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Lucas Fink

Think of SAT Reading Passages as “Where’s Waldo?” Pages

If that were really the test, how would you go about it? Would you…

  • first look at the picture for a reaallly long time, then find out what Waldo looks like and try to remember where he was.
  • get a good picture in your head of Waldo, then scan the picture for him.

I’m going to assume you chose B, seeing as that’s how those of us without picture-perfect memories usually tackle it. It’s the same situation on the SAT, only you’re looking for several conceptual Waldos rather than the physical nerdy guy in the lame sweater. Each question asks you to locate some word or idea in the passage, and in order to answer correctly, you need to understand where it stands in relation to the surrounding text. Precisely locating the subject of the question before answering it is half the battle. If you spent any time searching for Waldo as a kid, then you were training—whether you knew it or not—for the day of your SAT.


Finding the right answer in the passage

First, get a feel for the passage. Survey the scene to understand the structure of things. For a long passage, you’ll definitely want to do a quick reading of it before getting to the questions, but remember that you’re not aiming to memorize it; you’re just trying to understand the main argument or story and how some of the most significant details fit into it. Then move on to the first question, and identify what detail it is that they’re asking for. Then go back to the passage before you read the answer choices.

Depending on the type of question, you’re probably going to end up seeing some synonyms of words in the passage in the answer choices—both wrong and right. What you should do, then, is to pick out which sentences or phrases in the passage answer the question. After you’ve found the appropriate text, put the answer into your own words. Only then should you take a look at your answer choices. By picking the answer from the right part of the passage and rewording it, you’ll be able to avoid wrong answers that use pieces from the wrong section of the text. Or, even better, you’ll possibly have a pretty good match with the correct answer choice, which will jump out at you much more quickly thanks to your rewording.

Say you saw Waldo in the water in a life-vest, next to a boat, and you thought, “He’s chilling out in the water.” Then you looked at your answer choices, one of which said “floating in a lake.” It’ll give you much more confidence in your answer if you’ve just seen it yourself and said it to yourself.

The answer is in front of you. Find it!


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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