For most juniors and seniors, “reading” is understood as that thing you do in literature classes. In
literature classes, “reading” means as much “interpretation” as it does anything else. Literature
classes usually involve extensive discussion about whatever is being read in class at the time.
Students are encouraged to think outside the box and to look deeper into the text and to try to
come to a more profound understanding of the author’s intentions. Moreover, the students are
usually encouraged to engage the text, to discuss it with the teacher and with each other, and to
come up with “hot takes” on the material. Differing opinions are not only welcome, but
encouraged. Here’s the thing though: as valuable as this process can be, it is also the
ABSOLUTE WRONG WAY to approach the reading section of the SAT.
Students should be very clear that it is NEVER their task to interpret the text. Actually, their task
is really much simpler: to be able to recount WHAT THE TEXT ACTUALLY SAYS. It might
surprise you to realize that the correct answer to an SAT reading question is as objectively
correct as the correct answer to an SAT math question. The most common mistake that
students make is transferring their approach to reading in the literature class to that reading on
the SAT test. The end result is that the students often find themselves deliberating over the
choices: “Gosh, choice A seems right, but so does choice B. And even C could work. And now
that I look at it more, D is kind of tempting.” This wastes enormous amounts of time.
Furthermore, there is a very good chance that you will often find a way to talk yourself out of the
The solution, therefore, is to stop the deliberating. Stop giving accommodation to choices that
are clearly wrong. (And yes, the more practice you do, the more you will begin to see that the
correct answer is objectively correct and undebatable.) What I often tell my students is that they
need to approach the reading passages more like a lawyer would and less like a poet would. Not
to disparage the poet—it’s just that the poetic approach is not going to be of much help on a test
that is standardized.
There is no better way to get good at the reading section than to work through as many reading
passages and questions as possible. Along the way, the student will get more and more used to
the “lawyer” approach and move further away from the “poet” approach. Another very important
thing that will happen along the way is that the student will begin to acquire a larger vocabulary.
Having a highly developed vocabulary is absolutely essential to success on the SAT reading
section. I also use a number of vocabulary resources in an effort to enhance students’ vocabulary