You've now learned the 11 reading Skills that you need for the SAT. The Mantras remind you what to do for each type of question. Let's make sure you've memorized them. Drill them until you are ready to teach them. Then do that. Find a willing friend and give a little SAT course.

Learning the Mantras is like learning martial arts. Practice until they become part of you—until you follow them naturally: When you see a passage, you read for main idea and tone, and when you answer questions, you recognize most questions types and know what to do. This will definitely raise your score. It might even fundamentally change you as a student. After SAT prep many students have better study habits. They read the intros in their history book, they read faster and with better comprehension, they are able to anticipate quiz questions. Homework becomes less intimidating, easier, and more fun. So go to work—your SAT score and probably even your school grades will go up!

Here are the 11 SAT reading Mantras. Check the box next to each Skill when you have mastered it. Reread the Skill sections if you need to.

Skill 12. Always begin a reading passage by reading the italics.

Skill 13. Read the passage, looking for main idea and tone. That helps you stay focused; keep asking yourself, What are the main idea and tone? Don't try to memorize details and don't reread hard lines. If you need them, you'll reread later when you know the question and what to look for.

Skill 14. To answer a "most nearly means" question, reread a few lines before and a few lines after, and remember that the answer is usually not the most common definition.

Skill 15. For a "direct info" question, always read before and after a line and find proof.

Skill 16. For "suggest" questions, look for the answer that is hinted at in the passage; though it might have different language, it should be pretty close to what is actually said.

Skill 17. For an "assumption" question, use the process of elimination.

Skill 18. Answer "attitude" questions based on evidence in the passage; an author's attitude is expressed through choice of words and punctuation.

Skill 19. When there are two passages, read the first passage for main idea and tone and answer those questions. Then read the second passage for main idea and tone, and answer those questions. Finally, answer questions that compare and contrast the two passages.

Skill 20. If you need help with a "main idea" question, reread the italics and the first and last lines of each paragraph.

Skill 21. When quotes around a phrase are not used to literally quote something from another source, they indicate that the phrase is used in an unusual way, such as ironically. And words in parentheses usually function as a side note to the reader.

Skill 22. For a "parallel" question, don't get thrown if the choices are not from the passage. Stay relaxed and focused, and look for the choice that proves or disproves the statement.

How to Avoid the Six Most Common Careless Errors on SAT Reading Questions

1. Don't select an answer based on just the first few words; the whole answer should make sense.

2. Be mindful on EXCEPT questions; you are looking for the choice that does not work.

3. Be mindful on LEAST/MOST questions.

4. Find evidence for your answer; be a lawyer.

5. Use evidence from the passage, not your own outside knowledge or opinions.

6. Don't get intimidated.  If it seems hard, look for the evidence, decide what type of question it is, use your Mantras, and remember:  SAT Crasher Rules #45: No excuses. Test like a champion!


Example Problems

Identify each question type, and then choose the best answer.

The following passage examines certain themes of the Disney movie The Little Mermaid.

Among the most important themes in The Little Mermaid are those of questioning conventional thinking, and pursuing a dream. Not only is Ariel, the little mermaid, demonstrating original thought (something that many seem to think she is lacking), but she is rebelling against her speciesist father. When Ariel expresses her love for the human prince, King Trident is furious. When Ariel points out angrily that he does not understand her, or even know the man whom she loves, Trident retorts, "Know him? I don't need to know him! He's a human!" In a very real way Disney is encouraging children to question preconceived ideas that we may have against a certain group.

Disney also teaches children to pursue what they love. We see that Ariel's love for Prince Eric is more important than all else. In turning to the Sea Witch, Ursula, for help, Ariel makes a mistake, but no true hero or heroine is flawless. Ariel puts herself, her family, and all merfolk in danger, but we see that with the help of her prince, she is able to put everything to right.

At the end of the film, when Ursula has forced King Trident to sacrifice his kingdom for his daughter's soul, the Sea Witch rises out of the water, gigantic and terrifying, wearing the king's crown and holding his magic trident. She laughs evilly and declares that she is the ruler of all mermen and women. "So much for true love!" she screams victoriously. Eric, however, succeeds in piloting the prow of his ship straight through her belly, vanquishing her. The moral here is that while we all make mistakes, what is truly important is how we right the wrongs we may do to others.

  1. The author's main point in the passage is that
    1. Ariel should not have been allowed to marry Prince Eric
    2. only Prince Eric truly understood Ariel
    3. Ariel demonstrated original thought
    4. The Little Mermaid teaches children to follow their hearts
    5. Disney movies teach that love is stronger than hate
  2. Why does the author use parentheses around the comment in lines 5 to 6 ?
    1. to indicate a side comment to the reader
    2. to indicate that it is unimportant
    3. to indicate a humorous tone
    4. to indicate a shift in meaning
    5. to indicate a change in tone
  3. In line 7, Ariel's father is called "speciesist" because he
    1. does not know Eric
    2. is king of his people and pursuing what he loves
    3. is rebelling against preconceived notions
    4. is furious
    5. opposes Ariel's love based only on Eric being human
  4. Which fictional plot line would best to illustrate the assertion made in lines 13 to 15 ("Disney is . . . group.")?
    1. A movie about a boy who hates donkeys
    2. A movie about the development of the iPod
    3. A movie about a girl who overcomes her fear of snakes
    4. A movie that details the horrors of war
    5. A movie that documents the travels of a rock band
  5. Ursula's quote in lines 31 and 32 primarily suggests that
    1. the marriage was unacceptable to her
    2. she is mocking true love
    3. she is speciesist
    4. she was hurt in a prior relationship
    5. Eric is her true love
  6. In line 34, "vanquishing" most nearly means
    1. loving
    2. succeeding
    3. besting
    4. squashing
    5. vanishing
  7. The author's attitude toward The Little Mermaid is primarily one of
    1. frustration
    2. stoicism
    3. ambivalence
    4. respect
    5. wonder

Alternate Nostril Breathing and Meditation

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This is a sweet technique. It will calm your mind and help you think clearly. And in yoga circles it's considered a fast track to enlightenment. See, mom was right—SAT prep can fulfill all your dreams!

To try it, sit in a chair or on a cushion. Sit up straight, but relaxed. Bring your right hand to your nose. With your thumb close the right nostril and inhale through the left. Then with your pinky and ring finger, close your left nostril and exhale slowly through the right. A slow relaxed exhalation. Then, still covering the left nostril, inhale through the right.

Then cover the right, and exhale slowly through the left. Inhale left, and switch. Continue alternating between right and left nostrils for several minutes. Slow, relaxed, deep, comfortable breaths.

According to yoga philosophy, you should end this practice with an exhale through the left nostril, and then allow your breathing to return to normal.


Running builds your endurance. Bench-pressing builds your pecs. Sit-ups tone your abs. Similarly, meditation builds your concentration "muscles" and strengthens your ability to stay focused.

How do you strengthen your concentration? It's easy, although, like weight lifting, it takes work and repetition. If you do the following exercise 5 minutes every morning and every night, I guarantee that you will build your ability to focus. This will make homework easier, improve your grades, and bring up your SAT score. It will probably even improve your social life.

Here's how to meditate. Sit in a comfortable position on a chair or cushion. You need not imitate a swami with your legs twisted together. Then close your eyes. Relax your face. Relax your body. Sit up straight, but relaxed. Become aware of your breathing. Find a spot where you notice your breathing, either the rise and fall of your belly or the in and out of air through your nostrils. Bring your attention to this place. Now, count 10 normal breaths. Unless you are already a Zen monk or a superhero, your mind will probably wander. That's okay. You'll start counting, "One, two, three, . . ." and then wander off and think about breakfast, the SATs, or yesterday's game. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, gently come back to counting the breath. Start over at 1. If ever you make it to 10, start over at 1. Do this for 5 minutes.

Five minutes of this every morning and every night will change your life. Your concentration will improve. Your grades will go up. Your SAT score will go up. Your stress level will go down. It's a win-win.

Writing Multiple-Choice

Writing multiple-choice questions are arranged from easiest to hardest. On the "easy" and "medium" questions, trust your ear. You know the error when you hear it. If something sounds wrong, it probably is. If something is difficult to read, it's probably wrong. The purpose of good grammar is to make writing easy to read and understand, so if it's not, if it trips up your tongue or you can't get its meaning, don't say, "Boy, I can't do this." Say, "I can't understand this, so it must be bad grammar." Notice where your tongue gets tied up, where you have to pause and say, "what the . . . ?" That's where the error is, and there's your answer.

When something trips up your tongue or you can't get its meaning, it's probably wrong.

For questions where your ear can't pick up the answer, we have Skills. Many kids who wind up scoring 700+ on the Writing section started out saying, "I suck at these." I don't know where this attitude comes from. Maybe grammar seems very hard the way it's taught in school, or maybe it's not taught, but either way, on the SAT it's easy and totally predicable! The SAT has chosen only a few concepts to test. Memorize these concepts in the next 15 Skills, and your score will go way up, guaranteed!

The SAT Writing Multiple-Choice sections contain three types of questions:

"Identify the error" questions where you just identify the error

"Correct the error" questions where you correct the error

"Edit the passage" questions where you answer questions about editing a passage

The first two types of questions (Skills 24 to 36) are arranged in order of difficulty, easiest to hardest, like sentence completion questions. The "edit the passage" questions (Skill 37) are arranged, like reading comprehension questions, in order of the passage, not order of difficulty.


  1. Main idea question (Skill 20). D. As the first and last lines of the paragraphs ("pursuing a dream," "pursue what they love") clearly demonstrate, choice D ("follow their hearts") is the best answer—the other choices do show up in the passage, but only choice D is the main point of the passage. We can use several Skills here. Since this is a "main idea" question; it's not a bad idea to skip it and come back after you've done the line number questions; by then you'll know the passage even better. When you answer it, you can also reread the italics and the first and last lines of each paragraph for clues to the main idea. Then come up with a main idea you'd like to see and use the process of elimination. Also avoid the careless error of choosing an answer based on only a few words; make sure the whole answer makes sense.
  2. "Such" a good friend question (Skill 21). A. This type of question asks why the author chose quote marks, parentheses, or a certain word or sentence to accomplish something. Use the process of elimination.
    1. to indicate a side comment to the reader—Sure, that makes sense.
    2. to indicate that it is unimportant—Nope, if unimportant, it would be left out.
    3. to indicate a humorous tone—No, it's not funny!
    4. to indicate a shift in meaning—No, no change in meaning.
    5. to indicate a change in tone—No, there's no big change in tone.
  3. "Direct info" question (Skill 15). E. Go back and read a few sentences before and after. The answer comes several times and most clearly a few lines before. Trident dislikes Eric solely because he is human—a different species. You can also use the process of elimination. No other answer makes sense.
  4. "Parallel" question (Skill 22). C. The question asks which of the answers best illustrates the assertion "Disney movies encourage children to question preconceived ideas that we may have against a certain group." Use the process of elimination. Only choice C describes a plot line that clearly involves someone questioning preconceived ideas, she is overcoming her fear of snakes. You could try to overthink this one and argue that one of the other answers might set the stage for overcoming previously held beliefs, but only choice C directly states it. This type of question often throws kids when there are choices that they do not recognize from the passage. Remember, a "parallel" question usually provides choices that are not from the passage, and you need to decide which one would illustrate the point from the passage.
  5. "Suggests' question (Skill 16). B. Reread a few sentences before and after the line. Look for evidence. She screams, "So much for true love" victoriously. "Victoriously" indicates that she considers beating "true love" a victory, so we have evidence for choice B, she is mocking "true love." Don't overthink it and go for choice A, C, D, or E. We have no evidence for these. Choice B is closest to the evidence in the passage—it is the most literal interpretation. Remember that a "suggests" question will often have an answer worded slightly differently than the wording in the passage, but the meaning should be the same. In fact, beware of choices with wording directly from the passage—they are not always wrong, but double-check them.
  6. "Most nearly means" question (Skill 14). C. Choice C is best since Eric did not "love," "succeed," "squash," or "vanish" Ursula; he "bested" or "defeated" her. Treat this like a sentence completion question. Think of a word that you'd like to see replace "vanquishing" in the sentence. Then use the process of elimination on the choices. Eliminate only if you are sure a choice does not fit. Then choose the best answer. If you can't think of a word that you'd like to see, you can try each choice for "vanquishing" and see which one works.
  7. "Attitude" question (Skill 18). D. Attitude is expressed in words and punctuation. The author repeatedly expresses respect for the valuable lessons that Disney gives children in The Little Mermaid. You can also use the process of elimination.
    1. frustration—Nope, no frustration.
    2. stoicism—Nope, the author is not "stoical" or "unemotional."
    3. ambivalence—No, the author is not uncertain.
    4. respect—Yes, the author respects Disney's lessons.
    5. wonder—Maybe.

Don't be fooled by choice E. "Wonder" is associated with Disney's movies, but that is definitely not the author's point or attitude. Remember to answer questions based on the passage, not your own opinions.

Go to: Tip #24