3 Things You Shouldn’t Do in SAT/ACT Reading
By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer
For most students, reading comprehension is the most difficult part of the SAT/ACT test to show improvements, and I tend to agree with that. Some tutors even think that reading comprehension is something that CANNOT be taught: you either know it or you don’t. That may be the major reason why schools do not teach students how to do reading comprehension. But in reality, there are a few things that we can do (or not do) to improve our scores.
First, DO NOT read the questions first. A lot of students try to read all the questions first, remember them, and then go through the passage to find answers to these questions. There are two drawbacks to this approach. First, for each passage, SAT/ACT gives you 10 to 11 questions and for the vast majority of students, it is unrealistic to remember that many questions. Experts tell us that we can only keep 2 to 3 things in our memory at any one time. So trying to remember all the questions is self-defeating. Secondly, trying to find answers while we are reading is distracting at best. The purpose of reading comprehension is to understand (comprehend) what the writer is trying to tell us. Remembering questions and finding answers simply distract us from understanding.
Second, DO NOT skim through the passage for fear of not having enough time to finish all the questions. Most students should have enough time to read through the passage. Those who don’t are either reading and re-reading certain parts of the passage because they do not understand or trying to translate the English words into another language before they can process the information. The purpose of skimming is to understand the main idea of the passage WITHOUT reading the whole passage. This is something that is not required nor recommended in reading comprehension, simply because the questions ask you more than just the main idea of the passage.
Third, DO NOT try to speed-read. Speed-reading was very popular in the 1960’s and 70’s and I have completed a speed-reading course before I finished high school. The problem with speed-reading is that the faster you try to read, the lower is your comprehension. Just like the Woody Allen joke that after reading Leo Tolstoy’s thousand-page novel War and Peace through speed reading in one sitting, when asked what the book was about, all he could say is “It’s about Russia.” The average student can read audibly at a speed of 120 to 150 words per minute and about twice that speed silently. This means they should be able to finish the whole passage within the allocated time, unless they run into the situation of re-reading and translating as mentioned in the point above.
Reading comprehension is ultimately testing the students’ ability to understand what the writer is trying to communicate. Therefore, the best approach is to understand the passage and find the answers within the allocated time. With the correct approach and practice, improvements in test scores are very much attainable.
Mr. Paul Lim
Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer
MBA, National University of Singapore
B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College
TBE | TESOL
• Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
• Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
• Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
• Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary
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