ninety vocabulary words. These are words that have, for the large majority, been used on past tests.

Memorize Vocabulary. Vocabulary is the easiest place to go up on the test. You can prepare for this part of critical reading by memorizing the vocabulary words most likely to appear on the test. This is a simple process and the only real part of the SAT that is based purely on memorization. However, just because it is simple does not mean it is easy. To really excel on the SAT vocab, it requires fifteen to thirty minutes a day of memorizing new words and reviewing old ones. If you really nail down these words, you can see a tremendous boost in your score just by answering four or five more vocabulary questions correctly.

If you study vocabulary and avoid making assumptions, there is no reason why your critical reading score will not increase by leaps and bounds. Happy studying and best of luck as you prepare for the December 6th SAT test!

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Jake Davidson is a Mork Family Scholar at USC and enjoys writing for the school paper as well as participating in various clubs. He has been tutoring privately since the age of 15 and is incredibly excited to help students succeed on the SAT.