Strategies for Focusing on Long SAT Reading Passages

So you’re on board with SAT prep. You’re taking a practice test. It’s time for another dreaded long reading passage, and…

Scenario 1:

You’re reading and you’re reading and you finally get to the bottom of the page and then it hits you – you totally just read every word of the passage, but you have no idea what it’s about.

Scenario 2:

You finally take a deep breath and start to read the dreaded long reading passage, and all of a sudden – boom. “Single Ladies” is stuck in your head — on repeat.

Scenario 3:

You’re starting to read yet another long, boring passage late in the test: One of the features that distinguishes traditional Pueblo pottery… Seriously? Pueblo pottery? …from other types of clay art… this sucks… is that absence of machinery from all parts of the creative process. (Like this test — all parts of the creative process, definitely absent.) The clay is gathered, processed, and shaped by hand. Instead of using a potter’s wheel to create Pueblo vases … Why would I ever care about Pueblo pottery?

Does this happen to you? Have no fear! Your hand is here!

Your brain is capable of focusing on two things at once. This is why you can read and think about other things at the same time. To make your life easier (and your score higher), focus that other part of your brain with written tasks. If you are reading and writing simultaneously, there’ll be no brain space left for drifting off, and the “checked out” part of your brain can focus on what’s important in the moment – the passage.

Here are some bonus tips on using your pencil during the reading passages to give yourself a leg up on the questions:

  1. As you’re reading, hunt for and underline adjectives/tone/emotion words that might help you discover and define what the author/narrator’s tone about the subject is. There can be as many as 3 tone questions for each long reading passage.
  2. At the end of each paragraph, quickly write a 2-3 word summary of what you just read. Don’t spend too much time here. These paraphrases will give you a refresher for when the line reference questions send you back to that part of the passage.
  3. At the end of the essay, write a less-than-one sentence summary of the whole essay. If you do this well, this summary can be used as your anticipation to the inevitable “This passage is best described as…” question.

Don’t let your head get the better of you; let your hand lead the way.

Happy reading!


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