You’ve heard that the SAT and the ACT have only one Reading section each. You know that the other sections are English (or Writing & Language), Math, and maybe Science. But did you know that reading is the most important skill to develop for all sections of the exams?
“Now wait a minute,” you’re saying. “I get that the English section is all words, so I have to read, but how is reading going to help me with Math?”
Listen carefully, young Jedi, and I will explain.
Let’s start with the ACT English and SAT Writing & Language sections. These sections are divided into passages. You may think the English and Writing sections are mainly about grammar, especially punctuation, and you’d be somewhat correct. However, that doesn’t mean you can get away with poor reading skills.
Even on the punctuation questions, you need to read some very long, convoluted sentences and determine where and which punctuation marks would be most useful. If you’ve read a lot of books or articles with long, convoluted sentences, you’ll be able to follow the passages easily. But if not, you can get lost.
And we can’t forget the Rhetoric questions, which don’t involve much grammar but, instead, ask you to edit the actual passage as a writing piece. It's important to be able to comprehend the content of the passage and how ideas build off of each other.
This may come as a surprise, but reading is just as important on the Math sections as on the Reading and Writing sections. Most of the problems on the SAT/ACT Math sections are not written as plain equations for you to crunch the numbers on. Even the simplest Math problems are couched in English sentences, and the more complicated ones involve giant paragraphs of words.
The best practices for the Math sections involve deciphering what each English sentence really means in Math, almost like translating from one language to another. If you can glean information, or even a full equation, from every sentence or phrase in a Math problem on the SAT or ACT, you’ll have the steps laid out in front of you like a map!
The ACT Science section is really made up of more reading passages! (“Oh, come on…”) Yes, there are charts and graphs that are very, very helpful, but you’re going to have to read some of each passage and all of the questions themselves, which sometimes need to be unpacked just like the Math questions.
And, don’t forget, there is a Conflicting Viewpoints passage that often has zero charts and graphs to rely on—just paragraphs of words.
How to prepare
If you’re a sophomore, you still have a good amount of time to build your reading skills before your junior year exams, so crack open a book or even a well-written newspaper or magazine. The more you read, the more your comprehension will improve and the faster your reading speed will get.
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