Tips on Handling
Passage-Based Reading Questions


Pick Your Questions to Answer

On sections with two long reading passages, head straight for the passage that appeals to you more. It is hard to concentrate when you read about something wholly unfamiliar to you. Give yourself a break. First tackle the reading passage that interests you or deals with topics in which you are well grounded. Then move on to the other passage. You’ll do better that way.

Similarly, when you’re ready to answer questions on a long passage, consider taking a quick glance at all the questions on that passage and starting off with answering the ones you feel you can handle easily. Check out the questions with answer choices that are only two or three words long. (Usually these are vocabulary-in-context questions, or questions on attitude or tone.) Answer them. Then focus on the longer, more difficult questions.


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Vocabulary-in-context questions take hardly any time to answer. If you’re running out of time, answer them first.


If you are stumped by a tough reading question, don’t automatically skip the other questions on that passage. As stated on the previous page, the reading questions following each passage are not arranged in order of difficulty. Instead, they tend to be arranged sequentially: questions on paragraph 1 come before questions on paragraph 2. Therefore, it pays to look over all the questions on the passage. An essay question may be just one question away from a tough one.


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Logic/application questions take lots of time to think through. If you’re running out of time, you may want to skip that logic question and try a detail or vocabulary one.

Why get bogged down answering one time-consuming question when in the same amount of time you can answer two less demanding ones?


Recognize the questions to bear down on as opposed to the questions to skip. Spot the most time-consuming questions; then, decide whether any given time-consumer is one you should skip. Questions containing the word EXCEPT in capital letters tend to be tricky; they may be ones to take a pass on. Questions using Roman numerals (I only, I and II only, and so on) that require you to use the process of elimination to reach your answer may be time-consuming. Similarly, the following sorts of questions may take a lot of time:


    • ones that ask about the author’s underlying assumptions;

    • ones that ask what additional information would help to clarify points in the passage;

    • ones that compare or contrast two passages in great detail;

    • ones with extremely lengthy answer choices.

You may decide you want to skip one or more of them.

However…try to answer all the questions on one passage before you move on to the second. Often, working through one or two questions will provide you with information you can use in answering other questions on that passage.

Whenever you skip from question to question, or from passage to passage, be sure you’re filling in the right spaces on your answer sheet.