SAT Tip of the Week: Don’t Let Unfamiliar Content in Reading Passages Scare You

SAT Tip of the Week - FullPassages in the SAT Reading Section encompass a wide array of content areas – there are scientific passages, literary excerpts, parts of famous historical documents, and much more. If you’re like me, you may think that having the opportunity to read all these different pieces is exciting. If you’re not like me (aka, less nerdy), reading these can be boring, or even scary.

The scary part comes when students get nervous about getting a passage on the SAT that’s about something they’re not comfortable with. Some students think that this makes the test harder, and some might even think they have to study up on different subjects to be prepared for this.

Luckily, this is unnecessary. There’s nothing to worry about in terms of content on these reading passages – every question can be answered without any outside content knowledge. All you need to do is use the information presented in the passage to answer the given questions – no special knowledge required.

A passage about gene mutations doesn’t take a degree in biology to ace. A passage from John Milton can be manageable without being the most well-read Junior in the country. Everything that you need to answer the passage-based questions will be directly present in the passages themselves (on the SAT, this is always the case).

In fact, having a lot of outside content knowledge can actually be a detriment to scoring well on that passage. One of the biggest dangers on the SAT Reading Section is using information that’s not in the passage to answer questions. Going beyond the text and making assumptions is a pitfall that many students fall into, especially for students who want to rely on their outside expertise because they think it will make answering passage questions about that topic “easier.”

For example, if I got a passage about Abraham Lincoln (my favorite president), I might get really excited and try to answer the questions using the knowledge I’ve accrued over my lifetime. This would be problematic because I would be tempted to choose the answers that made the most historical sense, or I would get frustrated when the answers weren’t totally historically accurate, rather than focus on the given text. In this case, I would have to be extra careful to justify all my answers solely using evidence from the text – something that is always necessary for these reading passages.

This leads to a sort of irony, that the passages that have content which is unfamiliar to a student might be the passages that are easiest for that student to do well on. Without background knowledge, students are forced to pay careful attention to the details of the text and base their answer choices solely off of that. So, instead of being afraid of complicated-looking passages, see them as the gifts they can really be!

Still need to take the SAT? Check out our variety of free SAT resources to help you study successfully. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.