Smart Students use Strategies

There sometimes a disconnect between what students think top scorers do and what top scorers actually do. Because the internet is rife with commentators who insist that they only used Khan Academy, and they scored in the 1500s the first time they took the test, there is a skewed sense of what “smart” students do on the test. While I am certain that some students are capable of scoring well without using strategies, that doesn’t mean if you do something else you are stupid. Smart students use strategies to maximize their scores.

I have a student who has bashing her head against the 260s in the Reading section, and I noticed that her test booklets where pristine. Not a note in sight. When pressed she said that she thought she should be smart enough to not take notes. In essence she thought that weak students annotate and the smart students don’t. In my experience the opposite is true. My top scoring students take the most notes. There are no bonus points on the SAT (or ACT) for having a clean test booklet. Annotations allow you to clarify what you are reading, note the key points, and free you brain up to think about the ideas rather than juggling pieces of information.

Additionally, process of elimination is not cheating. Another misconception is that if you are smart, you can just “know” what the correct answer is. That may be true for a straight forward reading comprehension test, but the SAT is a ore complex test that is written strategically and often the correct answers are not easily discerned. In order to get a perfect score on the reading section it is important to know why the wrong answers are wrong as much as if not more so than why the right answers are right. If you are certain that 3 of the 4 choices are wrong, then the 4th must be the correct answer even if you don’t know exactly why.


  • TAKE NOTES- Please, please, please annotate the reading passages.
  • USE P.O.E.-Eliminate wrong answers first to clear the field.
  • CHECK THE PASSAGE- Don’t leave it up to your memory. Check your answer choice against the passage.


Now for the caveat. Strategies won’t make up for weak reading skills. If you are not a strong reader, if you don’t read for pleasure, if your vocabulary is limited because English is your second language and if you struggle to connect the passages to your own knowledge, then the strategies won’t make up for these reading deficits. Strong reading skills are necessary to success in University where you will be required to read vast amounts of information in a short period of time and the SAT is attempting to quantify your abilities in this area.

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