The SAT: Reading Between the Lines - Getting Acquainted With Critical Reading Passages
In their infinite wisdom, the SAT test makers have determined that 70 minutes of highly arti- ficial reading tells colleges how equipped you are to plow through 50 or 60 pounds of text- books each semester. To test your reading abilities, they throw the following three types of questions at you, generally mixed together in three sections:
- Single passages: Some consist of as many as 700 to 800 words; some have only 100 words.
- Paired passages: The paired word count may total 700 to 800 words, but it may also be only 200 words.
- Sentence Completions
Note: You may encounter (meet; run into) four Critical Reading sections on your test if you’ve been chosen to take a reading equating section, which the SAT makers use to try out new questions. The equating section looks exactly like any other Critical Reading section, and it isn’t labeled as an equating section. When you apply your brain to an equating section, you’re basically working for the SAT — even though you pay a test fee instead of receiving a paycheck. How unfair.
Meeting SAT single passages
Long single passages are accompanied by 10 to 14 questions, and short passages are fol- lowed by only 2 questions. These questions cover everything from the passage’s main idea, the author’s tone and attitude, the facts stated in the passage, the meaning of certain words, and the implications of various statements. (Find out more on each type of question in the later section “Conquering Passage-Based Questions.”)
The SAT attempts to mimic reading that you’ll actually face in college, though I personally have never had a course that required me to read random bits of information on a topic I’ve never seen before, don’t care about, and will never see again. (Oh wait. I have had courses like that.) Because students of all majors take the SAT, the reading passages come from all areas of study, with the exception of math word problems, which get their very own section on the SAT. (See Part IV for all the details about that section of the test.)
Doubling your trouble: Paired passages
Every SAT contains at least one set of paired passages. In it, you may find one passage writ- ten by an immigrant about his or her life and one written by a historian who has studied immigration and its effect on the economy. Or, you may find an excerpt from a scientist’s biography paired with an explanation of the significance of that scientist’s discovery. The two passages together may reach 850 words and be followed by ten or more questions, though the SAT often gives you a pair of 100-word passages followed by only four questions. Most paired-passage questions resemble those attached to single passages, but you also face paired-passage questions about the differences between the two passages in point of view, attitude, and tone.
Sentence-completion questions are sentences that contain gaps into which you need to place the best word or phrase. These questions rely on your ability to construct a bridge when faced with a gap between two ideas. Some sentence-completion questions contain two blanks rather than only one, but regardless of how many blanks they have, they all require you to make a logical deduction with the help of word clues in the sentence and common sense. Chapter 5 explains in detail how to ace the sentence-completion questions.
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