This last week, a student sent me a message via our Reddit group (www.reddit.com/r/SATPrepGroup) asking me if I had any advice to give them on improving their critical reading score and I thought, what a great idea this would be for a new blog! Many student's find themselves in need of improving just one SAT section after their first attempt at taking the SAT. Either the student wants to round out their overall score or the student wants to reach a required score level to be able to apply to the college of their dreams. Critical Reading is certainly a section of the SAT that many student's struggle with even as A+ students. I hope these effective ways to improve your SAT critical reading score will be helpful to each of you as it was to the student on Reddit.
During my initial K-12 years of school, I was an avid reader. From picture books to chapter books, I always had a large stack that I was eager to get through and I was proud to be one of those kids that could read circles around my friends. I was always into the “big kid stuff” and reading at a higher grade level than most students around me. Reading was my pride and joy enough that even after high school, I thought I might become an English Major in college. However, my reading skills were really never anything to brag about. Just as I was in high school and continued to be throughout my initial years of college, I had absolutely no reading comprehension skills. I went above and beyond in every aspect of my life and still, I would joke that I was the slowest kid in the smart-kid class. Only as an adult did I even realize that my reading comprehension wasn’t something I had to live with for life. With just a little guidance, I could have practiced my reading skills and my final years of high school and every year of college would have been significantly easier. This is why critical reading is so important. Students will take their critical reading skills beyond just an SAT score and utilize their reading skills for the rest of their life. Here’s how…
Make a habit of reading anything you want – a magazine, a book, a newspaper article, etc. – just before you fall asleep at night. Many scientists have studied and proven that the brain continues to reflect on it’s last thought before reaching REM sleep. Your brain will continue to process what you were reading long through the night – keeping your brain healthy and helping you to work up your reading comprehension skills!
This step sounds funny, but we want you to check in with yourself and check in often. While you are reading, ask yourself twice per page, “What am I thinking about?” Asking yourself out loud will make you more aware. If you are thinking about your reading, great! Tell yourself out loud, “I am thinking about [the current character] and [how they are feeling/what they are doing]” as a brief summary of what you just read. If you’re thinking about the homework you were just doing or should have already done, bring yourself back to the here and now. Practice focusing on WHAT you are reading and not just getting through the act of reading as if it were a challenge or a chore.
This step is meant to be fun. While many homework assignments don’t leave your reading up to choice, your local library will have everything from current magazines to local zines, from non-fiction to fantasy novels. Go for what interests you most and make your reading challenges fun!
If you’re like me and your biggest problem with reading comprehension is remembering the tiny details correctly, get your facts straight by relating to the story you are reading. Whether you are reading a brief entry on your SAT exam or reading for fun, think about a time that you maybe felt like the main character, thought in a similar way, or how they remind you of someone you know. Try to relate to the heart of the story, what is happening, and the way that it is being described. This will help you realize the facts of the story without having to go back over the story several times to remember the who, the what, the where, and the when of every tiny detail.
Summarizing you will help you realize the facts. The more you practice summarizing, the more you’ll pay attention to the fine pointed details of every chapter and story you read. Put these facts together in a way that makes sense. Find the main story line, side plots, and important points to make a short synopsis. Either write down your summary, say it out loud to yourself, or explain your summary to a friend. Being able to explain a summary to someone else, out loud, is the greatest proof of your understanding. Explaining a chapter or story to a friend will allow you to keep the explanation short, excluding extraneous details, and bring out the important parts of the story. Explaining out loud may also help you realize that you don’t have enough details about a given area of the story. Your friend or family member you explain the story to may have questions or get a little lost on the subject if you don’t have all the facts.
Reading and writing go hand in hand (no pun intended… well, maybe a little). Keep a journal. Write short stories. Start a blog. When you write more regularly, you start to notice and better understand the way that authors create and write a story. Writing in your own style – fiction or non-fiction – will help you start to pay more attention to the finer points of your life and you’ll begin to relate your own experiences into your story.
In addition to reading more, writing more, and including other’s in your reading challenges – take a practice test (download a SAT Practice Test for free by clicking here). Check in with how you have improved on your critical reading skills by going over practice questions that you are not yet familiar with. Pay close attention to how you score on reading as well as writing sections of an SAT Practice Exam.
If you have trouble adding more reading and writing to your already busy schedule, squeeze it in. On your way to school, during lunch, and whenever you found yourself waiting an extra minute or two – use your SmartPhone or Tablet to read instead of playing another level of Candy Crush, checking the weather, or getting online.
Spice up your reading by being a critic of everything you read. Do you like it? If not, why? If so, why? What does the writer do best and what does the writer do worst? How would you write the story differently? By engaging with what you are reading in such a critical manner, you’ll remember more about the story. This is just another way of making it personal.
Last but not least, practice by labeling what you are reading. Take your work beyond just reading more and make your reading comprehensive by asking yourself important questions. Use different colored sticky notes or different colors of ink to write down a single point or question about the chapter you are reading. Then, after you are done reading the entire chapter, go over your questions and see how well you can answer them. Save these questions for another day and check back in. How well can you answer your own questions several days later? The easiest way to come up with questions in regard to your own reading is to form a question out of the first sentence in a major paragraph, form a question from a single character, form a question from an unknown vocabulary word you came across, or form a question from a plot point or twist. As you begin to recognize these areas of what you are reading, you’ll create more challenging questions and be able to comprehend more from every reading passage.
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