Hey Mike, I did the SAT in May and got a score of 1920.(700 Maths, 620 Writing and 600 Critical) I intend on doing the SAT in October and was wondering what I could do to improve my writing and critical reading scores. Do you have any books or sources which could help?
For writing, you might want to check out the Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar. That’ll help you nail down the multiple choice, which accounts for the bulk of your final writing score. If you’re worried about the essay, I’ve written a short book to help you out. (For now, it’s only available in Kindle form. I’m working on getting a print version out.)
For reading, I can only really recommend some books to help you bolster your vocabulary: the Direct Hits books are great.
I haven’t come across any books that I think are fantastic for the passages yet. That’s arguably the hardest section to improve, but in principle the process is straightforward—get better at comprehending what you read by agonizing over every question you get wrong on practice tests. Figure out not only why every right answer is right, but why every wrong answer is wrong. That means for every question you get wrong, you’re thinking about all five answer choices.
Hey Mike. i'm really having trouble with the critical reading section. i'm currently in the lower 600s but i'm aiming for 700. The problem i have most is concentrating on the long passages. i always tend to space out after a while especially when its a boring one, and as a result, i have to read the thing again. Do you have any advice on how to maintain good focus during the long passages??
I have to ask a tough question here: what does it mean when you say you’re “aiming for” 700? Does it just mean you think it’d be nice if you got 700? Or does it mean that you’re willing to work really hard to move from around the top 15% to the top 5% of test takers?
Here’s a comparison: the top 15% of 16 year old boys in the President’s Challenge run a mile in 6:08 or less. The top 5% run it in 5:40 or less. If you’re a runner—I’m very much not, but I used to try to be—you know that’s a big difference. Shaving almost 30 seconds off your mile time requires pushing yourself pretty hard.
There are some mental tricks people use to help them focus on “boring” passages, but they’re really all variations on pretend it’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever read. I’m sure you’ve already been given that advice.
The truth is that there’s no easy way to go from being bored by long passages to not being bored. If you were trying to shave 30 seconds off your mile time, you’d have to push yourself—do it enough that you begin to enjoy the challenge even though it’s painful. The same is true here. Eventually, you won’t have to trick yourself; you’ll actually find the passages interesting. Most of them are about compelling (and often current) topics in science or culture. Most of the narrative passages display really excellent style.
I’ll stop far short of saying the CR section is my favorite, but I enjoy the passages. You can too, if you’re willing to push yourself hard enough that what used to be painful becomes enjoyable.
My reading score is 420 so far. I know you're probably thinking that I'm retarded or something but really I'm not its just that English is not my first language and I have learned 80% of my English from songs and movies. I don't know what to do to get a higher score in reading and same with the essay I always get 7 or 8. What should I do?
First, please don’t use words like “retarded.” I don’t think you mean to be offensive, but many people find that word objectionable, and I want everyone here to be happy.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to improving CR scores (or essay scores). I’m guessing since you didn’t mention it that you’re pretty OK with math, so let me draw a parallel. When a student has taken all the math on the SAT (algebra and geometry, mostly), I can usually work with him for a few weeks to remind him of things he’s already learned once, teach him the one or two things on the SAT that he’s never seen before, and really improve his score. Working with a student who has never seen a triangle before would be a different story—we’d have to start from the beginning, and it would take a lot longer to raise his math score. The same is, of course, true for CR and W.
To get better at CR, you need to get better at reading critically. In other words, you need to work on reading not just for content, but for intent. Why does the author take the position she takes? Does she contrast her views any other views? What are the differences between those viewpoints? What are the similarities? How does the author employ rhetorical devices and structure to make the argument?
Note that I’m not mentioning anything about how you feel about what the author has written. What you feel doesn’t matter. What matters—and here’s where it gets tricky—is what the author intended you to feel. You need to be able to read an argument you disagree with, even one that really pisses you off (for an example of that for me, see the passages on page 726 of the Blue Book) and still be able to map out the point the author was trying to make, and how she made it.
As for the essay, I’ve written a great deal about it. See all the posts here and here, and the ebook I’ve recently released about the essay here.
I feel so stupid right now. I keep missing 7-12 questions on the CR Section in the College Board book. That's crazy! I feel like I've tried everything, and I just don't know how to raise my score.
Go back to every question you’ve missed in every practice test you’ve taken, and do the following:
- Find the exact part of the passage that justifies the right answer.
- Be able to give at least one concrete reason why each of the wrong answers are wrong.
Lots of people approach SAT reading as though the mission is “find the best answer.” But it’s not really that. There’s no good, better, and best answers. There’s one right answer, and four wrong ones. If you become expert at identifying and eliminating wrong answers, you’ll get tricked a lot less often.
hi, i currently have a solid score of 620 on reading, and i would like to raise it to a 700 by June. What would you suggest? Thank you :)
You’re going to need to get, reliably, 8 or 9 more raw score points than you’re getting now. Which means you need to miss 6 or 7 fewer questions.
Start analyzing your old tests. Keep a tally of your mistakes on these categories:
- Missed because I didn’t know vocab
- Missed because I didn’t understand the question
- Missed because I didn’t understand the passage (includes picking answers that weren’t mentioned in the passage, or were contradicted by the passage)
There are two benefits to doing this. First, you’re going to have to really dig into each question again to figure out why you missed it, which is valuable in itself. Second, this will help you start to understand where your difficulties lie, which will help you focus your practice going forward.
I was wondering if you have any tips for critical reading? I got a 650 on it which is my lowest score. Surprisingly, I did alright on the vocab (only got 2 wrong) but I got about 7 wrong on passage based reading. Not sure what to do.
I have a lot to say about critical reading, but I’ve had a difficult time putting it down in writing in a way that flows and makes sense—probably because doing well on that section is such an iterative process. So here’s a bulleted list of thoughts. I apologize in advance that it’s a bit disjointed.
- The right answer is right for a reason. You can support it absolutely based on stuff you find in the text.
- Likewise, the wrong answers can all be eliminated for a reason. Often, this is the key for struggling students. Start to look for reasons to eliminate choices (e.g. contradicting the passage, not mentioned in the passage) and the section might become easier.
- It’s of paramount importance that you try to understand what the author is saying, and HOW he or she is saying it. This can be tricky and it’s not necessarily the way you’re asked to read in school, but it’s super important. What does the author believe? Why does he believe it? Does he contrast his beliefs with the beliefs of others? How does he explain his beliefs, or try to convince you of them?
[More things I’ve written about critical reading.]
I want to time myself on individual passages, but I don't know how long it should be. How much time should I give for the short/long passages?
This is a tough question to answer—some passages will (and should) take longer than others, even if they’re the same length.
What I’ve found in my travels is that students tend to perform best when they focus on accuracy, not timing. If you work through a passage at a comfortable speed and do the best job you can possibly do getting questions right, you’ll usually be better off than if you rush through a passage because you’re worried about time. Don’t think of the SAT like a race with a finish line you need to get to. Think of it more like one of those boxes you get into where all the money’s blowing around and you have a limited amount of time to collect as much of it as you can. Don’t worry about timing—worry about making sure you lock down as many points as possible.
Do you have any tips that can help with identifying the tone of a passage (derisive, admiring, awe, dismissive, etc.)? It's usually the kind of question I get wrong on practice tests.
Two things need to be true for you to get tone questions right:
- You know what all the tone words in the answer choices mean
- You pick up on the author’s tone
I’ve actually found that most of my students are better than they think at sensing when an author is being funny, or sober, or forceful. But they don’t always know that when a passage is humorous, it can be characterized as sardonic, sarcastic, ironic, facetious, droll, etc.
In other words, I find that tone question are usually really vocab questions. So the first question you should ask yourself is whether you really know what all the answer choices mean in the questions you get wrong. Once you look them up, is it more clear why the right choice is right and the wrong choices are wrong?
Do you have any suggestions for CR tone questions?
Be wary of extreme negatives. Authors are very rarely “caustic” or “outraged.” If they are, you’ll know it because of obvious clue words. When an author is a bit negative about a topic, he or she is usually “critical” or “skeptical.”
Really though, the SAT could very well start proving the above wrong at any time by using much angrier samples. The best way to get a tone question right is to
- have a very clear grasp on the definition of tone words, and
- be sensitive to clues in the passage that reveal the author’s feelings.
SAT critical reading Do u have any tips for reading the passage faster with full grasp of the meaning ? I am really having problem figuring the main idea and finishing the passage in the time limit. Plz help.
There’s no quick fix—speed only comes with practice. If you force it, you’ll likely sacrifice accuracy, which is a bad trade-off. That said, you don’t need to fully understand every single sentence of a passage to successfully answer questions about it.
I generally advocate a quick skim for main idea, tone, and author intent. Once you feel like you’ve got a handle on those things, hit the questions and let them dictate which parts of the passage you need to go back and read more deeply.
I know this isn't your specialty, but I was wondering if you had any advice about what constitutes irony on the SAT? (CR or Passage Improvement)
I’ve tackled irony before, if briefly. It’s not tested often.
On the SAT, you’ll never be asked to identify the different kinds of irony (situational, dramatic, verbal) but any of the three could feasibly be present in a passage and referred to, broadly, as irony.
Definitions of irony abound, but the one I like best is one I found on the Wikipedia entry for the concept:
Henry Watson Fowler, in The King’s English, says “any definition of irony—though hundreds might be given, and very few of them would be accepted—must include this, that the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same.”
If you remember that, and you’re attuned enough to the tonal subtleties of a passage to know when what is meant is different from what is being said, then you’ll have no problem identifying irony on the SAT (or anywhere else).
Q: I’m getting so discouraged. My practice test scores are fluctuating too much and I’m not reaching my desired score of 2k. I’m taking the SAT in January, then my final one in May. I’m scared I’m not going to reach my goal. I just can’t get the hang of CR. It frustrates me so much. =(
I guess I simply don’t know how to review correctly. Sometimes my mistakes seem so simple. Should I spend over 2+ hours reviewing/going over my mistakes on my tests?
A: First, and I know this is easier said than done, don’t be discouraged. Frustration only makes productive studying harder and more painful. Remember that this test isn’t the final arbiter of your future, just one of many small steps. Don’t let it become more significant in your mind than it really is. Especially when you’ve got all kinds of time. I know you’re saying your final test will be in May, but remember that most seniors take it one or even two more times in the fall.
When you’re reviewing a Critical Reading question you’ve missed, you should be looking for two things: 1) where in the passage is the right answer directly supported?, and 2) what about each wrong answer allows me to eliminate it? Sometimes you’ll be able to answer these with a single line reference, other times it’ll be more like the tone of the whole passage tells you what you need to know. You should take as long as it takes to figure that out.
In doing this, you’re helping yourself to see that each question has one right and 4 wrong responses, and also getting lots of practice sifting through passages for the important bits. Once you know (really know) that each question has only one right answer, you can get pretty good at eliminating wrong answers, which is just as important a skill as being able to recognize the right answer. Be able to do this quickly and accurately, and have a great vocabulary, and you’re well on your way to an elite SAT Reading score.
[More CR advice.]
Hi, can you explain the answer to Critical Reading Test #4 Section #2 Question #12 in the Second Blue Book addition? Thanks!
If none of the answers immediately jump out at you (and in this question, that’s probably the case) then you should put on your skeptic’s hat and come up with reasons to eliminate choices.
Eliminate (A): She doesn’t give any views of the medical profession. She’s a doctor, so she surely has views, but she doesn’t give them in this paragraph.
Eliminate (B): There are no childhood memories mentioned. The earliest we go is her in medical school—long after she’s no longer a child.
Eliminate (D): There is no mention of collaboration with her father.
Eliminate (E): This is contradicted in the passage. Far from encouraging her, Jane Wright’s father actively warned her how hard becoming a doctor would be!
So you’re left with (C). Even if it’s not the exact answer you would give to the question, you can’t really eliminate it. The passage does talk about how her father was a role model, and how that fact made her early career as a doctor difficult.
Hi! I'm a junior & I took the SAT in Oct, and got 740 CR, 680 M, 720 W with a 10. I'm trying to reach 2200+, and hopefully 2300. For CR, when I went to SAT tutor, I usually got 760 - 800, so I must admit I was very shocked when I saw my 740. (If it helps, my PSAT score was 223 - 80 CR, 73 M, 70 W) Are there any tips that you have for me? Thank you! :)
Based on your high reading scores, here are 2 assumptions I’m going to make about you:
- Your vocabulary is pretty good and you almost never miss sentence completions
- You generally understand the passages you read and can pick the right answer out of 5 choices pretty consistently
The problem I’ve seen most often with people in your situation (again, as long as you fit those assumptions) is that the SAT is very good at sprinkling in a few answer choices that seem very tempting even though they’re wrong. If you’re in the habit of scanning 5 choices for the right one, once in a while you’ll be fooled by a trap answer. And once in a while is all you need to fall from the high 700s to the low 700s.
To fix this, start concentrating on eliminating wrong answers, not just finding right ones. Before you bubble the answer you picked, make sure it meets these 2 criteria:
- It came from (or can clearly be inferred from) the passage
- It actually answers the question (it’s not too broad or too narrow)
The most tempting traps will do one of those and come close to doing the other. Correct answers will do both.
[For more on reading, click here.]