SAT For Dummies

Part II

Comprehending the SAT: The Critical Reading Sections

 

In this part . . .

The SAT Critical Reading section isn’t the place for you to make comments such as “Paragraph two is a bit boring. A little dialogue would spice it up.” Instead, it’s the place to show SAT makers and colleges alike that you have what it takes to comprehend college-level prose. Not that the exam actually fulfills its goal, mind you, but it does measure your ability to register facts, make inferences, and pick up nuances (subtleties) of tone and style.

Part II helps you sail through the SAT’s sea of verbiage (a mess of words with only a little content). Specifically, Chapter 3 describes each type of question you have to answer in the Critical Reading section and provides some helpful hints for understanding passages from each subject area the SAT addresses — social and natural sciences, humanities, and literary fiction. Chapter 4 hits you with a ton of practice passages, and Chapters 5 and 6 address sentence completions.

Chapter 3

Reading between (and on) the Lines: The Critical Reading Section

In This Chapter

 Surveying the SAT Critical Reading section

 Decoding passage-based questions

 Honing techniques for each type of reading question

 Prioritizing the questions and increasing your reading speed

 Figuring out whether to read the questions or the answers first

Two seconds after Ugh the Cave Dweller first carved some words on a rock wall, a prehistoric teacher-type asked, “What does Mastodon eat you imply?” and the critical reading exam was born. Your test may be a bit tougher than Ugh’s, but don’t worry. In this chapter, I help you polish some critical reading skills that help you get through passage-based comprehension questions with flying colors. (Turn to Chapter 5 for lots of details on sentence-completion questions.) I also show you how to read faster and how to zero in on the questions you’re more likely to answer correctly.

Getting Acquainted with the Critical Reading Section

In their infinite wisdom, the SAT test makers have determined that 70 minutes of highly artificial reading tells colleges how equipped you are to plow through 50 or 60 pounds of textbooks each semester. To test your reading abilities, they throw the following three types of questions at you, generally mixed together in three sections:

 Single passages: Some consist of as many as 700 to 800 words; some have only 100 words.

 Paired passages: The paired word count may total 700 to 800 words, but it may also be only 200 words.

 Sentence completions: See Chapter 5 for more details.

Note: You may encounter (meet; run into) four Critical Reading sections on your test if you’ve been chosen to take a reading equating section, which the SAT makers use to try out new questions. The equating section looks exactly like any other Critical Reading section, and it isn’t labeled as an equating section. When you apply your brain to an equating section, you’re basically working for the SAT — even though you pay a test fee instead of receiving a paycheck. How unfair.

Meeting SAT single passages

Long single passages are accompanied by 10 to 14 questions, and short passages are followed by only 2 questions. These questions cover everything from the passage’s main idea, the author’s tone and attitude, the facts stated in the passage, the meaning of certain words, and the implications of various statements. (Find out more on each type of question in the later section “Conquering Passage-Based Questions.”)

The SAT attempts to mimic reading that you’ll actually face in college, though I personally have never had a course that required me to read random bits of information on a topic I’ve never seen before, don’t care about, and will never see again. (Oh wait. I have had courses like that.) Because students of all majors take the SAT, the reading passages come from all areas of study, with the exception of math word problems, which get their very own section on the SAT. (See Part IV for all the details about that section of the test.)

Doubling your trouble: Paired passages

Every SAT contains at least one set of paired passages. In it, you may find one passage written by an immigrant about his or her life and one written by a historian who has studied immigration and its effect on the economy. Or, you may find an excerpt from a scientist’s biography paired with an explanation of the significance of that scientist’s discovery. The two passages together may reach 850 words and be followed by ten or more questions, though the SAT often gives you a pair of 100-word passages followed by only four questions. Most paired-passage questions resemble those attached to single passages, but you also face paired-passage questions about the differences between the two passages in point of view, attitude, and tone.

Completing sentences

Sentence-completion questions are sentences that contain gaps into which you need to place the best word or phrase. These questions rely on your ability to construct a bridge when faced with a gap between two ideas. Some sentence-completion questions contain two blanks rather than only one, but regardless of how many blanks they have, they all require you to make a logical deduction with the help of word clues in the sentence and common sense. Chapter 5 explains in detail how to ace the sentence-completion questions.

Conquering Passage-Based Questions

When you enter Critical Reading Passage World, be sure to take weapons — not whips and machine guns, but logic and comprehension skills. This section shows you how to answer the difficult SAT reading questions, whether they’re attached to long or short passages.

Speaking factually

It never hurts to have some real-world knowledge in your test-taking tool box, but don’t panic when you encounter a passage and several fact-based questions about a topic you’ve never heard of. The SAT critical reading questions never require you to know anything beyond what’s presented in the passage. So even though you once blew up the chemistry lab, you can still master all the questions related to a passage about toxic waste.

Cracking all types of passages

Because the SAT makers assume that you’ll read something in every subject area when you’re in college, they throw passages from many areas of academia at you. Check out these hints for approaching science, social-science, humanities, and fiction passages.

When you’re attacking a science passage, try these tactics:

 Look carefully for the author’s stance. Whatever the subject, figure out what the author is advocating (making a case for). These passage questions often ask about the author’s point of view.

 Don’t worry about technical vocabulary. If you see a tough word, the definition is probably tucked into the sentence. Look for it, but don’t stress about not knowing exactly what technical words mean.

 Identify the argument. Many science passages, and especially paired passages, present a dispute between two viewpoints. The SAT questions may zero in on the evidence for each theory or make you identify each author’s stance.

 Notice the examples. The SAT science passages are chock-full of examples. The questions may require you to figure out what the examples prove.

If you’re poring over a social-science passage (anthropology, sociology, education, cultural studies, and so on), keep these tips in mind:

 Go for the positive. The SAT doesn’t criticize anyone with the power to sue or contact the media. So if you see a question about the author’s tone or viewpoint, look for a positive answer unless the passage is about war criminals or another crew unlikely to be met with public sympathy.

 Take note of the structure. The social-science passages frequently present a theory and support it with sets of facts or quotations from experts. If you’re asked about the significance of a particular detail in a passage, the detail is probably evidence in the case that the author is making.

 Look for opposing ideas. Experts like to argue, and human nature — the ultimate subject of social- science passages — provides plenty of arguable material. Many SAT passages present two viewpoints, in the paired passages and elsewhere. Look for the opposing sides, or identify the main theory and the objections to it.

If you face a humanities passage on the SAT (one dealing with art history, history, literature and the arts, culture, and language), keep in mind the following tips:

 Notice the details. Humanities passages often contain a great deal of description, as in “The sculpture is carved from solid maple and displayed on a base of pancakes.” Don’t let your attention wander; take note of the small stuff.

 Stay attuned to word choice. A passage dealing with the humanities may contain an excerpt from a memoir (someone’s memories, written from a personal point of view). Memoirs are perfectly suited to questions about the author’s tone (bitter, nostalgic, fond, critical, and so forth). Pay attention to connotation — not the dictionary definition but the feelings associated with a word.

 Keep in mind the big picture. Humanities questions frequently single out one example and ask you to explain its context or significance. Think about the big picture when you get to one of these questions. How does the detail fit into the whole?

SAT literary fiction is rare, but it does show up occasionally. Follow these tips to reach a higher score:

 Forget about plot. Plot isn’t important in fiction passages because not much can happen in 750 words. Concentrate on identifying scene, character traits, tone, point of view, and symbols.

 Think metaphorically. Every word in the passage is there for a reason, and never more so than in literary fiction. If Line 5 says that the banana was rotten, you can bet the banana is a metaphor for society or some such concept.

 Listen to a literary passage. Of course, you can’t make any noise while taking the SAT, but you can let the little voice in your head read expressively, as if you were acting it out. Chances are you’ll pick up some information from your mental reenactment that you can use when answering the questions.

 Cut your losses if you’re lost. Literary passages are the mavericks (the loners) of the SAT world. They can be about anything and in any style. If you start to read one and feel totally lost, skip it and go back to it later, time permitting.

Fact-based questions zero in on statements in the passage. They test whether you comprehend the meaning of what you’re actually reading. For example, in a descriptive paragraph, a fact-based question may ask whether the neighborhood is crowded or sparsely populated. In a science passage, you may be asked the result of an experiment.

Never skip a fact-based question because it’s almost impossible to get wrong. Amazingly enough, the test makers often refer you to the very line in the passage that contains the answer.

SAT fact-based questions do have a couple of traps built in. Sometimes the test writers word the passage in a confusing way. Successfully decoding a question’s meaning depends on your ability to pick up the word clues embedded in the passage. Here are a few of the words SAT makers love to use to keep you on your toes and some explanations of what they really mean. (You may want to memorize these words so they’re in neon lights in your brain.)

 Except, but, not, in contrast to, otherwise, although, even though, despite, in spite of: These words indicate contrast, identifying something that doesn’t fit the pattern.

 And, also, in addition to, as well as, moreover, furthermore, not only . . . but also, likewise, not the only: When you see these clue words, you’re probably looking for something that does fit the pattern.

 Therefore, because, consequently, hence, thus, accordingly, as a result: Now you’re in cause-and-effect land. Look for something that causes or leads to something else (or something caused by something else).

 Than, like, equally, similarly: Time to compare two ideas, two quantities, two people, two actions — you get the idea.

 Until, after, later, then, once, before, since, while, during, still, yet, earlier, finally, when: You’re watching the clock (or calendar) when you see these clue words. Think about the order of events.

It’s time to pull out your secret decoder ring so you can attack the following sample question, based on a nonexistent passage that I would actually love to read.

According to the passage, the distinction between “Mustard Yellow” (Line 11) and “Hot Dog Pink” (Line 55) is

(A) Picasso was extremely fond of hot dogs laced with mustard.

(B) Both colors are created with the same artificial chemicals.

(C) Mustard Yellow is found in nature, but Hot Dog Pink is found only in baseball stadiums.

(D) Neither color will ever reach the wall of the author’s living room.

(E) Mustard Yellow belongs to the blue family.

The correct answer is Choice (C). Okay, I’m kidding in this question (what else is new?), but I actually tuck in a few real points about SAT fact questions. Notice that the question asks you to find a distinction, or difference. Right away you can rule out Choices (B) and (D) because they state common characteristics. The sneaky SAT makers play tricks on people who read the question too quickly. You can also rule out Choice (A) because it doesn’t mention either color. That choice represents another SAT maker’s habit; throwing in an answer that may be true according to the passage (which contains a whole section on Picasso’s eating habits as they related to his color choices) but that is irrelevant in terms of the question. The test makers are hoping you choose Choice (A) because you remember the bit about Picasso’s favorite snack, ignoring the fact that (A) doesn’t address the color issue. (By the way, I made this up. For all I know Picasso was a vegetarian.) Choice (E) may be okay if the passage emphasizes the color families and tells you that Mustard Yellow can party down with the Blues while Hot Dog Pink can’t. The passage doesn’t, so Choice (C) is your best bet. This choice clearly states a distinction, which is what the question calls for.

Identifying word clues is especially crucial in the 100-word passages. Because test makers can’t rely on lengthy discussions of boring ideas to trick you — or to put you to sleep, which amounts to the same thing — they choose little words to trip you up. If you see one of the words or phrases from the previous bulleted list, underline it and take it into account when you’re choosing an answer.

Clue words show up in the questions, too, so be vigilant (on your guard) when reading the questions, not just while perusing the reading passage itself.

Defining as you read

Many SAT questions ask you to define a word as it’s used in the passage. Teacher-types like me call this exercise vocabulary in context. Never skip a vocabulary-in-context question because chances are the answer is right there in the sentence the word appears in. Even if the definition isn’t right there, figuring it out is easy to do. Here’s an example:

In Line 12, “snoggled” means . . .

Perhaps you’ve never heard of snoggled — not surprising because I made it up. But doesn’t it sound like something the school nurse would warn you about? “Snoggling leads to uncontrolled movements of the eyebrows. . . .” Even without a dictionary definition, you can figure out the meaning of the word from its context. For example, look at the rest of the paragraph on the test:

Overcome by passion the moment he snoggled her perfume, Oxford trailed Lympia pathetically around the house.

Okay, now you can clearly see that snoggled has something to do with sniffing, scenting, or otherwise catching a whiff of. If one of your choices is smelled or a synonym of smelled, you’re home free.

Vocabulary-in-context questions do contain one big sand trap, though. Many of these questions ask you for the definition of a word you probably already know. But — and this is a big but — the passage may use the word in an odd or unusual way. And, of course, one of the choices is usually the word’s definition that you know, just sitting there waiting for the unwary test taker to grab it. For example:

In Line 55, the word “deck” means

(A) to hit so hard that the receiver of the blow falls over

(B) a floor of a ship

(C) the compartment at the rear of an automobile

(D) a wooden structure built onto the side of a house

(E) to adorn with decorations

If you selected Choice (E), go to the head of the class, because Line 55 was a lyric from a famous Christmas carol, “Deck the Halls.” Bottom line: Always answer a vocabulary-in- context question because the answer is usually right there in the passage, but never answer one without actually checking the context.

Decoding symbols and metaphors

Appearances often deceive on the SAT. The passage may contain one or more symbols or metaphors that have a deeper meaning. For example, the questions may resemble the following:

 In the second paragraph, the author compares his trip to Shea Stadium to a treasure hunt because . . .

 The fly ball mentioned in Line 8 symbolizes . . .

 The long wait for hot dogs (Line 12) primarily serves to illustrate . . .

The best strategy for answering symbol- or metaphor-based questions is to form a picture in your brain. Refer to the preceding questions and pretend that you’re playing a videotape of the trip to Yankee Stadium featuring the fly ball or the wait for a hot dog. Then ask yourself why the author wanted to place that picture in your brain. Perhaps the trip to the ballpark (on your internal videotape) is bathed in golden light and accompanied by mellow violins. The comparison to a treasure hunt may show you that the author was searching for his lost youth, which he found unexpectedly at a baseball game. Or, when you run the tape of the fly ball smacking into the author’s forehead, you may realize that the incident embodies the shock of his realization that baseball is no longer the idyllic sport he once played.

The SAT writers use metaphor-based questions to check whether or not you can grasp the big picture. For example, once when I was in high school, the teacher compared voting rights to a set of milk bottles. If everyone’s rights were respected, the milk bottle was full. If some people were disenfranchised (not allowed to vote), the milk bottle was only half full. In a dictatorship, the milk bottle was empty. As the teacher blathered on about democracy and full milk bottles, one student’s hand waved in the air. “Milk doesn’t come in bottles anymore,” she remarked. “It’s all cartons now.” Clearly this student was missing the big picture. She was focusing on the detail, but she wasn’t grasping what the teacher was trying to convey.

When faced with a symbol- or metaphor-based question, experience the moment (but only for a moment, because time is short on the SAT) and feel its purpose.

Identifying the attitude

An attitude in a reading passage goes way beyond the “don’t take that attitude with me” comment that parents repeat with depressing regularity. In SAT jargon, an attitude can be critical, objective, indifferent, and so forth. The following clue words may pop up in the answer choices:

 Pro, positive, in favor of, leaning toward, laudatory (praising), agreeable, amenable (willing to go along with), sympathetic: The author is for a particular topic or argument.

 Doubtful, offended, anti, resistant to, contrary to, counter to, adversarial (acting like an enemy), opposed, critical of, disgusted with: The author is against a particular topic or argument.

 Objective, indifferent, noncommittal, impartial, apathetic (not caring), unbiased, ambivalent (can’t decide either way or has mixed feelings): The author is neutral on a particular topic or argument.

To answer an attitude question, first decide where the author lands — for, against, or neutral — in relation to the topic. Check for clue words that express approval or disapproval.

Even in a dry-as-dust passage about the low water table in some country you’ve never heard of, the author has an attitude, and the SAT may ask you to identify it. Check out these examples:

 The author’s attitude toward the Water Minister’s statement in Line 88 can best be described as . . .

 In response to the proposed law on water table measurement, the author’s comments are . . .

If you’re looking for a positive answer in an attitude question, start by crossing out all the negative or neutral choices. In the preceding water table law question, for example, you can instantly dump argumentative, condemning, and similar words if you know that the author favors the law.

A variation of the attitude question asks you to identify the author’s tone. Tone and attitude overlap a little, but tone is closer to what you would hear if the passage were the words of someone speaking directly to you. You can use some of the same clues you use for attitude to help you figure out the author’s tone. Just remember that tone questions include emotions, so check for irony, amusement, nostalgia, regret, and sarcasm.

Understanding examples

Quite a few critical reading questions ask you to figure out why an author used a particular example. Here are a few examples:

 The example of the fish scaler demonstrates that . . .

 The author’s statement that the fish smelled “putrid” (Line 2) serves to . . .

 The quotation from the hotel clerk about the choice of movies rented exemplifies . . .

The key to this sort of question is to get inside the writer’s mind. “Why did the author put that particular example in that particular place?” The example may be a small detail in a paragraph full of details. If so, try to decide what title you would give to the paragraph. Suppose that the fish scaler is in a paragraph describing kitchen tools. Depending on the paragraph’s contents, you may choose “Stuff in my kitchen that I never use” or “Stuff in my kitchen I can’t do without” as a good title for the list. After you get the title, you should be able to choose the answer choice that best explains why the writer chose to use the fish scaler as an example in the passage. The fish scaler example may lead you to a statement like “Many people buy kitchen utensils they never use” or “The proper tool makes any job easier.”

Alternatively, the example may be one complete paragraph out of many in the passage. In that case, what title would you give this passage? Chances are giving the passage a fitting title can lead you to the correct response.

Covering all your bases: The main idea

In reading terms, the questions on the SAT that address the main idea of a particular passage give you choices that fall into the too-broad, too-narrow, off-base, or just-right categories. A just-right choice includes all the supporting points and details in the passage, but it isn’t so broad as to be meaningless.

You frequently get at least one main idea–related question that applies to the entire passage. Think of the main idea as an umbrella protecting you from a driving rain as you walk down a street. If the umbrella is too large, the wind will blow you away. If it’s too small, you’ll get wet. You need one that fits perfectly. Imagine for a moment that you’re trying to find a main idea for a list that includes the following: jelly, milk, waxed paper, light bulbs, and peaches. A main idea that fits is things you can buy at the supermarket. One that is too broad is stuff. A too-narrow choice is food because very few people like the taste of light bulbs — and everyone who does is locked up in a padded room somewhere. A completely off-base main idea is canned goods.

A variation on the main idea–related question asks about the main ideas in a paragraph, not the passage as a whole. Use the same guidelines you use to identify the main idea of a passage to choose the correct answer.

Making inferences

You make inferences every day. (An inference is a conclusion you reach based on evidence.) Perhaps you come home and your mother is chewing on the phone bill and throwing your bowling trophies out the window. Even though she hasn’t stated the problem, you can guess that the call you made to the bowling team in Helsinki wasn’t included in your basic monthly calling plan.

The SAT Critical Reading section has tons of that kind of inference. You get a certain amount of information, and then you have to stretch it a little. The questions may resemble the following:

 What may be inferred from the author’s statement that she is “allergic to homework” (Line 66)?

 The author implies in Line 12 that small stuffed animals . . .

 The author would probably agree with which of the following statements?

To crack an inference question, act like a Sherlock Holmes clone. You have a few clues. Perhaps you have a set of statements about small stuffed animals: Very young kids tend to eat these little stuffed animals; unmarred stuffed animals fetch high prices on eBay; children seldom appreciate presents for more than a few moments after receiving them. You get the picture? Then ask yourself what sort of conclusion you can come to, given the evidence. Stretching the stuffed animal example, you may think that buying and selling stuffed animals for a profit is better than ignoring your little nephew’s birthday. After you reach a conclusion, check the choices to see which one best matches your conclusion.

If you’re asked to infer, don’t look for a statement that is actually in the passage. By definition, inferences reside between the lines. If a statement is in the passage, it’s the wrong answer.

Skipping When You’re at the End of Your Rope

When you’re barreling through a Critical Reading section on the SAT, time is your foe (enemy). To maximize your score, you need to concentrate on questions you’re fairly certain you can answer correctly. Unlike sentence-completion questions, which the SAT test makers place in order of difficulty (from easy to more difficult), the passage-based questions don’t move from easy to hard. Instead, the order of the questions attached to the passages follows the organization of the passage itself. Question 1 may ask about Lines 12 through 14, Question 2 about Lines 24 through 28, and so forth. Questions about the entire passage (the author’s attitude or tone, main idea, and so forth) may be anywhere but are often at the beginning or at the end of the question set.

Because the questions referring to the SAT Critical Reading passages aren’t in order of ­difficulty, you need to make some quick decisions about what to answer and what to skip, particularly as you get to the end of the time allotted. In general, follow these steps:

1. Answer the factual questions. (See the section “Speaking factually.”)

2. Go to the vocabulary-in-context type of question. (See the section “Defining as you read.”)

3. Start with the questions that ask you to interpret the author’s tone or purpose. (See the section “Identifying the attitude.”) If anything is unclear, skip it.

4. If the test makers ask questions about the main ideas, relationships between paragraphs, and inferences, do the ones that seem obvious to you and skip the rest. (See the sections “Covering all your bases: The main idea” and “Making inferences.”) Go back if you have time for the tough ones.

5. In paired passages, answer all the Passage I questions that you know immediately and then all the Passage II questions that you can ace with no trouble. (See the section “Doubling your trouble: Paired passages.”) Then tackle the shared-passage queries.

No matter which questions you answer first, remember one important rule: You get as many points for a correct answer to an easy question as you do for a correct answer to a hard question. I know, it’s not fair. But then again, this is the SAT. Fairness isn’t part of the deal. Also, remember that you get no points for a skipped question, but you lose a quarter point for a wrong answer. Don’t guess wildly. (For a detailed explanation of scoring, see Chapter 1.)

Making a Long Story Short: Reading Quickly

When I was in high school, my health teacher — just out of college and not much older than the students she was teaching — was afraid to assign the sex-education chapter of the textbook. Maybe she feared angry calls from the PTA, or maybe she just didn’t want to face the two-dozen sets of teenage giggles. So she dropped the birds and the bees and instead taught us how to speed-read. I was annoyed at the time (after all, who’s not interested in sex?), but reading fast does come in handy, especially in pressured situations like the SAT.

You don’t have to set your sights on becoming a Kentucky Derby winner, but if you usually plow through paragraphs at a turtle’s pace, a few simple tricks may make a big difference in how many questions you have a chance to answer and, thus, how high you score on the SAT.

A few SAT prep courses advise you to save time by reading only bits of the passages in the Critical Reading section. Bad idea, in my humble opinion. At least some of the questions in this section ask you to assess the entire piece, pinpointing the author’s tone or overall point of view. If time is a problem, work on reading faster, not on reading less.

To increase your reading speed, try these techniques:

 Wind sprint. If you’re a track star, you run a lot at a steady pace, but occasionally you let out all the stops and go as fast as possible for a short period of time. When you’re reading, imitate the runners. Read at a steady pace, but from time to time push yourself through a paragraph as fast as you possibly can. After a couple of minutes, go back to your normal reading speed. Soon your “normal” speed will increase.

 Read newspaper columns. When you read, your eyes move from side to side. But you have peripheral (on-the-edge) vision that makes some of those eye movements unnecessary. To practice moving your eyes less (and, thus, speeding up your progress), read a narrow newspaper column. Try to see the entire column width without moving your eyes sideways. If you practice a couple of times, you can train your eye to grasp the edges as well as the center. Bingo! Your speed will increase.

 Finger focus. If you’re reading something wider than a newspaper column, you can still reap gains from the peripheral-vision training described in the preceding bullet point. Just place your finger underneath the line you’re reading, about a third of the way in. Read the first half of the line in one stationary glance. Then move your finger to about two-thirds of the way across. Take in the second half of the line in just one more glance. There you go! Your eyes are moving less, you’re staying focused, and you’re reading faster.

 Hit the high spots. People who make a living analyzing such things as paragraph organization (can you imagine a more boring career?) have determined that nearly all paragraphs start with a topic sentence. If you want to get a quick overview of a passage, read the topic sentence of each paragraph slowly. Then go back and zoom through the details quickly. Chances are you can get everything you need.

The mis-ing link

Adding the mis family of words to your vocabulary is a surefire way to score higher on the SAT. Do you sometimes make a mistake and misbehave in front of the misanthropic teacher who has a long, thick ruler and isn’t afraid to use it because she totally hates people? Don’t misconstrue (misunderstand) my meaning: I’m not that sort of teacher. I do, however, mismanage my time, especially when I’ve been out partying when I should’ve been home marking essays.

Welcome to the mis family, known for its bad manners and wrong ways. When you mistake, you take something wrong. When you misbehave, you behave badly. Here are a few more relatives in the mis family:

 Misalign: To deviate from the straight, or aligned course. A walk down a bumpy path illustrates what happens when the construction crew runs late and misaligns the paving stones.

 Misanthropes: Those who think people are basically bad. Picture a hermit on top of an alp, hiding in a cave. (Misanthropic is the adjective.)

 Misconstrue: A twin of misapprehend, meaning “misunderstand,” as in “Hard-of-hearing Horatio misapprehended the command to blow his horn and instead saluted the captain by sewing a thorn.”

 Misnomer: A wrong term, or wrong name, as in “Calling him Honest Abe is a misnomer, given that he has been arrested 569 times.”

 Misogynist: Rounds out the I-hate-you category. A misogynist is someone who thinks women are bad and (in my experience) does everything possible to show it.

Deciding Which to Read First: The Passage or the Question

Every time I tutor for the SAT (and I tutor a lot), my students ask me whether they should read the passage or the questions first. A variation of this query is whether to read the passages at all. (For the record: I don’t recommend skipping the passages. Ever.) As for which to read first, you should make the decision based on your personal style. Are you good at keeping details in your head? If so, go for the read-the-question-first option. Don’t read all the choices; just glance at the tag line (the beginning of the question) so you have a rough idea of what the testers are focusing on.

If you feel that your head is filled with too many facts already, settle in with the passage before you look at the questions. Keep your pencil handy and circle anything that looks particularly important. Write a word next to each paragraph, summing up its main idea (“hot dog line,” “argument for the designated hitter,” and so on). Then hit the questions and locate the answers. Many students who scored high on the SAT took margin notes during the test, so give it a try!

Whether you read the passage or question first, never skip the italicized introduction to a passage. Many SAT passages are preceded by a short italicized description along the lines of This passage comes from the diary of a 16th-century maniac or The author of this passage was locked in an SAT test site for 14 days before being rescued. This description orients you to the passage and may help you decide the author’s tone. For example, after being locked in an SAT exam room, the author probably isn’t going to write a hymn of praise to your favorite test. The maniac reference alerts you to the fact that the narrator may be unreliable. You won’t see a factual question based on the italicized introduction, but you may be sure that the SAT doesn’t waste words, and whatever the test writers say in italics is useful in some way.