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Section encompass a wide array of content areas – there are scientific passages, literary excerpts, parts of famous historical documents, and much more.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!

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By Aidan Calvelli.

SAT Tip of the Week: Making Waves with Pablo

SAT Tip of the Week (4)Welcome back to Hip Hop Month in the SAT Tip of the Week space, where we’re all set to download Kanye’s new album “Life of Pablo” – even a month later – but can’t quite remember what it’s called. Wasn’t it Swish at one point? Maybe Waves? Importantly, if your (beautiful, dark, twisted) Fantasy is to enjoy Graduation because you’re on your way to (early, not late) Registration at the school of your dreams, take an SAT lesson from the College Dropout himself:

The right word usually isn’t the obvious one.

For Kanye, that’s the title of the album: after plenty of debate and deliberation (and beef with Wiz Khalifa), he dropped the “obvious” one-word titles and went with a title that took just about everyone by surprise. He had to dig a little, and whether he’s comparing himself to Pablo Picasso as an artist or Pablo Escobar as a larger-than-life figure, he found some meaning that’s not obvious on the surface but makes sense when you dig a little deeper. And that’s the SAT lesson.

For you, that of course means that when you’re looking at Vocabulary in Context questions on the SAT Reading Section, you’ll be tempted to make a single-word answer. For example, consider this problem from the Official SAT Study Guide:

As used in line 19, “capture” is closest in meaning to:

(A) Control
(B) Record
(C) Secure
(D) Absorb

Likely the most obvious synonym for “capture” in that list is “secure” – if you were to capture a butterfly, for example, you’d secure it in a net or a jar (poke holes, please). But your job isn’t to find the best synonym for “capture” but instead to determine which word would best fit in its place in line 19. And that’s where the Kanye lesson comes in: you have to go back to the passage and the wording around line 19 to find the deeper meaning. Starting a bit above that line, you have the context:

Because these waves are involved in ocean mixing and thus the transfer of heat, understanding them is crucial to global climate modeling, says Tom Peacock, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most models fail to take internal waves into account. “If we want to have more and more accurate climate models, we have to be able to capture processes like this,” Peacock says.

With that context in mind, steal another lesson from Kanye West: who does Kanye love the most? Not Kim or North… but himself. And that’s where the “do it yourself” strategy comes in. Remove the word “capture” – before you even look at the answer choices – and think about what word you’d personally put there. You know that the researchers want to better understand those processes, so they want to observe/study/record them. That’s what makes B, “record,” correct.

The problem really has little to do with the word “capture” given in the problem, and everything to do with the context around it. The key is to not be so concerned with the word in the question itself, but rather to treat it as a blank and determine what type of meaning that blank needs to convey. Then you can go to the answer choices, and like Kanye (who used to love this passage about Waves, but now maybe not) you may find deeper meaning and a more-surprising word or phrase to decide upon.

Are you trying to decide whether to take the SAT or the ACT? Register for our upcoming free online SAT vs. ACT Workshop to gain a better understanding of each test and decide which one is right for you. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.