Frequently, students confuse test prep for skills prep. While there can be some overlap, they are not the same.
Test Prep guides you through the structure of the test. This includes timing, topics, questions types, strategies, and tips. Most Test Prep books and programs will help you understand these aspects. However, they will not help you build the skills you need to excel at the test.
Skills are the knowledge and abilities your are being tested on. Some skills are easy to attain and so some test prep books will includes these rules. However, applying those rules might not be as simple as presented. The biggest gulf between Test Prep and Skills Prep exists in Reading.
Reading Skills Prep
The big problem with reading skills is the assumption that once you can read a newspaper you can read. And you can. Somewhat. However, the type of reading required on standardized tests such as SAT, ACT, MCAT, LSAT, GRE demands skilled reading abilities, not just adequate reading abilities. You need to be able to read quickly and efficiently, with both flexibility and precision. You need to be able to cross-reference ideas and pick up on cultural clues that add depth to your understanding of the text. Additionally the type of reading in these tests also requires a degree of logic and clarity, not commonly taught in school.
The Common Suggestion
Frequently, student are given the directive to “read more.” Certainly, reading more is the key, but improving reading is more complicated than merely picking up any text and blindly sounding out words. Yes, children who grow up to be excellent reader often are the the product of the “read more” directive. That is, those children read constantly and were exposed to millions of words over years and through time and attention incorporated those words into their vocabulary. So they didn’t need to memorize higher level words because they have a number of sentences stored away that demonstrate the usage of those words.
Even Excellent Readers need guidance
I remember at the age of 9 or 10 coming across the name “Penelope” and reading it aloud as PEN-LOPE instead PE-NEL-OP-E. Now, I was a constant reader with a regularly used library card, but because I had not heard and seen that name used, I had misread it. This happens to many people who have never heard a word spoken, but only seen it in text and having miss-read it once, continue to do so. It happens all the time to smart people. At a workplace once, I had a co-worker ask about a book called CHAM-EH-LON. After some back and forth, I asked for the title to be spelled and found that she wanted the book Chameleon.
How to build Reading Skills
- Ensure you have accurate decoding skills (Phonics)
- Build your vocabulary
- Practice with reading higher level texts
- Confirm that you are accurate
- Repeat to build up exposure to cultural touchstones and necessary background knowledge
- Increase speed while trying to maintain comprehension
- Challenge your self with more complex texts regularly
What should I read?
This blog has several posts with suggested reading. Additionally, I have produced Reading practice passages with vocabulary lists and reading questions you can use to verify your accuracy. Many of these passages are FREE and can be downloaded through my teacherspayteachers store. You don’t need to be a teacher to use this site, just create a profile and download the materials.
You can also see what is available through my SAT Reading Resource Library.
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