Our friends at StudentAdvisor.com provide valuable FREE resources for college-bound students. This guest blog is a few years old but still relevant; it will help you learn how to map out critical reading passages on the upcoming SAT (and ACT too!)
How to Tackle the SAT Critical Reading Section
By Rory Hatfield
When I went grocery shopping. I didn’t know quite what I needed; all I knew was that I ran out of food and needed to buy some. So, I drove to the supermarket, picked out a cart, and went shopping without a list, a budget or any specific guidance. Despite my best efforts at buying nutritious, wholesome food, my grocery cart looked like this:
Needless to say, shopping without a list didn’t pan out. I bought a lot of stuff I didn’t need, neglected to get things I did need, and frittered away my money and time. Pretty silly, right? Well, when you map out passages on the SAT and ACT without a plan, you’re doing the same thing.
Approaching a Critical Reading passage with an attitude of “I’m going to read it and take notes” is exactly like going to the supermarket thinking, “I’m going to buy food” – the right idea, but can easily backfire if you don’t know what you’re specifically looking for. This is especially important given the strict time limits on both tests – ACT reading sections allot forty minutes to read four passages, and SAT reading sections are only twenty-five minutes long.
There is simply not enough time to retain all the information in a passage – thankfully, you won’t need to! Detail questions give students a lot of clues right in the stem – their paragraphs, their line numbers, sometimes even the actual details themselves! Since the SAT and ACT give you that information up front, you don’t have to write it into your passage map.
So what is necessary? Here’s what you should understand from every reading section on Test Day:
- The thesis
- The topic sentence and main idea of each paragraph
- Author’s opinion
- Keywords that project the author’s opinion (“therefore”, “however”, etc.)
Getting this information gives you an overview of the passage that you can’t get from just reading the details – you’ll be better able to answer “big picture” questions that require you to understand the main ideas. Even though those questions often give you the same clues that Detail questions do – line numbers, quotes – they’re not enough to answer those questions by themselves. Knowing where a detail is won’t tell you its purpose, or what the author is implying; you can only get that information by reading for the gist, taking brief notes, and using them to find the right answer!
Treat this information as your “Test Day grocery list” – no matter what the passage is about, you’ll be prepared to get the most useful information. You’re no longer wading lost through the text – you’ll be reading with purpose. In short, write down the gist of every paragraph, the thesis, and the author’s opinion. Fill up your cart with the good stuff on Test Day – good luck!
Rory Hatfield teaches pre-college classes (SAT/ACT/PSAT) for Kaplan’s Live Online division full-time; and is also a student at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, where he is earning a Masters in Instructional Design. He has taught numerous courses and events for Kaplan, including sample classes on college admissions, writing an effective personal statement, and whether to take the SAT, ACT, or both.
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