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5 Common SAT Reading Mistakes You're Likely Making

Students often think the Reading portion of the SAT is the most subjective. If you struggle with this section, you may be looking at it one of these ways.

Students often believe that the Reading portion of the SAT is the most subjective. But in reality, the SAT Reading section is just as objective as the SAT Math section. There is one and only one correct answer for each question. The SAT is a standardized exam in which the answers must be clear-cut. Still, students often believe that there are multiple answers to the same question. This may be due to the fact that there are a million ways to approach SAT Reading. If you struggle with this section, you may be approaching it in one (or more) of the following ways.

1. Reading the passage too closely

Students often get caught up in the details of a passage. While it is important that they read the passage carefully, concentrating too deeply on every sentence could waste valuable time. Some students spend so much time reading the passage that they simply guess their way through questions. Don’t let this be you! Instead, make sure that you budget time efficiently, focusing only on relevant passage paragraphs, because in case you haven't heard, the entire passage won't be relevant to the questions you have to answer (more on that in a moment).

Related: Essential Tips and Strategies for Taking the SAT and ACT

2. Not reading the passage closely enough

This might seem contradictory, after reading mistake number one, but it’s important not to go to the other extreme. The best strategy is to land somewhere in the middle, spending just enough time on each question to ensure you’re reading for comprehension—after all, that is what this section is really about! If you don't understand a passage, then you'll have trouble answering questions related to it. By reading the beginning of the passage closely, you will be more likely to understand the main idea, while easily scanning through details in the middle of the passage. Which brings me to mistake number three...

3. Reading the entire passage before the questions

Some students like to go in order. Read the passage first, answer the questions second. While this may seem logical, it isn't the most efficient approach to SAT Reading. Reading an entire passage before looking at the associated questions is like going on a treasure hunt without knowing what you are looking for. If you want to succeed on SAT Reading, you should always have the questions in mind while reading the passage. In addition, reading an entire passage before even glancing at the questions is actually counterproductive. Most of us forget what we just read. Therefore, it's more efficient to read a passage in chunks (often paragraph by paragraph), so you are not overwhelmed with a ton of information at once.

Related: Video: Study Hacks for the SAT

4. Reading all of the questions before the passage

Some students like to know what is coming ahead. They go through and read all the questions before even looking at the passage. This way, they know exactly what kinds of questions they will be expected to answer after reading the passage. However, this is also not the best approach to SAT  Reading. Similar to mistake number three, you will forget most of the questions by the time you are done reading the passage. In addition, many of the questions will not make sense if you have not read the passage because they will be citing specific details and concepts. Instead, the best approach is to read one question at a time, then go back and read through just enough of the passage so that you are able to answer that particular question. Again, this might appear to contradict mistake number three, but the most effective strategy is about striking the right balance.

5. Trying to outsmart the SAT  

Students have been taught to try to figure out the meanings of words they don't know by using context clues. However, SAT test writers know this, so they plant large words in the SAT Reading section in which the definition simply cannot be deciphered by context. In this case, you are best served by putting in the time and effort to memorize commonly tested vocabulary words. There are many vocabulary books and testing applications available, including the SAT Vocabulary App by Veritas Prep.

Related: 10 SAT Score Improvement Tips

The SATs are hard, but they’re not impossible, and they shouldn’t be for any student. With some extra study resources and a different approach, you can take the section of the SAT that’s been giving you difficulty and overcome it. Take your desire for a great score and let it motivate you to put in the extra work to improve your SAT test taking skills. Good luck!

For more resources to help you nail the SAT, check out our Test Prep section. You’ll find everything you need there!

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About Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation, a #1 bestselling SAT & ACT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and the winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’s Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect using 100 strategies taught in Prep Expert's SAT and ACT courses.


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