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:
Force Yourself to Focus
and Outline the Passage First
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
- 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
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
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.