When it comes to preparing and taking the SAT, as well as on the ACT, smart time management is crucial when it comes to reading passages and answering questions. The test is designed in such a way that a student who makes his or her way through the entire reading section and answers all the questions with 80% accuracy will do better than a student who reads slowly, finishes halfway, and answers questions with 100% accuracy. It’s clear, then, that finishing all (or most) of the reading section is ideal. How can slow readers accomplish this feat?

Parents often ask us how we can help their kids “read faster”—and we often remind them that “reading faster” is a gradual process. It requires a daily reading practice over a long period of time. What students can learn and practice with us, however, is the art of skimming—that is, quickly hitting key areas of a passage to grasp its basic meaning.

It’s important to note that skimming isn’t a matter of reading everything quicker—it’s a matter of skimming for essential information in order to determine where to read deeper.

Skimming is also a trick that significantly aids your time management in high school and as a teenager AND college student - for more tips on time management in school, click here.

Where to skim for essential information on the SAT and ACT:

  • First and last lines of each paragraph. This will reveal the passage’s thesis and main points.
  • Quotes and citations: understand who the author’s drawing on and what they think.
  • Pay special attention to words like “claim,” “important,” “surprising,” “clearly,” “argue,” “contend,” “demonstrate,” and so on. Those words are signaling to you that something important is coming.

How I’d skim an SAT reading passage and avoid reading nearly 400 words!

I’ll show you what I mean, using an actual SAT reading passage. (This passage is taken from SAT Practice Test #1, available for free online at https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/pdf/sat-practice-test-1.pdf). Try reading only what I’ve bolded!

This passage is adapted from Francis J. Flynn and Gabrielle S. Adams, “Money Can’t Buy Love: Asymmetric Beliefs about Gift Price and Feelings of Appreciation.” ©2008 by Elsevier Inc.

Every day, millions of shoppers hit the stores in full force—both online and on foot—searching frantically for the perfect gift. Last year, Americans spent over $30 billion at retail stores in the month of December alone. Aside from purchasing holiday gifts, most people regularly buy presents for other occasions throughout the year, including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and baby showers. This frequent experience of gift-giving can engender ambivalent feelings in gift-givers. Many relish the opportunity to buy presents because gift-giving offers a powerful means to build stronger bonds with one’s closest peers. At the same time, many dread the thought of buying gifts; they worry that their purchases will disappoint rather than delight the intended recipients.

            Anthropologists describe gift-giving as a positive social process, serving various political, religious, and psychological functions. Economists, however, offer a less favorable view. According to Waldfogel (1993), gift-giving represents an objective waste of resources. People buy gifts that recipients would not choose to buy on their own, or at least not spend as much money to purchase (a phenomenon referred to as “the deadweight loss of Christmas”). To wit, givers are likely to spend $100 to purchase a gift that receivers would spend only $80 to buy themselves. This “deadweight loss” suggests that gift-givers are not very good at predicting what gifts others will appreciate. That in itself is not surprising to social psychologists. Research has found that people often struggle to take account of others’ perspectives—their insights are subject to egocentrism, social projection, and multiple attribution errors.

            What is surprising is that gift-givers have considerable experience acting as both gift-givers and gift-recipients, but nevertheless tend to overspend each time they set out to purchase a meaningful gift. In the present research, we propose a unique psychological explanation for this overspending problem—i.e., that gift-givers equate how much they spend with how much recipients will appreciate the gift (the more expensive the gift, the stronger a gift-recipient’s feelings of appreciation). Although a link between gift price and feelings of appreciation might seem intuitive to gift-givers, such an assumption may be unfounded. Indeed, we propose that gift-recipients will be less inclined to base their feelings of appreciation on the magnitude of a gift than givers assume.

            Why do gift-givers assume that gift price is closely linked to gift-recipients’ feelings of appreciation? Perhaps givers believe that bigger (i.e., more expensive) gifts convey stronger signals of thoughtfulness and consideration. According to Camerer (1988) and others, gift-giving represents a symbolic ritual, whereby gift-givers attempt to signal their positive attitudes toward the intended recipient and their willingness to invest resources in a future relationship. In this sense, gift-givers may be motivated to spend more money on a gift in order to send a “stronger signal” to their intended recipient. As for gift-recipients, they may not construe smaller and larger gifts as representing smaller and larger signals of thoughtfulness and consideration.

            The notion of gift-givers and gift-recipients being unable to account for the other party’s perspective seems puzzling because people slip in and out of these roles every day, and, in some cases, multiple times in the course of the same day. Yet, despite the extensive experience that people have as both givers and receivers, they often struggle to transfer information gained from one role (e.g., as a giver) and apply it in another, complementary role (e.g., as a receiver). In theoretical terms, people fail to utilize information about their own preferences and experiences in order to produce more efficient outcomes in their exchange relations. In practical terms, people spend hundreds of dollars each year on gifts, but somehow never learn to calibrate their gift expenditures according to personal insight.

Notice what I’ve bolded: first and last lines of paragraphs, as well as citations and quotations. Get the gist of the passage after reading only what’s in bold? I bet you do. After skimming these sections quickly, you’re ready to move to the questions, which will direct you to specific lines of the text and tell you where to read more deeply. When you get to a line-reference question, make certain to skim a couple lines before and after the lines in question for the sake of context.

If I were taking the Critical Reading test and this passage cropped up, the bolded portion is the absolute maximum I would read before turning to the questions. The makers of both the SAT and ACT are well aware you don’t have time to ponder and pore over every detail of their passages. They expect you to have developed skimming skills. In addition to close reading skills (which you’ll use to answer questions), skimming skills are essential to save you time without losing comprehension.

Imagine saving this much time every time you completed a reading assignment - 50% to 80% less time spent reading, while still getting most of the meaning (with practice). One way or another, you’re probably going to need to learn this skill to be ready for college!

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That’s it for now! Get out there and work on your reading skills!

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Additional Resources:
Ultimate Time Management for Teens and High School Students

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