Cracking the SAT

Part II

How to Crack the Critical Reading Section

4    Joe Bloggs and the Critical Reading Section

5    Sentence Completions

6    Reading Comprehension: An Open-Book Test

7    Reading Comprehension: Wait, There’s More!

8    Vocabulary

The SAT contains 10 sections. Three of these will be scored Critical Reading sections.

Each of the 3 scored Critical Reading sections on the SAT contains two types of questions: sentence completions and reading comprehension. In sentence completion questions, you’ll be given an incomplete sentence, along with several possible ways to complete it. In reading comprehension questions, you will be given a passage (either long or short) to read, followed by a series of questions asking you about the passage.

ETS says that the Critical Reading section tests “verbal reasoning abilities” or “higher order reasoning abilities.” You may be wondering exactly what these statements mean, but don’t sweat it—they’re not true anyway. Critical reading questions test your ability to read and your familiarity with certain words. A strong vocabulary will help you understand what you are reading and allow you to write stronger essays. If you have a big vocabulary, you’ll probably do well on the exam. If you have a small vocabulary, you’ll have more trouble no matter how many techniques we teach you.

The best way to improve your reading is by practicing reading. Even certain periodicals—newspapers and some magazines—can improve your verbal performance if you read them regularly. Keep a notebook and a dictionary by your side as you read. When you encounter words you don’t know, write them down, look them up, and try to incorporate them into your life. The dinner table is a good place to throw around new words.

Read What You Like

Some folks think it’s
necessary to read nothing
but books on boring or
hard subjects to build a
better vocabulary. Not
true. Identify something
that interests you and
find some books on that
subject. You’ll be spending
time on something you
enjoy, and hey, you just
might learn something.

Most of us have to encounter new words many times before we develop a firm sense of what they mean. You can speed up this process a great deal by taking advantage of Chapter 8, “Vocabulary.” It contains a list of words that are very likely to turn up on the SAT, and some general guidelines about learning new words. If you work through it carefully between now and the time you take the test, you’ll have a much easier time on the Critical Reading section. The more SAT words you know, the more our techniques will help you.

Read through Chapter 8 and sketch out a vocabulary-building program for yourself. You should follow this program every day, at the same time that you work through the other chapters of this book.

The techniques described in the Critical Reading chapters that follow are intended to help you take full advantage of your growing vocabulary by using partial information to attack hard questions. In a sense, we are going to teach you how to get the maximum possible mileage out of the words you know. Almost all students miss SAT questions that they could have answered correctly if only they had used our techniques.

Chapter 4

Joe Bloggs and the Critical Reading Section

The Critical Reading section primarily tests vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. However, knowing how ETS expects you to answer the questions and learning to avoid trap answers will help you improve your score. In this chapter we will show you how our average student, Joe Bloggs, can help you answer the questions found on the Critical Reading section of the SAT.

Joe Bloggs will be a big help to you on the Critical Reading section. Keep Joe Bloggs in mind as you take the SAT, and you will assuredly increase your score. Let’s look at how you can use Joe on the Critical Reading section.

The Critical Reading sections of the SAT contain two question types: sentence completions and reading comprehension. As we mentioned before, only the sentence completions follow a definitive order of difficulty. In general, the harder sentence completions test harder vocabulary words. Of course, there’s no such thing as a “hard” word or an “easy” word—just words you know and words you don’t know. Your best defense against Joe Bloggs answer choices is to increase your vocabulary.

A Reminder

On easy questions, the
answers that seem right
to Joe really are right;
on hard questions, the
answers that seem right to
Joe are wrong.

No matter how many words you learn, though, you’ll still run across words you don’t know on the sentence completions. Not to worry: Joe Bloggs can once again guide you to the right answer. Here’s an example of a difficult sentence completion:

  8. The researchers use their experimental and observational data to furnish the ------- evidence that proves their hypothesis.

(A)   trifling

(B)   experiential

(C)   intuitive

(D)   empirical

(E)   microscopic

Order Of Difficulty (OOD)

Question #8 is the last
question in the long
sentence completion set.
So it is a difficult one.
Difficult questions have
more trap answers.

This is a hard question. Only about 8 percent of test takers answer it correctly. More than twice as many of them would have answered it correctly if they had simply closed their eyes and picked one of the choices at random. Why did most test takers—including, of course, our friend Joe Bloggs—do so poorly on this question? They all fell into a cleverly laid trap.

Joe reads the sentence and sees that it is about scientists and hypotheses. Instantly, certain words and images spring into his mind. Joe starts looking through the answers for a word commonly associated with science, and he is immediately drawn to choices B and E. Hey, it’s called a scienceexperiment, right? And scientists need microscopes to do their experiments, right? Yeah, that’s the ticket…

Bloggs Magnets

Joe likes easy words
that he knows. On hard
sentence completion
questions, if you see
an easy word as an
answer choice, ask
yourself whether it has
an additional definition
before you eliminate it.

Don’t think like Joe! On hard questions, eliminate any choice or choices that you know will be attractive to Joe. We’ll tell you more about how to do this as we go along. (Incidentally, the correct answer to this question is D. Empirical means “based on observation.”)

Even though the reading comprehension questions don’t have a strict order of difficulty, knowing how Joe Bloggs approaches this type of question will help you avoid traps and careless mistakes.

When Joe answers a reading comprehension question, he tends to answer from memory. He doesn’t go back to the passage to verify his answer. In the Reading Comprehension chapters (Chapters 6 and 7), you’ll learn the best way of approaching these problems. Keep in mind that The Princeton Review approach for finding the right answers is practically the opposite of the Joe Bloggs approach. Make sure you use our approach, not Joe’s.

How Does Joe Do It?

On difficult reading
questions, Joe Bloggs
picks answers that are
associated with the topic
he’s reading about.

Generally speaking, the Joe Bloggs principle teaches you to

·        trust your hunches on easy questions

·        double-check your hunches on medium questions

·        eliminate Joe Bloggs answers on difficult questions

·        go back to the passage on reading comprehension questions

The next few chapters will teach you how to use your knowledge of Joe Bloggs to add points to your SAT score.