10) Passage-based Reading: Approaching Reading Questions 2/2
On top of managing your time on the vocab words, another way to be smart about SAT strategy is to work the question order to your advantage. On the sentence completions, this means starting at the beginning since sentence completion questions go from easy to hard. But passage questions won’t be arranged in order of difficulty. Instead, passage questions follow the order of the passage – a question on line 1 will come first and so on.
These questions are not in order of difficulty, but each question is still worth the same number of points. So, considering that you’re under time pressure and may not be able to hit all the questions, it’s to your advantage to identify and knock off the easy questions first. Start with the specific questions – the ones that give you a particular line in the passage. These questions tell you exactly where to find the answer, so you don’t have to spend time skimming through the passage to find it.
If the question doesn’t give you a specific line, you can also use its position in the list to help you. For example, if question 1 asks you about line 14 and question 3 asks you about line 25, question 2 will ask you about something in between lines 14 and 25. This can help you quickly find the information you need without re-skimming the entire passage.
You can also switch up the order of the passages. There’s no reason why you need to do the first passage first! The passages aren’t in any kind of difficulty order. The short passages typically come first, but you can skip straight to the long passages and come back to the short ones later if you’d rather.
On the other hand, don’t jump around from one passage to the next; you’ll just waste time re-skimming to remind yourself of what each passage is about. Finish one passage as well as you can and then move on to the next.
Finally, let’s talk about answer choices. Using the answer choices wisely is a key to scoring high on the SAT because the answer choices are designed to trap you into picking the wrong one. To avoid this, always have an answer in your head before you even glance at the answer choices. Don’t look at the answer choices first.
This can be a very tough habit to get into because most people’s instinct is to go straight for the answers. On practice tests, use your hand to cover the answers until you think of an answer yourself.
It’s not just about avoiding traps, though. You can actually make the answer choices work for you with the strategic use of elimination. The SAT is set up to make total guessing a bad idea, so don’t just fill in bubbles at random. But if you can eliminate two or more answers, it’s to your advantage to guess. This goes for both the sentence completions and the passage questions.
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