The following are the 3 strategies that you will have to master to get a perfect SAT reading score:
Let’s say you just read a passage on the formation of oil under ancient oceans. The first question is: What is the main purpose of this passage?
Do you see what’s happening here? Every answer choice seems like it could be legitimate. Sure, you’ll get some silly answers periodically, but for the most part, they all look like legitimately right answers.
The SAT test makers make their living by creating answer choices that seem correct and therefore, can trick the test-taker. That’s why they’re getting paid. Even worse, they’re really good at making legitimate answers seem wrong!
Generally speaking, in the Reading Test, if you are picking an answer choice because it seems correct and not because you have found a concrete piece of evidence in the passage, it is the sucker choice. If you find the cleverly hidden piece of information and/or relationship in the passage, you are generally sure that you are getting it correct (and you will recognize the tempting sucker choice).
Therefore, the most important rule on the SAT Reading Test: Predict an answer before looking at the answer choices provided. The first thing to understand is that if you do not predict an answer, you will be often be sucked into picking the trap answer.
The reason that the reading answers seem so correct is similar to the reason why discounts on e-commerce websites seem so attractive. Have you been online and seen a sign on a pair of shoes posting that reads “Now at INR 3,000! Original price INR 6,000.”
I bet you have. And here’s the funny thing - even though you’ve seen this sort of trickery countless times, you can’t keep your brain from thinking, “Wow! What an amazing deal. I need to buy it before it reverts to its original price!”
The pair of shoes is worth less than INR 3,000, which is why they’re selling it for INR 3,000, but you see INR 6,000 and immediately anchor onto it. You assume that INR 6,000 is the correct price of the shoe. You make your buying decisions based on false information that your brain is justifying rather than disproving.
You will do the exact same thing with tricky answer choices unless you protect yourself. When you see a trap answer you think, “Hmmm, yeah, they did mention that. Actually, they talked about it quite a bit. I mean, it’s right there in the passage! It seems like a correct answer!” You just justified an incorrect answer. No one is immune to this; everyone does it. It is part of our mental makeup.
The only way to protect yourself from this tendency is to predict an answer before you look at the answer choices. Once you master the art of predicting the right answer to every question, you will be surprised how silly some of the trap wrong answers look.
Remember, the SAT Reading Test requires zero previous knowledge. To get a perfect score, you don’t need to know any science, history, or names of civil rights leaders. However, if you use prior knowledge, you are in trouble. Use only the information presented in the passage in front of you.
In essence, you want to plagiarize from the passage as much as you possibly can. The more you steal from the reading, the better. In fact, the answer you come up with can also be a carbon copy of the text from the passage.
What if you cannot just come up with an answer or your prediction is just not there in the answer choice? Should you spend more time looking for it? Absolutely. Re-read the portion of the passage, re-read the question, take a moment to think – do whatever you need to gain a solid idea of what the right answer will look like. If you still cannot make a prediction, use the technique of elimination to come to the correct answer.
Notice that all of these problems have to do with ABSENCE. Since they’re asking what doesn’t happen, it’s nearly impossible to come up with a reasonable answer. However, in ALL other cases, you need to do your best to come up with something. For instance, if you just read a passage about Shakespeare and his refusal to follow the standard writing conventions of his day, and you see a question like this:
What’s a likely name for the book which contains this passage?
You could come up with something such as “The Unorthodox Writing Style of Shakespeare.” It probably won’t be the exact answer, but it’ll be close.
One last tip before we move onto the next strategy is every time you predict an answer, strive to come up with THE MOST BASIC, SIMPLE, STUPID ANSWER IMAGINABLE.
Often, this is all you really need. You’ll find that you can eliminate three wrong answers with something stupid like “he is proving a point” or “it is a family.” For instance:
Before: He thinks that Suzy is being mean to Marc even though she likes him.
After: Suzy is mean to Marc.
Before: The author is proving that relative time is a figment of our collective imagination.
After: The author is proving something.
Before: Dolphins aren’t actually the only creatures in the ocean capable of swimming with such great speeds.
After: Disproves something about dolphins’ speed.
Do you see how, even without context, the “after” answers are all clearer, simpler, and less likely to be tripped up with nonsense?
The Devil is in the details, so they say. And this is especially true for the SAT Reading Test and the tricky answer choices it contains. Details are what derail you, tempt you, and throw you off track. If you can build up the fortitude to ignore details and to stick with hyper-basic answers whenever possible, you’ll be much less likely to fall for the SAT’s tricks (and you’ll be a lot faster, too).
For example, if a passage is about the Health Benefits of Peanut Butter, and a question asks: “What’s the main idea of this passage?”
A. The author is arguing against an opponent
B. The nutritional values of all foods are underrated
C. The nutritional value of peanut butter is underrated
D. Peanut butter is dangerous
Don’t get caught up in the details. Just say something like: “He’s making a point about peanut butter.” Most of the time, that’s all you’ll need.
You know, based on your ludicrously simple, boiled down answer that A and B are trash. Now you can go in and look for details that’ll let you eliminate C or D ((the only two solutions that have to do with peanut butter). What you don’t want to do is try “researching” A and B to see how they could be valid. This is arguing on behalf of the answer choices, which is EXACTLY what this test wants you to do!
Your job is to make the “tricky” answer choices so dumb and un-tempting that you couldn’t possibly consider them, and you do this most effectively by coming up with answers stripped of all imaginable details.
Got it? Good!
From now on, keep this concept in mind whenever you’re working on Reading questions. Strive for the simplest answer with the fewest words and the fewest details possible.
Only if your hyper-simplistic answer has more than one answer choice remaining should you go back and look for additional background or detail. You might be surprised to see how little information you actually need to get your way through the critical reading questions flawlessly.
As a bonus, you will also significantly reduce your silly mistakes. It’s a beautiful thing!
Like all good things in life, though, it’s one thing to recognize the value of something, and it’s another thing entirely to be good at doing it. Predicting answers this way takes practice. You need to practice it diligently every time you do a reading exercise or attempt a mock test. Practice makes perfect: an old adage that could not be truer here.
Let’s see how this works in real life. Let’s run through an entire SAT passage:
Write in your prediction about the best answer for each of the following questions:
Now let’s try answering the questions directly, based on our predictions:
Your entire life, you have been taught by your teachers to find the correct answer. Unfortunately, finding the right answer is the worst strategy to use on the SAT Reading Test.
From this point forward, stop trying to find the right answers. Instead, your mission is to find and eliminate all of the wrong answers. On every possible reading problem that you solve, the “right” answer is going to be the last answer choice left standing after you eliminate the three others.
A lot of students believe it’s a lot more time consuming to eliminate three wrong answers than pick the right answer from the start. However, it’s a lot faster to prove something wrong than to prove something right. And, if you have predicted the answer (like we practiced in Chapter 4!), then you can eliminate wrong answer choices as quickly as swatting a fly.
Wrong answers are easy to spot and eliminate, and it’ll only take you a few seconds to do it. Conversely, it is practically impossible at times to prove something right, even with a lot of data on your side.
For example: “Lions only kill gazelles.” If we showed you pictures of lions hunting gazelles, it would not prove the above statement correct. No amount of evidence or effort could ever prove this statement. But what if we tried proving it wrong instead? We could show you one picture of a lion killing a buffalo, and the statement would be proved wrong in an instant.
The above example was a bit silly, but the point we’re trying to make is that even when you know something is right, it’s still almost impossible to prove it so.
There is only one right answer to every question. The other answers are all wrong. And since they’re all wrong, they’ll have objective, identifiable errors that you can find and use as evidence against them.
That’s it. There’s no other option possible.
Once you have quickly moved through all four answer choices, return to the ones that you have marked as ‘May Be Right.’ Sometimes, you’ll have 2-3 maybes. Other times, you’ll only have one. If you only have one, that means it’s the correct answer! Otherwise, keep focusing on all the maybes left, figure out what’s wrong with them, and eliminate them one by one once you find their errors.
In other words, you are trying to find the answer choice you dislike the least, or with the fewest flaws. When it comes to the SAT Reading Test, this is the greatest, most efficient strategy to succeed.
There will be times when an answer is obviously correct. For example, there may be answer choices that match your prediction. That’s great. Tick that answer, but still take the time to go through all the other answer choices eliminating them one by one.
Most students eliminate answer choices by asking themselves which one is ‘more right.’ “Is this right? Well, maybe. Is this right? Mmmmm…kinda seems right too…”
They are trying to prove an answer choice right, and if they cannot, they eliminate it. This type of thinking gets you nowhere.
The big rule to remember is this: From now on, stop focusing on what’s “right” about the answer choices. Instead, focus on and figure out what’s wrong with the answer choices.
You should be asking yourself: “Why is this answer choice wrong?” And if you can answer that question, eliminate the answer choice.
There’s one strategy that trumps all others when it comes to mastering the art of proving bad answer choices wrong: the concept of comparison.
NEVER think about answer choices by themselves. Compare them to each other and figure out which one stinks MORE. In this way, you’ll become EXTREMELY fast. In a vacuum, it can be tough to figure out whether something is “wrong.” But when you look at two answer choices at once, it’s EXTREMELY obvious which one is MORE wrong than the other!
To understand why this is so effective, you need a deeper understanding of how your brain makes choices overall. If you’re asked, “what do you want for dinner?” it can be very tough to decide. So many options! But if you’re asked, “what do you want for dinner: burritos or sushi?” suddenly, it’s insanely easy. You’ll instantly prefer one to the other. When your brain has
comparative options, it’s easy to latch onto the strengths and weaknesses of each option and make rapid, accurate decisions. If you’re full, and you had a cheesy lunch, you’ll probably want sushi. If you’re starving and you hate soy sauce, you’ll want a burrito. Done.
Now, let’s discuss a few more tricks to help you eliminate the wrong answer choices:
Specifics make things more likely to be wrong, not right. Think about it: the more exact details any sentence contains, the more likely that sentence is to be false in at least some way “I like cats” is more likely to be accurate than “I like big cats.”
The human brain tends think that more details make something more accurate and reliable. In reality, the exact opposite is true!
“The author thinks people are nice” is way more likely to be correct than, “the author thinks all people are nice,” or, “the author thinks people are nice on Tuesdays.” If you keep this principle in mind when using comparison, you’ll be able to identify potential errors within wrong answer choices and eliminate them.
From this point forward, you must remember this: 99% Right is 100% Wrong! The answer has to be 100% correct. The SAT is a standardized test that has to ensures that the correct answer does not include even the tiniest of errors. Use this to your advantage. Therefore, if you see even a microscopically small error in an answer choice, eliminate it.
The only thing that matters is that the answer you choose is supported directly and specifically in the text, in a way that requires no interpretation. In other words, you have to hone the skill of reading exactly what’s on a page and taking in everything that’s stated directly in the text. As we talked about earlier, it’s important to steal answers directly from the passage. The less you think, and the more that you blatantly plagiarize your answers directly from the text, the better.
A Real-Life Example: Let’s imagine a typical English classroom discussion and then consider how the skills developed during such a discussion might be incorrectly applied to a reading question on the SAT.
Imagine you’re in an English class discussing a passage from a book you’re currently reading. In this passage, the main character is very upset. She’s just learned that her cousin has a serious illness, and the passage describes how worried and concerned she is for his health. Your teacher asks the class for opinions on the main character’s emotional state.
You raise your hand and say something like, “I think the main character seems troubled and conflicted.” Your teacher asks, “Conflicted? Why do you say conflicted?” You then go on to explain that you were in a position like this once and you remember feeling conflicted, so, you think the character probably feels conflicted, too. Your teacher thanks you for your contribution, and probably agrees that, yes, it’s possible the main character in this passage might feel conflicted.
This sort of open interpretation is often encouraged in a classroom, but it’ll cause you to miss a lot of questions on the SAT. We’ve talked about the idea that all SAT questions have to be “bullet proof” and objective in order for the test to serve its function in the admissions process.
The only way for a correct answer on an SAT Reading Test question to satisfy this requirement is to avoid any kind of interpretation because interpretation is always subjective. And the only way for a correct answer choice to refer to a passage without interpreting it is to restate some element of the passage exactly. Any other description of the text would necessarily involve interpretation, and then the correct answer wouldn’t be objectively correct anymore.
So, if the same hypothetical passage we were just talking about appeared on the SAT, and you chose an answer saying that the main character felt “conflicted,” you’d get the question wrong, even though your English teacher would probably accept that analysis.
If an SAT passage describes someone in a difficult spot as upset, worried, and concerned, then we can choose any answer that means exactly the same thing as “upset,” “worried,” or “concerned”… but we can’t pick a word like “conflicted” unless the text specifically states that a character feels two different emotions at the same time that seem to go against each other, because that’s what the word “conflicted” literally means.
On the other hand, if the passage said something like, “I was worried about my cousin’s illness, but I was also optimistic that he was strong enough to overcome it,” then you could pick an answer choice that described the character as “conflicted,” because being “worried” and “optimistic” are two conflicting emotions. Further, the ideas of those emotions would be connected by the word “but,” which shows that the speaker considers them to be conflicting ideas. See how that works?
The SAT Reading Test butters its bread by forcing you to justify its wrong answers. When you always focus on why answers are wrong, you’ll always be using the best strategy possible.
If you focus on why they’re right, you’re walking into a booby-trap.
The best way to explain what we call the “what _______?” Rule is through an example. Let’s say you read a quick passage with this thesis: “People are always trying hard to impress their friends.”
The question is: “What is the author trying to accomplish with this passage?”
A. He’s trying to disprove an argument.
B. He’s trying to recount an anecdote.
C. He’s trying to win over an adversary.
D. He’s trying to prove a point
As you work to eliminate answer choices, the easiest and best tactic you can use is to define the nouns within the answer choices by asking: WHAT _______?
A. What argument? What is he disproving? There’s nothing he’s disproving - no argument he’s trying to prove wrong. Wrong.
B. What anecdote? What story is he telling? He never told an anecdote. Wrong.
C. What adversary? Who is the person he’s trying to win over? I didn’t see an adversary anywhere. Wrong.
D. What point? Oh…the point that “people are always trying hard to impress their friends.” Okay…so I can answer that “What ______?” question. Correct.
The only answer that isn’t wrong will be the one you can answer the “what _______?” question for!!! If you ask “what _____?” for a particular noun in an answer choice, and you realize that you can’t think of the answer to that question, then that answer choice is automatically wrong!
Now that you know about this strategy, you’ll be blown away by how frequently you’ll be able to use it.
The concept of effective scanning is simple: Research consistently shows that if we instruct our brain to look for specific information and then scan a text, we are much more likely to find that information when we scan through the text, and in much less time.
However, scanning is effective only when we instruct our brains to search for specific words and not concepts. For example, it is not an effective strategy if we are trying to find “meteors killed Dinosaurs and brought the onset of the ice age,” but it will be extremely useful if we are trying to find “Tyrannosaurus.”
Figure out the one or two words that you know are the ‘key’ to answering the question at hand. Using the skimming approach, you’ll read through the passage at lightning speed to find the keyword(s) as quickly as possible. Then, should go back to the passage to skim for those words, dragging your index finger down the page as you scan. This may seem like a minor detail, but it is extremely important: it establishes a physical connection between your eye and the page, reducing the chance that you will overlook the necessary information.
As you skim, pay particular attention to the first and last sentence of each paragraph because they are most likely to include important points. Even if they don’t provide the information necessary to answer the question, they will often provide valuable clues about where the information is located.
Each time a keyword or phrase appears, stop and read a sentence or two above and below it for context. If that part of the passage does not help answer the question, move on, and check the next place the keyword/phrase shows up. Your goal is to avoid falling into a loop of reading and re-reading a portion of. A passage, searching for information that isn’t there.
If you “prime” your brain to look for specific information, even for only a few seconds, then immediately scan a text, you’re VASTLY more likely to find that information and in much less time.
If a question asks you something like this: Why did Maria’s grandmother not trust the market near her house?
Use the word “market” as your keyword - you KNOW that the information you need will contain that word – and then fly through the text with your finger until you see it.
Do NOT read at regular speed or rely on your eyes to generally “skim.” Instead, drag your finger along the page until you see the keyword.
If you’re asked, “Which of the following four things are NOT mentioned in the passage?” prime your brain with the first “thing,” speed scan until you find it, kill it, and then repeat with the other “things” until only one man is left standing. Rather than reading the whole darn passage again and again, you can rely on rapid-fire skimming to find the specific info you’re looking for.
The first time you use this approach, it’s going to seem a bit weird. It might be tough to come up with good keywords, or it might seem strange to force your brain to ONLY look for one or two words at a time. But the more practice you get, the faster and more accurate you’ll become. So, have at it! And once you’re done, do it again!