SAT Tip of the Week: Reading Like Rihanna Means Less “Work”

SAT Tip of the Week (2)As we return to Hip Hop Month in the SAT Tip of the Week space, let’s turn out attention to Reading. And who better to teach Reading than RiRi herself? Ironically, her current hit “Work” provides probably the best example of how to reduce the amount you have to work on SAT Reading passages.

Quick: get the song “Work” stuck in your head (or get it playing on your phone). What’s the most notable thing about the lyrics she’s singing? For most of the chorus, she’s not even singing them. “Work work work work work” becomes “Wu wu wu wu wu.” She’s going through the motions and ignoring most of the words, glossing them over (almost like she herself is thinking “let’s just get past this and get to the Drake part”). She’ll fully articulate “work” and “dirt” the first time or two she says it, but then she’ll play the “you already know what I’m saying so let’s just get through it with as little effort as possible” part.

Oddly enough, that’s how you should approach Reading on the SAT. It’s just too much work to try to process every single word, so like Rihanna you’ll want to skim through portions that aren’t essential to your understanding and then lock in when it’s truly important. Rihanna’s genius on “Work” is that she rises to the occasion when she has to deliver, but she’s comfortable glossing over what doesn’t matter. Here’s how you can read like Riri.

Focus when:
1) You see transition/structural words like “however” and “therefore.” These words signal what the author is doing. “However” (or conversely, but, on the other hand…) tells you that the direction of the argument is changing. What comes after that is going to refute what came before it, and that’s usually where an argument or thesis takes shape (for example, an old theory seemed true, BUT new research shows that it has flaws). “Therefore” (or thus, consequently, etc.) typically shows what the author’s point is (whether it’s the main point of the passage or just of that paragraph). And “also” (or furthermore, moreover, additionally) means that the author is adding more evidence for a point. Those signals are good places to focus, because that’s where the author is telling you what she’s trying to accomplish with the sentences around it.

2) You see topic sentences. Not all SAT passages are well-organized, but when they are you’ll generally see topic sentences at the beginning or end of a paragraph and of the passage. These help you to determine the content and direction of what you’re reading.

3) There is italicized text at the top of the passage. This section is crucial – many SAT passages are excerpts from larger articles/chapters/books, and they can start quite abruptly without context. The italicized portions give you that context and allow you to have a feel for what you’re about to read so that it doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Ultimately your goal in reading the passage is to take 1-2 minutes to identify the author’s general point (why did she pick up the pen?) and to have a good feel for where you’d return to find answers (for example, the first paragraph or two may be about the initial theory for why something happens, the middle portion of the passage is about the research that disproved it, and the end talks about what new research the author proposes). If you can come away with a good understanding of “the author is advocating for X, and I know where to go if they ask me about Y” you’ve done your job with little work and you have plenty of time to focus on the questions.

Skim when:
1) The passage gets into dense details. These can be confusing or just labor-intensive, taking time to read, but details are only important if a question asks about them. Every passage will contain several details that don’t have questions about them, so save your time and energy and only focus on the major themes during your first read.

2) You’ve identified the purpose of a paragraph or section, and just want to make sure that the author doesn’t change gears. This is Rihanna’s “Work” at its finest…it’s not that she’s skipping the word “work” entirely, but that she’s saving her energy to get to “what’s new” in the verses.  She addresses each word, but casually, and that’s how you should skim. If you know what the author is doing, let your eyes run over each word but only lock in when you see that something is changing. If the author, for example, is listing 3-4 examples, you can skim that. But when the author says “however, there are exceptions” that means that something has changed. What was true isn’t always true, and that’s new information that’s probably important.

Remember, the Riri Reading method doesn’t mean that you’re skipping words entirely – it’s just that you can selectively choose which words/sentences are worthy of effort. Reading an entire passage is a lot of work (work, work, work, work), but if you’re choosy about where you expend that energy and time, you can save way more than FourFive Seconds per passage and be on your way to your dream school. Just remember to bring an Umbrella.

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By Brian Galvin.