Tip #23 to Get a Top SAT Critical Reading Score (page 3)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 10, 2011


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


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