Long RP Strategy
Long RP Strategy
By now you know that long and short RPs differ only in length—the questions the SAT asks about them test the same skills. Even so, length makes a big difference when it comes to strategy. Following are the steps you should follow to take on long RPs and their questions. Here’s a quick list of all the steps:
  1. Force Yourself to Focus
  2. Read and Outline the Passage First
  3. Answer Specific Questions
  4. Answer General Questions
Step 1: Force Yourself to Focus
Almost everyone suffers from DLFD on SAT reading passages: Devastating Loss-of-Focus Disease. You know that hippy phrase, “Free your mind and the rest will follow?” That phrase is a lie. On the SAT, you have to lock up your mind, put it in solitary confinement, and then expect high scores to follow. You have to focus exclusively on the passage before you as if it were the only thing in your life. You must trick your mind into being very excited by this prospect. Say to yourself, “I am so excited to read this passage about the history of hot air balloons!”
This seems like a joke, but we’re not joking. If you focus on the passage as you would something you really care about, you’ll understand and remember much more of the passage. Do whatever you can to engage with the passage, even if it’s about sea snails, and try to channel your manufactured passion into better focus and attention to detail. That’s what will get you higher scores on reading passages. No joke.
Step 2: Read and Outline the Passage
Read the passage first, paying no attention to the answers. Looking at the answer first may seem like a good idea, but in practice it’s just not possible to keep a load of questions in your head while also trying to read the passage.
You should never spend more than five minutes reading a long RP. Read the passage quickly, but don’t just skim it. We think strategies like reading only the first and last sentence of each paragraph do more harm than good. Why? Because speed reading the first time around will force you to go back frequently to the passage when you get to the questions, which will cost you time. Instead, read the entire passage and focus intently on the most important parts of every long RP: The introduction, the conclusion, and the first and last sentences of each paragraph. This will ensure that you are not just reading but actively reading.
How to Read the Passage
Don’t get bogged down trying to soak up every single fact and detail. Remember, questions that deal with specifics will give you line numbers, so going back to the passage won’t be a big deal. You don’t have to memorize the passage, you just have to get a solid gist of it.
Read the passage with an awareness of the big-picture questions that RP questions will ask you.
  • What is the author’s goal in writing the passage?
  • What’s the author’s tone?
  • What’s the primary argument that the author makes?
  • What literary techniques does the author use to convey his or her ideas?
It’s also a good idea to take a few seconds after each paragraph to summarize for yourself what you just read and jot it down in your test booklet. This will help you retain the content of each passage and trace the overall structure and feel of the passage.
How to Outline a Reading Passage
When it comes time to answer questions about an RP, having a rough outline of the passage will be very helpful. When we say you should write an outline, we don’t mean a thorough kind of outline with bullet points and roman numerals that you’d write for a teacher. We just mean you should keep a rough sketch in the margins of the RP in your test booklet.
Here’s how: As you read each RP, keep a shorthand written record of your thoughts on the passage as you read through it. Write down the purpose of each paragraph as you go and jot down ideas about the tone, arguments, and techniques you spot along the way. That way, when you finish reading the passage, you’ll already be armed with answers to some of the questions that you know will show up on the test, such as tone, main idea, themes and arguments, and technique. Underline topic sentences, draw in brackets to mark lists of examples that support the main argument, circle important names—mark anything relating to general themes and ideas, the main idea of each paragraph, and other aspects of the passage that strike you as important. This will reinforce what you read as you read it and give you a road map of the passage to use when you go back to answer specific questions.
Step 3: Answer Specific Questions
When you finish the passage, go straight to the questions. Specific questions refer to particular line numbers or paragraphs in the passage. We suggest you tackle these questions before the more general questions because those typically require more thought, time, and attention than specific questions.
Specific questions refer directly to words or lines in the passage. Before going back to the paragraph, articulate to yourself exactly what the question is asking. Don’t look at the answers (this will help you avoid being caught by SAT traps). Next, go to the specified area in the passage and read just the few lines before and after it to get a sense of the context. Come up with your own answer to the question, then go back and find the answer that best matches yours.
Step 4: Answer General Questions
You should be able to answer general questions without looking back at the passage. 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, tone, and argument. Often the best way to answer general questions like these is to refer to the outline of the passage you made as you read through it. If you’ve already jotted down notes in your outline on the purpose of each paragraph, the tone, and the overall argument of the passage, you’ll be all set to take on general questions with ease.
Your ability to answer general tone and main idea questions without looking back at the passage is also a good gauge of how well you’re reading the passage. If you’re having trouble with these sorts of questions and have to go back to the passage to answer them, you might be speeding through the passage too quickly or focusing too much on specific information.
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