Advanced SAT Reading Techniques - THE SAT READING TEST - SAT 2016

SAT 2016



Advanced SAT Reading Techniques

Lesson 9: Master the “preemptive attack” strategies

Which is the best way to attack SAT Reading passages?

A. Read the questions first, then go back to the passage and look for the answers to those particular questions.

B. Read the passage first, with the key questions in mind, then attack the questions with the passage summary in mind.

Which is the best way to attack SAT Reading questions?

C. Read the question, check any line references, then read all of the choices, crossing out the “unreasonable” answers, then choose the most reasonable choice that remains.

D. Read the question, check any line references, then answer it in your own mind before looking at any of the choices, then choose the answer that best matches yours.

These two questions have been roundly debated in the SAT prep industry for decades. I”ve seen hundreds of students use all of these strategies, and in my experience, the most reliable attack strategy is the “preemptive attack” strategy.

The “preemptive attack” strategy for SAT Reading

Attack the passage before it attacks you. Some test takers try to outsmart the SAT Reading Test by reading the questions first before reading the passage, so they have a “head start.” The problem with this strategy is that it forces you to read inefficiently and incompletely by wasting time on details, thereby putting you at a disadvantage on “main purpose” or “main idea” questions. If, instead, you read with your attention on purpose, central idea, and structure, you will be more prepared for any reading question the SAT may throw at you.

Attack the question before it traps you. That is, formulate your own answer to each reading question before looking at the answer choices. Some test takers think they are saving time by reading the answer choices immediately after reading each question. The problem with this strategy is that those who read the answer choices too soon tend to fall for the “traps.” The “traps” are the wrong answer choices that are included to catch careless readers. They sound plausible because they include words or ideas that remind you of the content of the passage, but they do not answer the question correctly. If, instead, you formulate a reliable answer in mind before reading the choices, you will avoid the traps.

Consider question 9 from Exercise 3:

9. The authors mention “cell phones” and “diplomacy” (line 56) primarily as examples of

A) universally admired commercial products

B) effective means of global communication

C) goods and services based on intellectual resources

D) activities that require little physical strength

This question can easily trip you up if you do not use the preemptive attack strategy. If you try to answer it without understanding the “big picture,” you will focus on the sentences in the vicinity of line 56. This paragraph mentions that these are products and services (line 55) coming fromSwitzerland, Finland, Singapore, and Japan (lines 51–52), so choice A: universally coveted commercial products may seem reasonable. It is also obvious that cell phones and diplomacy are effective means of global communication, so choice B also may seem reasonable. The paragraph also mentions using physical strength rather than tapping the potential of their brains (lines 49–50), so choice D may seem reasonable, as well.

But all of those choices are traps.

Instead, attack this question “preemptively.” First, read the passage and summarize it in terms of the three key questions: it is a rhetorical essay arguing for the thesis that the reason [Homo sapiens won out over the Neanderthals] lies, we suspect, not in being brighter or better able to speak but in our very frailty and our resulting need to exploit our minds. Then translate question 9 into an open-ended question: the authors mention “cell phones” and “diplomacy” primarily as examples of what? If these examples serve the purpose of the essay (which of course they do), then they are examples of how countries also exploit their minds rather than relying on natural resources. Therefore the correct answer is C: goods and services based on intellectual resources. Notice that choices A, B, and D don”t fit at all with the purpose of the paragraph.

Exercise 4

This passage is from C. F. Black, “The Evolution of Explanation.” ©2015 Christopher F. Black and College Hill Coaching. Reprinted by permission of the author.




The first paragraph characterizes the “march of human intellectual progress” as

A) halting

B) inspirational

C) misguided

D) controversial


The first paragraph is notable primarily for its use of

A) euphemism

B) understatement

C) metaphor

D) anecdote


In line 3, “mechanistic” most nearly means

A) unemotional

B) automatic

C) complex

D) scientific


To the author, the examples in lines 16–18 (“we have brains … fresh water”) primarily represent

A) scientific theories

B) beneficial circumstances

C) unsound beliefs

D) unintuitive phenomena


The author faults teleological explanations primarily for their

A) imprecision

B) intuitiveness

C) conciseness

D) impenetrability


Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A) Lines 3–7 (“We have moved … represent them”)

B) Lines 19–21 (“Such explanations … they are”)

C) Lines 21–27 (“They fail … will land”)

D) Lines 28–32 (“Teleological explanations … say hello”)


According to the author, Neil Shubin”s error was that he

A) failed to appreciate the education level of his audience

B) confused purpose with cause in a scientific explanation

C) used a complex metaphor to describe a simple concept

D) did not properly define technical terms


The main function of the seventh paragraph (lines 65–70) is to

A) concede a drawback

B) propose an alternative

C) address an injustice

D) correct a misunderstanding


The tone of the final paragraph (lines 71–77) is best described as

A) beseeching

B) jocular

C) sardonic

D) journalistic

Lesson 10: Play “devil”s advocate”

Strong analytical readers use the strategy of “devil”s advocate,” that is, they read not just to understand the passage, but to criticize it. Even if you are absorbed by the discussion, agree with the argument, or identify with the narrative, you will understand and appreciate it more deeply if you take a critical stance.

If the passage is expository, ask

How could the descriptions or explanations in this passage be clearer or more effective?

Does the author leave any relevant questions unanswered?

Is the passage logically and effectively organized?

If the passage is rhetorical, ask

Did the author address alternate points of view on this subject?

What kind of evidence would weaken this argument or point of view?

What could the author do to make this essay more persuasive?

If the passage is a narrative, ask

Is the conflict or struggle indicated clearly?

Are the characterizations effective?

Is the dialogue realistic, given the time, place, and circumstance?

The passage in Exercise 4 is a rhetorical essay, but since the topic is unfamiliar to most readers, it also contains a healthy dose of exposition. Its rhetorical thesis is that mechanistic explanations are more reliable, if less intuitive, than teleological explanations. The expository guiding question is What are the two “modes of explanation,” and what are they good for?

So think about the critical questions for expository and rhetorical essays, and apply them to the passage in Exercise 4. How do you think the author did? Were the explanations clear? Was the analysis thorough? Was the passage organized logically? Did the author address alternate points of view? Is there evidence that could weaken its thesis? Could it have been more persuasive?

Consider questions 8 and 9 from Exercise 4:

8. The main function of the seventh paragraph (lines 65–70) is to

A) concede a drawback

B) propose an alternative

C) address an injustice

D) correct a misunderstanding

9. The tone of the final paragraph (lines 71–77) is best described as

A) beseeching

B) jocular

C) sardonic

D) journalistic

If you are reading with the “devil”s advocate” questions in mind, you should notice that the seventh paragraph plays a special role. It is acknowledging an alternate point of view, which is that mechanistic explanations of our own decisions seem to deny the possibility of free will. Therefore, the correct answer to question 8 is A: concede a drawback.

Understanding the rhetorical function of the seventh paragraph makes it easier to understand the tone of the final paragraph. Since the author has conceded a drawback to his thesis, he must work harder to demonstrate its validity. Therefore, he uses beseeching language, like only … if, and must. Therefore, the answer to question 9 is A.

When you keep the critical questions in mind, you sharpen your reading skills by bringing higher-order reasoning to bear. You also hone the analytical skills you need to attack the SAT Essay, which asks you to write a critical analysis of a rhetorical essay.

Lesson 11: Mark up the passage

A great way to maintain your focus on an SAT Reading passage is to mark it up by underlining and annotating. But do it thoughtfully and carefully. Here are some tips for using underlining and annotating as analytical tools.

Read the entire paragraph before underlining or annotating. You can”t be sure of the overall idea and purpose until you read the entire paragraph.

Don”t overdo it. Underlining and annotation should be tools for comprehension, not just ways of keeping track of what you”ve read. Try to limit yourself to one underlined sentence or one brief note per paragraph.

Focus on purpose and central idea. If you want to underline, underline only the topic sentence. If you want to annotate, note only the purpose and main idea.

Circle key abstractions. Abstractions like empiricism and modernism are harder to understand than concrete objects or experiences like hummingbirds and football games. So circle the key abstractions, if only to slow down and think about them. For instance, in Exercise 4, you might circle words like progress, teleological, and mechanistic. If you don”t stop and think about these abstractions, you can”t understand the passage.

Lesson 12: Learn how to attack the paired passages

The SAT Reading Test will include paired passages on a common topic, followed by questions in which you may be asked to compare or contrast the perspectives, content, or tone of the passages.

When given paired passages on the SAT Reading Test, you may be asked to answer questions like these:

• What is the common topic of the two passages?

• How do the two passages differ in attitude or tone?

• How do the two passages differ in emphasis?

• Are there any important points of disagreement?

Read paired passages just as you would normal SAT Reading passages, but with particular attention to important differences in content, attitude, and tone.

Exercise 5

Passage 1 from Teresa Audesirk, Gerald Audesirk, and Bruce E. Byers, Biology: Life on Earth. ©2006 Pearson Education, Inc.

Passage 1


Passage 2



Which question posed in Passage 1 most directly concerns the author of Passage 2?

A) Lines 3–5 (“How does photosynthesis … molecules?”)

B) Lines 5–8 (“What is the structure … the cell?”)

C) Lines 8–10 (“How do the nerve … one another?”)

D) Line 10 (“What causes cancer?”)


Both passages are primarily concerned with

A) the complexity of structures in living tissue

B) the origin and evolution of life on Earth

C) the chemical processes that sustain life

D) the symbiotic relationship among species


The questions in lines 3–10 represent

A) points of scientific controversy

B) sources of frustration to biologists

C) areas of productive inquiry

D) inspirations for recent innovations


The “bacteria” mentioned in line 28 are best regarded as

A) insidious infections

B) exotic parasites

C) symbiotic partners

D) rudimentary progenitors


The author of Passage 2 would most likely suggest that the discussion of “life on Earth” (line 1) in Passage 1 also include mention of

A) atypical sources of energy

B) long extinct life forms

C) parasitic relationships among species

D) the human role in preserving biodiversity


Which of the following is most representative of the “complex relationships” mentioned in line 27?

A) a species of deciduous tree competing with another species for exposure to sunlight

B) a fungus living within a grass plant that renders the grass more drought resistant

C) a human white blood cell destroying invasive bacteria in an infection

D) a mother bear protecting her cub by charging an intruder


In line 18, the phrase “we assumed” suggests that biologists

A) accepted a proposition uncritically

B) adopted a significant social role

C) acquired a new research technique

D) overstepped the boundaries of their expertise

Exercise 6

This passage is from Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. ©1997 Dover Publications. Reprinted by permission of Dover Publications. In this essay, Kandinsky (1866-1944), a Russian abstract painter, discusses the relationship between Primitivism, a movement to revive the art of ancient peoples, and Materialism, a movement that denies the existence or value of the spiritual realm.




The passage is primarily concerned with

A) the obstacles to a particular undertaking

B) the motivation for a specialized practice

C) the origins of a philosophical debate

D) a contrast between ancient and modern techniques


In the first sentence, the contrast between “child” and the “mother” is primarily one of

A) immaturity versus maturity

B) creation versus creator

C) disobedience versus supervision

D) joy versus anxiety


In line 14, “aspect” most nearly means

A) particular feature

B) individual perspective

C) degree of feeling

D) facial expression


Which of the following best exemplifies the “truth” mentioned in line 18?

A) Many great artists find it difficult to achieve renown in their own lifetimes.

B) Painters and musicians from all cultures tend to eschew materialist conventions.

C) Sculptures celebrating the virtue of liberty share common features across eras.

D) It is impossible to faithfully reproduce cave paintings created in prehistoric times.


According to the passage, materialism affects artists primarily by

A) awakening them with a glimmer of inspiration

B) establishing their connection to an earlier time

C) denying them access to meaningful and spiritual activity

D) mocking their attempts to make a living from art


Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A) Lines 27–30 (“Like ourselves … external form”)

B) Lines 31–32 (“This all-important … a spark”)

C) Lines 38–39 (“It holds … grip”)

D) Lines 46–49 (“Our soul rings … once more”)


The author uses the phrase “trembles in doubt” (line 42) in order to emphasize his belief that

A) philosophers are unsure about the meaning of materialism

B) true artists question whether the era of materialism is truly past

C) highly creative people have only a tenuous grip on reality

D) artists are particularly susceptible to feelings of fear and obsession


In line 47, the “costly vase” represents

A) a materialistic aspiration

B) a finely crafted piece of art

C) a cynical attempt at forgery

D) an irretrievable frame of mind