The reading comprehension is one of the most dreaded parts of the SAT. Here are some tips on how you can prepare for it.

ETS’s Assumptions About You

  • You waste time reading things you don’t need to read.
  • You read carelessly.
  • You don’t understand what the questions really ask.
  • You don’t understand what you read.

How to Prove them Wrong

  • Read the italicized blurb before the passage (if there is one)
  • Go straight to the questions so you know what you’re looking for.
  • Read and translate the question – what is it asking, exactly?
  • Go to the passage and read what you need to find the answer.

Types of Reading Comprehension Questions

  • Literal Comprehension
    • Line reference questions
    • Vocabulary in context
    • Lead words
  • Reasoning
    • The author’s argument
    • General questions (main point)

Sample Reading Comprehension Passage

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant – an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.” Do you remember this line from Dr. Seuss’ children’s book, Horton Hatches the Egg? Walking through an apparently uncertain world replete with broken promises and flase faces, I have observed that this philosophy – meaning what we say and saying what we mean – is far from common. It is actually a gem in the day-to-day world; rare and very valuable. For many reasons, I have come to believe firmly in the power of stating our intentions carefully and following through.

In personal relationships, a return to childhood values and priorities can be very instructive and helpful for adults. Think of the face that greets an adult when a small child with dashed expectations says, “but…you promised!” At that stage in life, most people understand promises as points of certainty. Your word is your bond, and if you break it, a child feels reality fracture along with his or her heart. Adults may feel consciously numb to such disappointments, but make no mistake – there is no more certain key to the hearts of many grown men and women than following through and being dependable. Looking back, I realize that the man who eventually became my life partner first set himself apart not with candy, flowers, or a clever quotation, but by saying, “I’ll call you around seven tonight,” and doing it…by telling me he would lend me he would lend me his favorite CD, and arriving to meet me with the disc in hand…he never forgot and never let me down. He never even had to say, “I promise.” He spoke in earnest and acted with diligence, and became my safe place in the world.

As an entrepreneur, I also know that follow-through is irreplaceable in business. My business professor and mentor alternately entreated and admonished her students to keep careful records not only of accounts, appointments, communications, and money, but all the ideas slated for implementation, whether “tomorrow, for sure” or “someday.” Of course, it’s important to make good on commitments to clients and business associates, but it’s also crucial to honor our own ideas and enjoy the fruits of our own resourefulness. The best move I ever made was to follow through on a seemingly random and silly impulse to design a humorous poster campaign introducing my services to local college students. Not only was the campaign a great success, but it taught me that even my “silly” ideas can have tremendous potential. Your negativity may cause you to think none of your ideas will work, but if you don’t follow through and try them, that thought will become a disappointing reality.

Of course, my beloved isn’t always at my side, and my business isn’t the whole of my life. Even wen I am in the solitude, making commitments to myself carefully and following through is of very real value. I know from experience that I can depend on myself. I make my plans, whether for a new marketing campaign, hanging my new drapes, or an afternoon at the bowling alley, and I know the marketing, the windows, and my Saturday afternoon are all covered. Commitments thoughtfully made and carefully kept aren’t just for children or storybook characters p they’re vital for real, live adults like myself. My word is my bond, not only with others, but as a glue that aids me in “keeping it together” in my own life.

Question #1

  • In the second paragraph, fourth sentence, the word “bond” means
    A. attachment
    B. firm commitment
    C. monetary investment
    D. junction
    E. restraint

What’s the real question here?
What does the word “bond” mean, specifically in this place in the passage?

Look at the text it refer to.
—At that stage in life, most people understand promises as points of certainty. Your word is your bond…

Come up with your own answer.
Maybe “promise”

Find the most closely matched choice.
- B. firm commitment

Question #2

  • The author says that a past business professor and mentor stressed the importance of
    A. creativity
    B. record-keeping
    C. relationships
    D. honesty
    E. marketing

What is this question really asking?
What quality did the author’s professor and mentor encourage in students?

Note: this is a good example of a question containing lead words. The word “business” tells you that it will be in the paragraph about business, not about personal relationships. “Mentor” is a fairly distinct word, too, so you can look for that one as a quick flag.

Look at that exact thing in the passage.
My business professor and mentor alternately entreated and admonished her students to keep careful records not only of accounts, appointments, communications, and money, but all the ideas slated for implementation, whether “tomorrow, for sure” or “someday.”

Come up with your own answer.
The professor told her students to keep careful records of everything including the ideas they planned to act on.

Look at the choices offered…
A. creativity (No, that didn’t seem to be the person’s emphasis.)
B. record-keeping (Yes! Students were encouraged to keep track of everything.)
C. relationships (No, this wasn’t really mentioned directly.)
D. honesty (No, this wasn’t mentioned.)
E. marketing (No, this wasn’t mentioned either.)

Question #3

  • The main point of the passage is that
    A. adults subconsciously retain the same hunger for dependability in others that they possessed as toddlers
    B. saying what one means in precise terms is the most important personal habit to have
    C. follow-through is tremendously powerful in personal relationship, business, and the relationship with the self
    D. people who lie to children are doing significant psychological damage that will extend into adulthood
    E. Dr. Seuss really authored his books for adults.

What’s the real question?
What’s this passage all about?

Come up with your own answer
It’s really important to be dependable so that the people you care about and work with know they can count on you and so you know you can count on yourself.

Find a matching answer
A. adults subconsciously retain the same hunger for dependability in others that they possessed as toddlers (No, the author thinks this but it isn’t the main point.)

B. saying what one means in precise terms is the most important personal habit to have (No. “Most important” is extreme language – the author didn’t say this.)

C. follow-through is tremendously powerful in personal relationship, business, and the relationship with the self (Yes!)

D. people who lie to children are doing significant psychological damage that will extend into adulthood (Nope.)

E. Dr. Seuss really authored his books for adults. (No – where the heck did this come from, anyway?!)

Basic Approach to Reading Comprehensions

  • Read the italicized blurb before the passage (if there is one)
  • Go straight to the questions so you know what you’re looking for.
  • Read and translate the question – what is it asking, exactly?
  • Go to the passage and read what you need to find the answer.
  • Answer the question in your own words.
  • Use POE (process of elimination) to eliminate wrong answers.

Oh No, There are Two of Them Now!

Two passages as a set? Don’t panic.

  • Do the same thing you would normally do, treating the two passages separately until and unless you’re asked to compare or contrast the two.
  • Deal with them separately first and save any questions pertaining to both together for last to minimize confusion.

Remember These Tricks

  • Look for line references and lead words to help you locate what the question refers to in the text.
  • Be careful of distractor answers.
  • Look out for extreme language (best, worst, most important, biggest, smallest, etc.).