The most common problem that SAT takers have in the reading section is with timing. It’s not easy to absorb a long reading passage and get to the questions while on a clock, especially not with test pressure weighing down on you.
It’s not uncommon, then, that students find themselves skipping a number of the final questions on any one critical reading section. There are a number of tricks to speed yourself up, most of which involve changing your reading technique, but we’re going to look at one of the more SAT-savvy, question-based techniques here.
Reading questions that ask about the author’s intentions
One of the more common types of SAT reading questions asks you to understand the writer’s purpose. They either ask for the general objective of the article or for the function of some more specific detail in the reading. In either case, though, the format of the question is pretty consistent, ending with a “to” that will attach to some verb in the answer choices. For example:
The primary purpose of the passage is to
The author mentions “sopping wet hot dog buns” (line 23) in order to
Because the questions are set up to need verbs, the answer choices are also pretty consistent. They all begin with a verb related to structuring an argument, such as persuade, explain, suggest, refute, support, summarize, illustrate, give information about, detail, discredit, etc.
Using the verbs in the answer choices
You should already be searching SAT passages like “Where’s Waldo?” pages for those details that the questions refer to, but what then?
First, guess what verbs you might see that’ll finish the sentence. Does that paragraph explain something? Is the author trying to persuade you of something? Then scan the answer choices vertically—you don’t need to run your eyes horizontally over the whole sentence, just down the column of verbs that they start with. Most times, you’ll be able to knock two or three choices out pretty quickly based solely on those verbs. This is pretty similar to ballparking in SAT math, and it can save you time in just the same way. Once those answers are crossed out, you only have to analyze the couple that are left.
Of course, this is even more effective if you’ve been careful to keep the author in mind while reading. You will be asked about the writers intentions, so considering from the get-go is always a good idea.
Then, when you see those verbs in the answer choices, you’ll know what to do.
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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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