Call us!   (877) 738-7737

Critical Reading: The Breakdown on How to Break Down Passages

Share:  

By now you probably know that SAT Critical Reading passages are boring and dense. If you don’t already know this, enjoy your last few moments of bliss!

The SAT test writers construct Critical Reading passages to make you zone out (because the material is boring and dense), get lost in details, have to reread large chunks, zone out some more (because guess what?—the material is still BORING AND DENSE!!), and then just cry. Take a look at this sample paragraph:

Though our culture tends to celebrate talent as the central basis for success, the historical record shows that perhaps nothing has proved more important to achievement than perseverance.  About his lengthy work on the light bulb, Thomas Edison reputedly said, “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Doubtless, Edison possessed a great aptitude for scientific thinking, but were it not for his persistence in the face of so much apparent failure, he would not have triumphed. And while the paramount importance of persistence in science is perhaps obvious, given science’s construct hypothesis-test hypothesis model, it is no less relevant to other domains. Martin Luther King, Jr., is often praised—deservedly so—for his natural public speaking ability; rare is the American schoolchild who has not heard that resounding and powerful refrain “I have a dream.” Yet the record of King’s charismatic oratory often overshadows the difficult but essential groundwork he laid in his push for civil rights: he spearheaded the Montgomery bus boycott, cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was jailed in the Albany Movement. It would be foolish to assert that talent plays no part in achievement, but just as the challenges of the past have required more than an innate proficiency with technology or a way with words, so too do our present challenges demand hard work and commitment above all else.

If you feel like you got lost in the paragraph and don’t really know what the main idea is (“It’s about perseverance! No, wait, it’s about Thomas Edison being smart! No—Martin Luther King being a good speaker!”), a helpful tactic is to think about structure. A well written paragraph is like a mini-essay: intro, body, conclusion. When you read, you can break most paragraphs down according to that structure. Let’s take another look at the paragraph above:

Though our culture tends to celebrate talent as the central basis for success, the historical record shows that perhaps nothing has proved more important to achievement than perseverance.

[This topic sentence is the intro, providing the thesis of the paragraph: perseverance is more important for success than talent is.]

About his lengthy work on the light bulb, Thomas Edison reputedly said, “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Doubtless, Edison possessed a great aptitude for scientific thinking, but were it not for his persistence in the face of so much apparent failure, he would not have triumphed. And while the paramount importance of persistence in science is perhaps obvious, given science’s construct hypothesis-test hypothesis model, it is no less relevant to other domains. Martin Luther King, Jr., is often praised—deservedly so—for his natural public speaking ability; rare is the American schoolchild who has not heard that resounding and powerful refrain “I have a dream.” Yet the record of King’s charismatic oratory often overshadows the difficult but essential groundwork he laid in his push for civil rights: he spearheaded the Montgomery bus boycott, cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was jailed in the Albany Movement.

[This section is the body, providing specific examples (Edison and King) to support the thesis that persistence is more important for success than talent is. The Edison quote and the list of King’s actions are just details to support these examples.]

It would be foolish to assert that talent plays no part in achievement, but just as the challenges of the past have required more than an innate proficiency with technology or a way with words, so too do our present challenges demand hard work and commitment above all else.

[This final sentence is the conclusion, summing up the argument (that talent may be important but persistence is moreso) and applying it to the current world.]

If you can break a paragraph down into its component elements, you’ll find it a lot easier to separate the main idea from the details used to support it, which will help you read more effectively and more efficiently.


group-headshot

The Revolution Prep Team  

Our team is made up of professional tutors and academic advisors who are passionate about sharing their wealth of academic success knowledge.


Share:  

Comments