The Reading Passage is difficult for two reasons: the passages are often complex and you aren’t given much time to read and answer all of the questions. As I tell my students, one of the most effective ways to deal with this conflict between absorbing the main ideas in the passage and finishing the questions in the allotted time is reading strategically.
Reading strategically involves reading parts of the passage that contain the author’s main ideas, such as the introductory paragraphs, and reading parts of the passage that are specifically cited by the questions, all while answering questions as you go.
If you follow this technique, you often won’t have to reread the passage, because you’ll be answering questions that correspond to the parts of the passage that you just read. In fact, if you follow Veritas Prep SAT techniques, you will only have to reread the passage in one circumstance: when you are stuck between answer choices, and you cannot find any unambiguous problems in the remaining answer choices. Unambiguous problems in answer choices include assumptions or information not discussed in the passage, or hyperbolic descriptions of an element in the passage. In such circumstances, here’s what you should do:
1. Cross out the obviously incorrect answer choices. That way, when you come back to the question later, you won’t have to reread incorrect answer choices.
2. Skip the question – for now! All questions are worth the same amount of points. Don’t waste time on a tricky question.
3. Continue to answer remaining questions. It’s better to answer as many questions as you can. And sometimes, the information you need to answer the tricky question is in fact located later in the passage!
4. Return to any skipped questions after completing the section. Reread relevant paragraphs that cover the main subjects also referenced in the question. For example, if I had been stuck on the following question:
The author mentions the Blackfeet (lines 34-40) primarily because:
(A) they appreciated the plains
(B) they were experts in using the resources of the rivers
(C) they cared about the ecology of the plants
(D) river travelers learned a lot from them
(E) local people were in awe of them
Then I would want to reread lines 34-40:
The Blackfeet, the lords of the Great Plains and the prairie’s most serious students, would no sooner have dined on catfish then we would on a dish of fricasseed sewer rat. The mucus-covered creatures of the muddy river bottoms, the Blackfeet thought, were simply not the best the plains had to offer; far from being palatable, catfish were repulsive, disgusting.
Let’s say that in my first go-around, I’d crossed out C, D, and E, because the lines do not mention ecology, travelers, or local people. In this case, rereading can help me choose between A and B – neither of which have unambiguous problems – because I can now pay attention to lines that I’d only skimmed before, such as the description of the Blackfeet as the prairie’s “most serious students”. The correct answer in this case is A. The Blackfeet clearly used the plains for food, but their use of rivers is not mentioned.
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By Rita Pearson