10) Passage-based Reading: Approaching Reading Questions 1/2
Learn how to manage vocab words, use question order to save time and make the answer choices work for you.
On the critical reading section of the SAT, you’ll see two different types of questions. Sentence completions are questions with a sentence containing either one blank or two blanks. Your job is to pick the best word or words for the blanks. The other type, the passage-based reading questions, will give you a passage of text and ask you questions about it. The passages may be short (one paragraph) or long (multiple paragraphs).
Both of these question types reward smart test takers who bone up on strategy beforehand. In this lesson, we’ll walk through some strategy hints for scoring your best on the SAT reading section, broken down into three different categories:
- Vocab: Help for tackling ten-dollar words without losing your mind
- Question order: How to use the arrangement of the questions on the test to your advantage
- Answer choices: Hints for making the answer choices work for you, not the other way around
One strategy for handling a word you aren’t sure of is to examine it closely and look for roots. Don’t give up right away when a word isn’t immediately familiar. Before just deciding that you don’t know a word, look at it more closely. Are there roots that you do know? Does it sound like any other word that you’re familiar with? This will help you use roots and similar words to make an educated guess, even when you don’t know.
A second strategy is to use context. You can often use the context of a word to figure out more or less what it should mean – at least well enough to answer an SAT question about that sentence in general.
Example: Pale and etiolated after her long illness, Marissa drooped like a houseplant that hadn’t gotten enough sun for a year.
In this sentence, you can get the idea that etiolated has something to do with being sick and looking unwell without needing to spend a lot of time on the word itself. The way you apply these strategies to the questions will depend on what kind of question you’re tackling.
On the sentence completions, the whole focus of the question is on the vocabulary. So, on these questions, it’s worthwhile to spend more time on the words. You’ll probably want to use both roots and context to figure out the words as well as you can. But most passage-based reading questions are testing comprehension, not vocabulary. The key is to get a good enough understanding of the passage to answer general questions, not to completely know every word.
For the few passage questions that focus on individual words, it helps to spend more time on the words if you don’t know them. But on most of the passage questions, try to use some context clues and cut down the time you spend on individual vocab words – it just doesn’t pay off in terms of points on the test. And definitely don’t agonize over a word in the passage if there’s no question about it. You can almost always figure it out well enough from context to get on with the questions.