Just about every standardized test, from state tests to the classic SAT and ACT to graduate options like the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT, includes a passage-based reading section. And so many test takers, who already know how to read, find these sections quite challenging. Why?
First is the challenge of reading quickly and carefully. Second, test takers must contend with content with which they are either not familiar or find boring. Third, answer choices are usually designed to be confusing, sometimes hinging on subtle differences. But any dedicated student can, with help, patience, and practice, overcome the trials and tribulations of any Reading section.
1. READ BETTER
Obviously, everyone taking a high-stakes standardized exam can read. However, many of us read slowly when given the choice. Unfortunately, you are not given a choice on these tests. There is not enough time to read the questions before the passage, read through the passage, and then answer questions. Many students make the mistake of trying to memorize a passage. However, it’s more important to take in main ideas instead of details. Questions about details will always take you to those details (for e.g. ‘In lines 12-14 …’).
Whenever you read anything (for both the Reading and Writing/English sections on the tests and for any schoolwork), ask yourself what the reading was about, and answer in no more than three words. Then, ask yourself what was important about that topic. This will allow you to keep focused and help eliminate some wrong answers.
2. FIND YOUR FAVES
What about those passages that are hard to relate to? It would be truly unusual for you to come across a test where you are excited about the topic of each passage. However, your job is not to like them, but instead to get as many questions correct as you can. Smart students will decide on an order in which to do tackle the passages, especially if you find yourself pressed for time. It’s best to start with a passage you like best. That way, you will be more motivated to read it, will read it faster, and will gain confidence. For those passages that may be more challenging or boring to you, leave them for the end. How will you know how to rank passages? You can (and should) read the introductory reference information for each passage. These will give you some insight about the topic of the passage. Remember that it’s important to allocate enough time to read and answer the questions for each passage. As for all parts of the test, time management is key!
3. ANSWER STRATEGICALLY
The funny thing about test Reading sections is that you don’t get any points for reading. Rather, you earn points by answering questions correctly. Start by reading questions and answer choices carefully. One of the test makers’ favorite ploys is to give an answer that starts off correct but ends incorrectly. This trick catches many students who don’t read the entire answer. Don’t get caught by words either! Many times, students will pick an answer that has a familiar word in it. While that word may be important to the answer, sometimes words are used out of context making that answer incorrect. The Reading section is an open-book test: the answers are right there, so be sure to find support for your answer!
4. BECOME A READER
People prepare for races by running all the time. You probably won’t be running every day of your life, but you will be reading. So read every day! The more you read, the faster you will get, and your reading comprehension will also improve. It really doesn’t matter what you read, but try to read every day for at least 10-15 min. There is so much wonderful literature about everything that there is something for everyone. Plus, since reading–when done right–is basically thinking, you’ll get smarter every day too!