SAT Difficult Reading Workout


Having been an SAT prep tutor for several years and worked with hundreds of students, one thing I’ve noticed is that students’ Writing and Language scores are often easier to improve than their Reading scores. This is because the Writing and Language section tests topics of grammar and composition that are easily memorized and applied, whereas with the Reading section there’s no substitute for strengthening reading comprehension. Doing so is like building muscle at the gym: you need to work at it, regiment it, and challenge yourself. Many students dislike reading or claim to have no time to read outside of class. If you’re serious about improving your reading score, you need to make time to work through difficult reading. The following workout will give you an idea of what to do to improve your reading comprehension.


First, compile your texts.


For most students, the most difficult reading comprehension will be History and Social Sciences passages from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. How do you know what types of difficult texts might be featured on the SAT? It’s simple: look to the SAT’s history of passages and work through texts written by the authors of those texts or their contemporaries. Write down their names: Edmund Burke, Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, etc.


Once you’ve compiled a list of authors, seek out popular texts by these authors and copy and paste excerpts from these texts (they will all be in the public domain and therefore available online for free) into a Word document.


Now that you’ve gotten some authors and texts to work with, begin to gather information about these authors. Who were they? What was their place in literary history? What did they believe or argue? Who else was writing and thinking at the same time? What were the main social and political ideas and texts of the time?


Daily SAT Reading Comprehension Practice

Spend ten minutes to an hour with a text from one of these authors. Work slowly, deliberately, to read and fully comprehend one paragraph at a time. Read with a dictionary on hand, looking up the definition of every word for which you’re not fully certain of the meaning. Paraphrase the paragraph, word by word, until you have a version in your own words. You want to capture not just what’s being said in general but also the particular details, examples, and touches the author includes. See if you can answer some SAT style questions about the text itself or certain words or paragraphs. Ask yourself: what is the function of this paragraph? How does the author’s use of this word serve to advance his or her argument? What is the main purpose of the text? The author’s main argument can best be summarized as what? And so on. It isn’t difficult to generate SAT Reading questions for yourself. Again, look to official practice tests to observe the style of questions the SAT asks. You’ll notice a pattern emerge.


If you do this work every night—closely reading, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, text by text, looking up unfamiliar words, paraphrasing what you read, always asking yourself what the function of this word of this word or this paragraph is, reflecting on the author’s goals and argument—you’ll notice vast improvement on the SAT Reading section. In fact, you may just surprise yourself: there’s only a finite amount of text from which the SAT can draw its difficult history and social science passages. If you’ve read the bulk of the social, political, and cultural texts of the day, you might be surprised to encounter a passage on the SAT you’ve read before! It’s certainly happened to me.


If you struggle with SAT Reading passages in other areas, such as science, you can easily apply this reading comprehension workout’s strategies to other domains. For example, you might look to see what books and science journals the SAT draws its science passages from, and then seek out other articles by similar authors in the same or similar journals. Work slowly and deliberately through the text, doing the very same thing I’ve described above. Before you know it, you’ll know a ton of new information and science terminology, and you’ll give yourself an edge on SAT science passages.


The bottom line, though, is that strong readers have one thing in common: they read. They look up words. They ask themselves questions about what they read. And they always reach for something slightly more difficult. That’s how they stay at the top of their game.


Hopefully this SAT Reading workout suggestion proves useful to you! Soon you’ll be on your way to a perfect score (fingers crossed).

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