The College Board recently took to Twitter to remind students that reading for the SAT can’t be mastered in a single cram session:
The Reading Test focuses on the skills and knowledge at the heart of education: the stuff you’ve been learning in high school, the stuff you’ll need to succeed in college. It’s about how you take in, think about, and use information. And guess what? You’ve been doing that for years.
Every component of the SAT & ACT–from answering questions to managing time to avoiding careless errors–requires time to master. Just the sheer amount of math and English grammar a test taker must retain and synthesize suggests that proper preparation demands time. But, when you think about it, finally understanding how to use a comma can be a matter of minutes or hours, rather than days. Much of the content tested on the exams consist of rules and formulas that test takers have likely already learned but forgotten.
However, such content doesn’t necessarily represent the most challenging aspect of the SAT or ACT. These exams test process as well, as in how well a student can write an analytical or persuasive essay or solve a complex math problem. Process matters and takes time to learn and improve. On the big standardized tests, no process means more to success than reading comprehension.
Literacy is not a series of facts to memorize. No fancy mnemonics or study aids can improve the ability to derive meaning from text. No proxy skills can replace or supplement the core objective. The only path to reading well involves reading a lot.
You may not need every single one of Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours for mastery, but you do need to put in the work over time. Reading, in a sense, resembles a game in that readers can “level up” based on experience. According to researcher Maryanne Wolf, literacy learning requires instruction and practice and occurs across discrete stages, the last of which is Expert:
By this stage, the learner is reading widely from a broad range of complex materials, both expository and narrative, with a variety of viewpoints. Learners are reading widely across the disciplines, include the physical, biological and social sciences as well as the humanities, politics and current affairs. Reading comprehension is better than listening comprehension of materials of difficult content and readability. Learners are regularly asked to plan writing and synthesize information into cohesive, coherent texts.
Success on the SAT and ACT requires the highest level of literacy. By the age of 16, many students who have put in the work have reached the Expert Reader stage. Those who have not, however, can’t jump to that level overnight. Anyone planning to take the SAT or ACT at any point in life should respond to this fact by reading now. There’s no shortcut to superior literacy, so put in the reading work today for better results tomorrow.