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Top 10 Reading Comprehension Strategies

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Here are my favourite strategies for reading comprehension. This applies to the SAT, ACT, PSAT and most standardized tests.

Know how you’re going to approach the passage. Here are some suggestions. Which one you choose depends on whether you struggle to finish in time or not.

  • Skim read the passage, then answer the questions. If anything takes longer than 30 seconds, come back later. With this strategy, you should have time t the end of the test, so go to the passage that you best understood from your skim reading.
  • Read the questions first, underlining parts of the passage that are specifically referred to in the questions (e.g. first or fourth paragraph, lines 23-25).
  • Read in detail then answer the questions. This is the ideal strategy, and it is the easiest way to achieve a high score, but it will only work if your reading skills are up to scratch.

If you’re trying to improve your score, try a new strategy. Do 3 practice tests using it before you evaluate whether or not it is better. If it’s working for you, continue to practice using it. Don’t try a new strategy on test day – you’re almost guaranteed to do worse!

Look carefully at how specific the passage is and compare it to the level of detail in the answers. You should try to pick the closest match. For example, there are often two answer choices that say the same thing, but one is more general. Pick the one that’s closer to what the passage expresses.

Practice skimming and stating the main idea/title. Learn to identify the point of the passage by finding a thesis in the introduction or conclusion (this won’t always work, but it does about half the time).

Learn to recognize the question types:

  • What is the main point of the passage/paragraph?
  • What does this small detail mean? Where in the passage was the following detailed mentioned?
  • Inference: What would the author most likely feel/say about about the following hypothetical scenario?
  • Vocabulary: What does this word or phrase mean in the context of the passage?
  • Purpose: is the text persuasive, informative, an account, a dramatization, a discussion etc? (This often isn’t the actual questions, but it is implied).

Always be able to reference evidence in the passage for each answer that you choose. Don’t make assumptions that can’t be backed up by the passage. There is usually a wrong answer choice that relies on you doing this.

Make list of your mistakes and why you made them. Also remember to take up questions that you’re not sure about (put a star by them when you’re doing the test).

Train yourself to be faster. First, do a completely passage by reading it fully and answering the questions. Compare the time you took doing this to the time it should take (8.5 minutes for the ACT). Gradually reduce your time by 30 second increments until you can do a passage in 30 seconds less than the time you actually have.

For the ACT, the passages always come in the same order, so you might know that you always do worse on one particular one. Do this one either first (to ensure your full attention on it) or last (to focus on doing well on the others). Try this both ways around so that you know what works best.

Before reading the answer choices, come up with your own answer to the question. Cover them up with your hand, then uncover them and pick the closest one.

If the two passages are related, think about how. Spot specific lines that refer to the other passage, or points of similarity or difference between the two passages.

Know when you’re going to fill in the bubble sheet. I suggest after every passage.

There are actually 11 things in here, but I just couldn’t cut it down to 10!

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