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9) Essential Strategies for Passage-Based Reading Questions
1. Write down your main idea
The first step is to write down the main idea of the passage. Essentially, you can’t answer questions about a passage if you don’t know what the main idea is. Read the opening and closing paragraphs, which usually contain the main idea.
2. Answer all the line-specific questions related to the passage
Typically, the line-specific questions go in order of the passage from start to finish. So, as you read a particular section of a passage you should stop and answer the line-specific questions. By answering all of these questions first, you read an entire passage in chunks. It’s also helpful to read a couple lines above and a couple lines below the exact line cited by these questions. Some passages don’t have line-specific questions and we will learn how to deal with that a little later.
Questions are based on the following passage.
The impression that the town meetings of Colonial New England were free, democratic, and civilized is far too simplistic. For one thing, those who could vote did not include women, Black people, American Indians, and White men who did not own property. In the seventeenth century it was not “the people” who ran the town meetings; it was the town selectmen. However, in early colonial Dedham, Massachusetts, there was a time when the townsfolk themselves actually made all the big decisions at town meetings. A great and noble experiment, it lasted all of three years and was abandoned by 1639, soon after the town was established.
In lines 4-5 (“In…selectmen”), the author distinguishes between the
- general population and a small group
- earliest colonizers and the earliest inhabitants
- rural population and the population of towns
- agricultural labor force and an aristocratic class
- highly educated elite and an illiterate minority
Choice (A) is correct. The sentence in lines 4-5 notes that “…it was not ‘the people’ who ran the town meetings; it was the town selectmen.” The author is pointing out an important difference between two groups of people—ordinary townsfolk and the selectmen, a much smaller group.
3. Answer all general questions
General questions don’t say particular lines in the passage. You should wait to answer these questions last because you should have a good idea of the main concepts in the passage after you answered all of the line-specific questions in the passage.
You now know how to work through an SAT reading passage.