Tips and Tricks for the SAT and PSAT: Critical Reading

Wondering how to improve your Critical Reading score?

The Critical Reading section of the SAT encompasses a multitude of challenges, and Critical Reading itself is often a subject at which people naturally excel or struggle significantly. If you aren’t a naturally gifted reader, or you’re a senior with lofty ambitions but lacking the necessary time to achieve them, then you should consider a Test Masters preparatory course. In the world of standardized testing, the very best way to overcome a weakness to a specific topic is with powerful and effective test taking strategies. Though our test taking strategies are available only to Test Masters students, there are a number of long-term preparations and habits any student can employ to positively impact their Critical Reading score.

If you are struggling with Reading Comprehension or Critical Reading, one way to improve your score is to do some extracurricular reading. Read a book, essay, or play; read something that challenges you, but you don’t need a companion guide to understand. A great place to look for reading material is your preferred university’s recommended reading list for incoming freshman. This strategy actually serves multiple purposes: in addition to preparing you for the SAT and PSAT, it familiarizes you with the kind of literature you will regularly encounter in college. Reading the right material is important; the poetry of Yates or Blake might be a little beyond your current comprehension level, but if you’re not reading anything more challenging than a Garfield comic strip your critical reading skills won’t improve at all.

The best way to prepare for the Critical Reading and Reading Comprehension sections is (you guessed it!) by actually reading.

Equally important to improving your reading skills and comprehension is the actual reading process. Ideally, you should be reading for fun, because (surprise) reading is fun! However, if you are really concerned about improving your test scores, you will need to approach your various reading projects with at least a minimal degree of seriousness. As you read, circle or highlight words you don’t know; or if you are reading off an electronic device look them up and continue reading. The important thing is to not spend too much time researching words while you read, that would disturb your concentration and slow your reading pace, just note strange or unusual words and look them up later. You should do the same with complex passages; if you get stuck trying to understand the meaning or significance of a particular statement or paragraph, just move on. Context clues that are more fully developed later on in a passage might help elucidate your confusion; like a detective solving a crime, sometimes you need all the relevant information to figure out what is going on.

I’ve found words and definitions are easier to remember if you have a clear context and usage to refer to, like the plot of a good book, but everybody learns differently. Another way to improve your vocabulary, and your critical reading skills, is to memorize words off a vocabulary list; the “Big Word” List that comes with your registration in a Test Masters’ prep course is an excellent example.

Even cool people like to read!

A strong reading comprehension and an extended vocabulary will help you succeed in almost every professional or academic setting. Get into the habit of reading; it’s not only fun, it’s important! That being said, it’s also important to remember not everyone’s natural talents are the same, and the best way to turn a weakness into a strength is through thorough preparation. If you want or need extra help studying for the SAT, PSAT, or ACT, you can always study with the experts at Test Masters.

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