I cannot over-emphasize the benefit of taking notes while you read the SAT Critical Reading passages – it’s one of my most important SAT Reading Comprehension strategies.
For one thing, actually taking notes is far more effective than simply underlining: when you underline, you usually don’t remember any better than if you don’t underline, because it’s too easy to turn your brain off and just move your pencil!
If you are serious about improving your SAT Reading score you will need to put in some serious study and practice as well as work on your vocabulary and free reading – but throughout the process, strong note-taking skills will be extraordinarily helpful to you.
Good SAT Critical Reading notes provide at least 4 score-improving benefits:
1) Improve your reading score with better recall:
Taking notes keeps you engaged with the passage and helps you notice small details, which helps you remember more information from the passage.
When you take notes, you will finish your SAT reading with a clearer understanding of the passage and better memory recall of what you just read.
2) Improve your reading score with a table of contents:
Writing notes on each paragraph will form a “table-of-contents” style reference.
When you have written notes on the passage paragraph-by-paragraph, you can quickly glance back and know what was discussed at each point in the reading passage, and the logical flow and progression of ideas should be much clearer.
3) Taking notes will check your SAT reading comprehension as you go through the passage:
This is one of my favorite reasons to take notes.
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I have a theory that if you can’t figure out what to write about a certain paragraph, it means that you didn’t understand that paragraph clearly enough to continue without trying one more time to make sense out of it. (Your vocabulary is often a limiting factor in reading.)
True, it’s definitely not a good idea to spend a long time on one small paragraph, but it’s also not a good idea to try to keep reading if you don’t know what you’re reading about.
On the other hand, if you clearly understand what you just read, taking notes ought to be quite simple. The SAT reading passages are usually “well organized,” so each paragraph will often have one clear main idea that you need to get out of it.
4) Taking notes will help you read for the right stuff in the SAT:
A well-practiced SAT note-taker knows what to look for, and their notes emphasize the themes and concepts that are tested on the SAT.
Broad topics and overarching themes, not specific details, are the things to pay attention to the most as you read.
Common Student Question: But won’t I run out of time if I take notes?
SAT note-taking does force you to read a little slower – just a little bit, although this gets significantly quicker with practice… … but since we lose points for wrong answers, it’s much wiser to slow down, improve comprehension, and answer more questions correctly.
Here’s how I improved my SAT Reading score by taking notes:
For each paragraph that I read, I pause, reflect, and take 1 to 5 words of notes.
You’re going for “main ideas” here. Use your 5 or less words to get at the central topic of each paragraph. Don’t use complete sentences; it’s a waste of time, and you don’t have room to write them anyway.
One idea is to write your notes simply by picking keywords directly from the paragraph which is related to the art of skimming for main concepts while you read.
Imagine a paragraph about about how trees can’t grow in the desert because the water is too far below the ground.
My notes might read: “desert=no water/no trees.”
See? Just enough to get the point across and provide a reference for later on.
Many of my SAT prep tutoring students have rejected this reading strategy at first, only to thank me later for it!
Usually, at first, students say it seems like a waste of valuable SAT time, or think they’re “above” note-taking because their comprehension is “just so good” without it.
Almost 100% of those same students are thanking me a month later for making them take notes. They say it increases their comprehension so much, they don’t know how they lived without it.
Don’t take my word for it – try it out a few times on practice sections from the Official SAT Study Guide, and see if your score goes up!
Enroll in my Conquer SAT Vocabulary video course with your reader-only discount coupon to start improving your SAT verbal scores today!
The Top 10 SAT Reading Tips
The Art of Skimming on the SAT and ACT
SAT Reading Comprehension Strategies
How to Read Faster
Why You Must Study an SAT Vocab Word List
The Best SAT Reading Practice Skills
Conquer SAT Vocabulary Video Course