2 Ways to Improve Your Reading Score on the SAT & ACT

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The SAT and ACT’s “Reading” portions are often the hardest sections for students to improve upon.  While students can easily raise their Math and Writing scores by learning various mathematical formulas and grammar rules, respectively, there aren’t any such shortcuts for the Reading section. The SAT and ACT’s Critical Reading sections vary slightly (the SAT features vocabulary questions, for instance, while the ACT does not), but the principles of both tests are very much the same. Students who are rather voracious readers typically fare better on the Reading portion because they are able to identify the subtleties and nuances in the passages that the SAT and ACT test on.  I have found that the following two tips have helped students develop the requisite skills necessary to be successful on the Reading sections of both tests.

1) Read 30-60 Additional Minutes Every Night
It is important to make a commitment to reading more leading up to the exam.  Most students are able to demonstrably improve their reading comprehension skills in as little as 2-3 months of consistent nightly reading. I encourage students to begin this process by reading anything that they may find appealing (sports stories, biographies, magazine articles etc.).  As students progress in this process, however, they should eventually transition to more challenging material, such as the New York Times or New Yorker Magazine. Such publications are representative of the passages the SAT & ACT will include in their tests. Remember: it is always better to read slower if it will enable you to understand each detail of the text.  Speed and accuracy will improve over time.

2) Keep a Vocabulary Journal
While many test prep centers advocate memorizing thousand word vocabulary lists in preparation for the Reading section, I’ve found that it is always better to learn new words as you naturally encounter them.  If students are engaging in 30-60 additional minutes of reading a night (see point #1), they will most assuredly stumble upon scores of new words.  It is important to practice good reading habits and not to skip over any words that you cannot reasonably define or explain.  I recommend that students stop to catalogue each word they do not know by writing it down as well as its part of speech (noun, verb…etc.), definition, and the sentence of the article/book in which they encountered the new word.  Students will soon not only develop an organic list of new words that they have taught themselves, but will be better able to integrate this new vocabulary in to their vernacular.

It is important to remember that there are no shortcuts or quick fixes for the Reading section.  It takes hard-work and determination to experience success on this section.  However, these two basic approaches have yielded great results with students who have historically struggled on these sections of the test.

When is the Right Time to Take the SAT/ACT?

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The recent New York Times article When to Take the SAT chronicles a disturbing new trend in which students are preparing for and taking the SAT & ACT exams at an earlier age than ever before. The article points out that more than ten times as many middle school students completed an SAT test in 2014 than in 2010 and that this trend is likely to continue in the years to come. School districts at the middle school (and elementary school!) levels have already begun implementing SAT/ACT test prep into educational curricula while an increasing number of Test Prep Centers are advocating preparing for these exams at younger and younger ages!

The fact of the matter is that the SAT & ACT are very important exams that students should spend considerable time preparing for, however, there is very little to be gained by studying for these tests before Sophomore year. Both exams test students on advanced mathematical, grammatical, literary, and, in the case of the ACT, scientific principles that are rather universally included in Freshman, Sophomore and Junior high school curricula. The overwhelming majority of students I work with on these exams see their scores rise rather significantly from the end of their Sophomore year to the end of Junior year as they finish learning the aforementioned concepts in high school. Furthermore, there are seven SAT and six ACT tests administered each academic year with no limit or penalty for taking these tests multiple times. If test-anxiety is an issue, students can take the SAT and ACT exam as many times as they want their Sophomore, Junior and Senior year to achieve their desired.

In my experience, the best course of action is to focus on school work before weighing various test prep options one’s Sophomore or Junior year.