RC Step Method
RC Step Method
Here are the steps you should follow on RC passages and their questions:
Step 1: Skim and Outline.
Step 2: Read the Question and Search for Triggers.
Step 3: Locate Relevant Information in the Passage and Make a Prediction.
Step 4: Match Your Prediction to the Answer Choices.
Step 1: Skim and Outline. Read the passage first, paying no attention to the first question on the screen if you think it may distract you. However, you may find that previewing that first question will help you locate the answer to it as you perform your initial skim of the passage. Decide what works best for you.
You should never spend more than three minutes with a long 450-word passage, and give yourself about a minute or so to read the shorter 150-word passages. While you skim, focus on the most important parts of every passage: the introduction, the conclusion, and the first and last sentences of each paragraph. This will ensure that you are not just skimming but actively absorbing information. Jot down and outline the key features on your scrap paper.
Step 2: Read the Question and Search for Triggers. The questions will appear individually on the right side of the screen. You won’t see a new question until you answer the current one. Read the question, but not the answer choices. Specific questions refer directly to words or lines in the passage. Look for these “trigger words” and line numbers that indicate what the question is looking for. Before going back to the passage, articulate to yourself exactly what the question is asking. Don’t look at the answers (this will help you avoid being caught by traps).
Step 3: Locate Relevant Information in the Passage and Make a Prediction. Go back to the specified area in the passage dealing with the topic of the question at hand and read the few lines before and after it to get a sense of the context. This will enable you to come up with your own answer to the question so you can go on to the next step.
Step 4: Match Your Prediction to the Answer Choices. Go back and find the answer that best matches your prediction. If no prediction is possible, let the choices guide your work.
Be Flexible
You may also find you’re able to answer some general questions without looking back at the passage at all. General questions do not refer to specific locations in the passage. Instead, they ask about broad aspects of the passage such as its main idea, primary purpose, and tone. Sometimes the best way to answer general questions like these is to refer to the notes on the passage you made in Step 1. If you’ve already jotted down notes on the purpose of each paragraph, the tone, and the overall argument of the passage, you may be able to answer some of the questions without even looking back at the passage.
Now let’s see how the step method works on a practice passage.
Guided Practice

The word hurricane comes from the word Hunraken, the Mayan god of winds. Today we use the term to refer to tropic cyclones, storms with winds of more than 75 miles per hour. They begin as thunderstorms that form over areas of the ocean where the water temperature exceeds 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmth and moisture in these regions provide the hurricane with its tremendous power, which explains why hurricanes quickly weaken when they pass over cool water and dissipate soon after they hit land.


         Meteorologists measure hurricanes using the Beaufort Wind
    Force Scale. The scale has thirteen “Beaufort numbers,” a
    shorthand method of describing a hurricane’s type of wind and
Line    speed of wind, as well as the conditions of the ocean and on
(5)    nearby land. On this scale, a Beaufort number of 0 means calm,
    peaceful conditions, whereas a 12 describes a violent, powerful
    hurricane.
         Although hurricanes themselves are only a real concern to
    coastal areas, they often give birth to tornadoes. These funnel
(10)    clouds turn inland, leaving swaths 15 of destruction in their
    wakes. Tornadoes destroy power lines, damage homes and other
    property, and are responsible for dozens of deaths every year.
    These tragedies are becoming less common, however, as new weather
    technology makes it easier to predict the formation of tornadoes
(15)    and provide early warning to the areas that may be affected.
Step 1: Skim and Outline. After skimming the passage quickly, you probably noticed that it’s primarily about hurricanes. Your notes might say something like the following:
Main idea: Hurricanes, tornadoes
Scary weather = bad
Bea. Wind Scale — measure weather
Evidence: Facts, numbers, 81F
Author: Objective, pure description, no opinion?
Step 2: Read the Question and Search for Triggers. The trigger words in question 1 are power of a hurricane, and the question wants to know what causes it.
Step 3: Locate Relevant Information in the Passage and Make a Prediction. Scanning for our trigger words leads us to the last sentence of paragraph 1, and we want to read that sentence, and even the one before it, carefully. The sentences we targeted indicate that hurricanes form over hot ocean areas and that the warmth and moisture in these areas “provide the hurricane with its tremendous power.” Therefore we can predict that the answer will have something to do with a hot and wet climate.
Step 4: Match Your Prediction to the Answer Choices. Warmth and moisture are certainly climatic conditions, so C provides a perfect match to the relevant information in the passage relating to the source of a hurricane’s power.
Tornadoes are discussed in paragraph 3, far from the discussion of the source of a hurricane’s power, so A is incorrect. As for B, nothing in the passage indicates that the type of wind and speed of wind are related. D goes in the wrong direction, because the cooler water of coastal areas tends to sap a hurricane’s power. E is wrong because deaths are discussed in the context of tornadoes, not hurricanes. In any case, it seems illogical that deaths would be a source of a hurricane’s power; if anything, it would be the other way around.
As soon as you answer and confirm your selection, question 1 would disappear from the screen and be replaced by question 2. The passage would remain on the left of the screen for you to consult. Give question 2 a shot now.
2. What is the main purpose of the final paragraph?
(A) To convince the reader that hurricanes pose no threat to inland areas
(B) To explain in more detail the ideas introduced in the first paragraph
(C) To explain the most dangerous aspect of hurricanes
(D) To inform the reader why even people who live far from the ocean should be aware of hurricanes
(E) To assure the reader that the development of new early-warning systems will render hurricanes harmless
Step 1: Skim and Outline. We’ve performed this step before answering question 1, so we can now proceed right to Step 2.
Step 2: Read the Question and Search for Triggers. The trigger words in this one are final paragraph, which tells us where in the passage to look for the answer. Specifically, we’re asked for what purpose this paragraph serves in the context of the passage.
Step 3: Locate Relevant Information in the Passage and Make a Prediction. We’ve determined that the relevant information is the whole third paragraph, so a quick scan through it is in order. The third paragraph states that “hurricanes themselves are only a real concern to coastal areas” but goes on to say that they give birth to tornadoes that “turn inland.” The paragraph clearly provides a reason why even people who live far from the ocean should be aware of hurricanes.
Step 4: Match Your Prediction to the Answer Choices. D is a perfect match and is correct.
A is incorrect because the paragraph only states that hurricanes pose no direct threat to inland areas, not that they pose no threat to inland areas at all. B is simply inaccurate. C is incorrect because the passage does not state or imply that tornadoes are the most dangerous aspect of hurricanes, only that they are dangerous to inland areas. E is incorrect because the passage does not suggest that early-warning systems will render hurricanes harmless, only that they will give people more time to prepare for tornadoes.
Now that your RC method is in place, you’ll also need to know the types of questions you’ll see on test day, which is the focus of the next section.
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