In my experiences as an SAT tutor, I’ve found SAT reading comprehension to be one of the most undervalued skills in test-taking.
Without a strong SAT reading comprehension strategy, you have very little chance of answering the questions correctly.
You can read as fast as you want, but if you don’t understand the passage, you’re just going to be rushing into a lot of WRONG answers.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have 1 correct answer (+1 point) than 10 wrong answers (-2.5 points). So, here are some of my top SAT reading comprehension strategies!
Note: All of these SAT reading comprehension strategies should be practiced with the Official SAT Study Guide!
Taking good notes is an important SAT Reading strategy:
To boil it down: focus on taking 1-5 words of notes for each paragraph.
I know, I know – at first, this seems like a waste of time, but here’s why it’s great: Since you’re limited to only a few words per paragraph, you’re forced to figure out the central idea of each paragraph and boil it down into a few simple keywords.
A good note-taking method is one of my top reading tips, an effective SAT reading comprehension strategy that acts like a self-check: did you actually comprehend the paragraph you just read?
If it’s easy to take notes, then yes, you probably understood the paragraph pretty well. If it’s hard to take notes, then your understanding of the paragraph is probably shaky, and you should look at the paragraph again.
Your SAT reading comprehension improves because the note-taking calls your attention to the parts you didn’t understand so you can figure them out.
I do have a longer article on note-taking as an SAT Reading strategy, so check it out if you’d like more help with this.
It is strategic to read SAT passages purposefully:
In my Top 10 SAT Critical Reading Tips article, my tip #2 recommends “reading for the right stuff.”
If you have a purpose in mind and know what information you’re trying to get out of the passage, you won’t get caught up in pointless details, and this greatly improves SAT reading comprehension and speed because you are able to skim effectively.
If you don’t know exactly why and what you are reading for, it’s easy to get sidetracked or miss the central points of the article. It’s like grocery shopping – a lot more efficient and effective if you make the shopping list before you head out to the store.
Are you reading about the author’s view, or is author actually talking about someone else’s point of view?
The SAT reading section delights in dishing out passages that switch confusingly between viewpoints and theories without making it super-obvious that we’re now getting someone else’s point of view.
You should know at all times which viewpoint is the author’s.
Don’t get hung-up on tough vocabulary – figure it out in context.
I’m not going to lie, vocabulary is extremely important to SAT Critical Reading comprehension. However, worrying about a word you’ve never seen before is a huge waste of time. Most of the time, the context around the word will give you a very good idea of the meaning, even if it’s not perfect.
My favorite SAT reading comprehension strategy, when it comes to tough vocabulary, is simply to ask myself “is this word more positive or more negative?” Often, that’s just enough information to get the idea, and get on with your reading.
Don’t get overly hung-up about not knowing a few words from the passage (although you should prepare ahead of time to minimize the number of times you don’t know a word).
Enroll in my Conquer SAT Vocabulary video course for 2 hours of hi-def video (and additional materials) to build your vocabulary!
Is the reading taking place in the present or the past…
… and does this change at any point? True SAT reading comprehension strategies often rely on identifying subtle time cues about present, past, and future.
Sometimes the passage will start out with a memory, or a fantasy, and then jump back into the present. Other times, we’ll begin in the present and jump into a nostalgic recollection, or get a prediction about the future.
Looking for time-related details is an important SAT Reading Comprehension strategy!
What kind of emotion – if any – does the passage or author show?
An excellent “big-picture” SAT Critical Reading Comprehension strategy is to identify the author’s attitude, tone, emotion… call it whatever you like, but definitely get an idea of how the author was feeling when they wrote this.
Is the passage mainly positive (optimistic), negative (pessimistic), or neutral? Was the author furious? (and about what?) Were they cheerful? (and for what reason?) Maybe they didn’t show any emotion whatsoever, and the article was a purely factual report on a topic.
When you grasp the tone and emotion behind a passage, it becomes much easier to eliminate ridiculous answer choices. Understanding the big picture is a solid SAT reading comprehension strategy.
SAT Reading Strategies Are Important:
You simply must have a strategy for how you will read the SAT reading passages. Know what you’re there for – look for the things that are important (especially main idea and tone), and don’t waste time worry about SAT vocabulary words you don’t know!
Enroll in my Conquer SAT Vocabulary video course on Udemy.com for more verbal-score building tips in high-definition video!