This blog post is about improving your SAT Reading score.

I usually write about the International Baccalaureate (IB) on this blog, but today I’d like to focus on the SAT.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I’ve always been a math nerd, so the SAT Math test was quite easy for me. On the other hand, the SAT Reading test proved to be much more difficult.

The good news is that there are definite ways to increase your score on the SAT Reading test. Here’s a quick guide on how to do that.

Quick diagnosis of your reading problem(s)

Have a look at what reading level you’re at.

  1. “I can’t physically read all of the passages in the given time.”
  2. “I can’t comprehend the passages well enough in the given time.”
  3. “I think I understand the passage, but I’m always torn between A or B in a multiple-choice question.”
  4. “I think I understand the passage, and I get the simple questions correct, but I always get the hard questions wrong.”
  5. “I understand the passage completely, and I can do all or most of the questions correctly under time pressure.”

The solution

Level 5 clearly isn’t a problem. Level 5 is the reading level that you want to attain. The question is how do you get there?

If you are stuck at problem #1 or #2…

The reason why you cannot read all of the passages is very likely because you do not read enough material for school and in your leisure time. Your immediate goal is to increase your rate of comprehension by:

a) forcing yourself to read quickly and learning to speed read (Google this);

b) familiarising yourself with a wider vocabulary

Allow yourself 1 hour a day to read. What you read doesn’t matter, but it’s best if it’s at the same or a greater level of difficulty compared to the SAT Reading passages.

What should you read in preparation? Try to read a bit of everything, both fiction and non-fiction. Here’s what the SAT Reading test actually contains:

“The Reading Test always includes

  • One passage from a classic or contemporary work of U.S. or world literature.
  • One passage or a pair of passages from either a U.S. founding document or a text in the great global conversation they inspired. The U.S. Constitution or a speech by Nelson Mandela, for example.
  • A selection about economics, psychology, sociology, or some other social science.
  • Two science passages (or one passage and one passage pair) that examine foundational concepts and developments in Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics.”Source: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/inside-the-test/reading

Of course, don’t spend your time studying the U.S. Constitution! That would get monotonous very quickly. Read widely, and read lots.

If you are stuck at problem #3 or #4…

So you can devour literary material at a break-neck speed, but problems arise when it comes to answering the questions and circling the correct bubbles. What you need to do is improve your critical reading skills.

You ask: What are critical reading skills?

Critical reading is beyond understanding what the author is saying literally. Critical reading is about understanding all the behind-the-scenes, complex, high-order thinking stuff, which includes:

  • The author’s purpose
  • The author’s tone
  • The atmosphere of the text
  • The author’s reason for using certain literary techniques, like metaphor or personification, in a particular part of the text
  • The emotions invoked by the audience
  • How one author’s message is different or similar compared to another author’s message

I can’t teach you all of these skills in this single blog post, but I will recommend a book that I found extremely useful (no exaggeration) in improving my critical reading skills. The book that I used was the best-selling The Critical Reader by Erica L. Meltzer. I completed all of the exercises in about three weeks, and my SAT Reading score immediately improved by 70 points.

In my opinion, The Critical Reader is the best and most effective SAT Critical Reading book out there on the market. There are so many SAT books that steal your money-this book definitely is not one of them. I’ve recommended Meltzer’s book to all of my friends. Why? Here’s a short list of reasons.

  • The book gives you extremely detailed explanations/solutions to all questions. I found critical reading difficult because I just couldn’t grasp the complex reasoning behind the questions. The author shows you exactly how to think through every single question by eliminating each choice one-by-one and then carefully justifying the correct answer-no skipping, no logical leaps, no assumptions. There are hundreds of these detailed justifications in the book-in fact, there’s one for every single question.
  • The book focuses on every type of SAT-style question. The Critical Reader is divided into sections dedicated to teaching the approach for every type of SAT Reading question that you will encounter. This includes everything from comparison/contrast questions to author’s purpose questions to tone and mood questions to long passages and short passages. Most useful for me was the extensive coverage on the more complex questions that helped me get from the high-600s to the 700-800 range.
  • The book isn’t a money grab-it actually teaches genuine critical reading skills. Erica Meltzer’s book teaches you the skills of critical reading, as opposed to other shortcut SAT hack books that simply feed you little tips and tricks that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. After I finished the book, I felt that I was actually a better critical reader and not just a better SAT test-taker. Meltzer’s book teaches you real reading skills; I cannot emphasise this point enough.

Summary

Improve your SAT Reading score by:

  • Reading more and reading widely
  • Developing your critical reading skills by using a good book like The Critical Reader by Erica Meltzer

Thanks for reading and I hope this post helps you out with your SAT Reading score. There are many ways to improve your reading skills. The ones that I’ve outlined are just the ones that have helped me.