SAT English Study Tip #3 – SAT Critical Reading Part I – Prompt & Translation

Sat English

When it comes to the Critical Reading section of the SAT, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when you see long, dense passages or pairs of reading filled with sophisticated and challenging vocabulary. That’s why you have to have a solid strategy for tackling both types of readings. More specifically, students were most successful on her SATs go one step further.


They rely on a strategy that maximizes their understanding during reading and minimizes their confusion while answering multiple-choice questions. This strategy is best developed if taken in two parts: “Prompt and Translation” and “Selecting Your Answer”.

Sat English


Before reading the passage, quickly check to see how many questions follow. This will help you to decide how much time you should spend on the passage – meaning that even though you are going to carefully read each passage (using the technique explained below…), you might spend just a little more time interpreting passages that have many questions and many valuable SAT points attached to them.


Next, read the passage prompt – this is the short blurb that comes before the passage. Not all passages have one, but if it does – read it! Read it – really read it – don’t skip it, don’t just glance over it quickly – read it and think about any clues it can provide to you about what information is coming up. Take anything you can from it (time period it was written, author who wrote it – was it an adult, an important figure, someone who knew a great deal about what was written and the subject indicated – what sort of ideas will there be?) Try to generate as much of a prediction as you can order as much prior knowledge as possible. Finally, put yourself in the writer’s mind – pretend you are writing the passage – really pretend – it helps you to have confidence in what you are about to read if you pretend you are the one who wrote it.


This may sound like a lot of ‘thinking’ before you even get to the passage. But, it will pay off in the end. It takes discipline to give everything you’ve got to the passage prompt, but it will save you confusion later on – if you find yourself getting lost, immediately become the author again and refocus.


As you begin to read the passage, assume the character – become the author – read in ‘character’, using a voice in your head where you are pretending to be the author reading the passage out loud. If the passage is a speech, then pretend you’re at the podium. If it’s a story about childhood memories, pretend you are the child – envision yourself remembering everything you are writing about. As you move through the paragraphs, you should stay in character as much possible as it helps to comprehend by removing pressure from you having to “interpret the strangers writing”.


Learning to read effectively for the SAT seems like a daunting (and boring!) task. Most people studying for the SAT already “know how to read” – or so they think. If you are like the majority of people your age (and even older!), You likely start reading a passage, making sure you focus on each word (in case you missed something) only to realize that after the first couple of sentences, you have no idea what the paragraph is even about and you’re freaked out by the words you didn’t know or couldn’t even pronounce. You start to panic about time and all self-confidence is quickly lost. Right?? Well, it’s time to change that. There are very, very few people in the world who can read it word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, nonstop until the very end and actually fully understand what they’ve read – especially on the SAT! That’s why you should abandon that approach and try something that works.


The basic idea behind this strategy is to think while you read. Think about what you ask? The key is to think about the words you just read and how you would paraphrase what they mean if you had to explain them to someone else. Stop yourself after the first sentence (or even after the first few words) and translate. That’s right – translate it. Take the words and make them your own, how you would phrase them, how you would explain them to someone else. Even if you use slang phrases, it doesn’t matter. You can’t go on to the next part of the sentence until you’ve translated it to your satisfaction – until, in your gut, you really feel you’ve understood it. Until you are certain that if someone took the passage away from you, you’d be able to still translate it for someone else. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to understand everything perfectly. It means you’ve gotten the “gist” of what you read. It means you don’t have to worry about every little word in the passage. By translating or rephrasing sections of sentences, bit-by-bit, you will naturally zero-in on words you know and understand. You will naturally use the parts of the sentence you need to use most – the parts that give  you a sense of what’s going on. Just be sure you don’t go on until you get that gut-feeling of understanding.


Keep doing this throughout the passage. If you want to, make little notes in the margin as a reference of what you understand so far. You don’t have to write very much, just anything that jumps out at you. A few things here and there will help put-it-all-together. Don’t worry about organizing your notes into categories or anything else – that takes too much time and distracts you from the flow of your on-going translations. And most definitely do not underline words here and there as you read. You will see many people underlining as they go, but ultimately this tricks your brain into thinking you’re focusing, when really it distracts you from making sure you’re pushing yourself to translate effectively.


The hardest part of this strategy is making sure you stop and translate bit-by-bit and connect-the-dots as you go. Try to see how it all fits together and what the author is trying to say. Remembering to do this means you’re just about ready to answer the multiple-choice questions. First, let’s practice what you’ve learned so far about the Prompt & Translation strategy on Sat English.

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