Read First, Questions Second

Strategies for tackling the SAT Reading Passages

There is much debate about the “best” strategy for the tackling the SAT reading section.

There are several strategies that students use to get through the passages. Which one you use will depend on factors including how strong a reader you are, how much time you have left, and your own preferences. It is important to be flexible and change your strategy depending on circumstances.

A) Recommended—Read first, Questions second

Read the passage first. Take notes as you go to ensure you don’t check out mentally and get to the end with “no idea” what you just read. When you are finished, write down what the passage is about in 5-7 words. This is your guiding star to help you not get fooled by attractive but wrong answers. If you feel that you understood basically (or completely) then work your way through the questions in the order they have been provided. OR if you feel uncertain, start with Narrow Focus questions and answer them by going back to the parts with line references. After having completed the Narrow Focus questions, you should have a better idea of what happened in the passage overall. Finally, you can now attempt the Big Picture questions.

B) Questions First

Some students like to read the questions first and mark on the test booklet the line references from the questions. This helps them know what types of information to look for. If you have unlimited time, this is not a bad idea. However, because you will have to come back and re-read each question after you have read the passage, this strategy takes a little more time. After marking the questions, you should read the entire passage, taking notes and identifying the main idea when you have finished. Just as in the first strategy, you can do the questions in order or Narrow Focus Questions first to solidify your understanding of the passage, followed by Big Picture questions.

C) Piece by Piece

Some students who struggle with reading take a piece by piece approach to the passages.  Skip the first question or two which usually are Big Picture questions. Identify your first Narrow Focus question and read the passage just until you find the part that provides the right answer. Keep doing the Narrow focus questions until they are completed. Then go back and complete the Big Picture questions. This strategy takes the longest because you are going back and forth so much. But some students find it effective. More often, this is used as a last ditch effort when you are running out of time.

**There is no one correct way to navigate through the test. Everyone is different and needs to process information in his or her own way. Comparing yourself to others is wasted effort.

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