By now, everyone knows about the massive overhaul to the SAT. The changeover is almost here, actually—as of this post, the Redesigned SAT will debut in under 100 days. Quick! Everybody panic! (Just kidding.)
At Tutor Ted, we are all over the changes to the test. Here, I’m going to share with you 5 key strategies for approaching the SAT’s new Reading Test. The new test definitely represents a significant revision from the old test, but some of the key strategies from before still have value.
OK, here goes:
#1: Evidence questions: two correct answers for the price of one!
One of the most noticeable changes to the test is the inclusion of questions that ask students to cite specific evidence. These questions follow a more traditional reading comprehension question, and are always phrased like this: “Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?”
What’s really great about these questions is that they give you a second chance to get the preceding question right. The answer choices give you specific lines in the passage to reference. Use those answer choices to confirm your previous answer choice. When you get these questions right, it should feel like the two answers lock together. When they do, you know you’ve gotten two answers right, not just one.
#2: Small clues matter.
I think it’s fair to say that the new SAT Reading Test is harder than the old one. That is based on the reading level of the new passages (our analysis showed that the new passages have an average reading grade level between 13 and 14, whereas the old test averaged between 12 and 13), but it’s also based on the subtle clues within the questions.
Here’s an example: one question on the first official test asks students to differentiate between two answers, either “offer an explanation,” or “support a conclusion.” Many younger readers would have a hard time differentiating those two answer choices. Heck, many older readers would. The right answer was “offer an explanation” because that specific moment in the passage was providing an additional perspective on the information that had just been presented, not evidence that proved it to be true. That’s a subtle distinction, isn’t it? It’s the kind of heavy lifting that students are going to have to do on the Redesigned SAT.
#3: The answers are still in the passage.
If Strategy #2 has you feeling like this test is difficult-bordering-on-impossible, I’ve got some good news: all of the correct answers on the SAT Reading Test have to come from the passage. They do because they have to. The best thing about standardized tests is that they are standardized—the right answer has to be right for a reason.
So: your job is to extract the clues that point from the passage to the right answer.
A question has the correct answer, “it offers hypothetical examples supporting a claim made in the previous paragraph.” The section of the passage in question starts with, “Water ice from the moon’s poles could be sent to astronauts on the International Space Station.” How does that answer choice correspond to that sentence? The word “could” is the key—it implies that this might be done in the future…in other words, that it’s a hypothetical possibility.
When you find those connections between the passage and the answer choice, you’ll start to feel much more confident that you got the question right.
#4: Question stems offer incredibly important clues.
File this one under “duh.” This might seem so obvious that it’s not even worth pointing out, but here are two reasons why we mention it. One, lots of students read the question too quickly and miss the clues, and two, the test makers know that and take the opportunity to hide the important stuff there.
Read those questions stems more carefully than anything you read on the test. They will tell you what kind of thinking (big picture, small detail, perspective) you need to do to solve the question.
#5: Practice reading at a high level.
As we mentioned, the reading grade level is significantly higher than on the old SAT (and MUCH higher than on the ACT). How many high school students are reading at a college sophomore level? One in ten? One in fifty? Fewer than that?
How do you hang with passages that are above your current comfort level? The short-term answer is to rely on the parts of the passage that you do understand to infer the meaning of the passage as a whole. The long-term answer is to step your game up. You can improve your reading level—you’ve been doing it your whole life, actually.
The most challenging passages on the Redesigned SAT tend to be the fiction passage and passages taken from historically notable authors. Both of these passage types are likely to make use of some antiquated vocabulary and sentence structure. Unless you have an English teacher who emphasizes classic literature, you likely have not had a lot of practice with passages as dense and arcane as these.
Practice by reading material like this and you’ll develop a comfort level with older texts. If the current set of available practice tests is any indication, you will definitely see at least one and most likely two passages that are at least 100 years old. Believe me that it’s possible to read at this level—you just have to get used to it.
To find useful practice reading material, check out the Gutenberg Project online. It has a massive catalog of older titles you can read for free. I recommend starting with the “Top 100” books…and if you get through all of those, let us know. 🙂
That’s it! It’s a tough test, but it’s fair. Now that you know 5 useful strategies for tackling the Reading Test, you’re ahead of the pack and climbing the score curve right now!