Preparing for the SAT Critical Reading Section

The Critical Reading section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test focuses on two things: sentence completion and reading comprehension. When combined, the two sections exemplify a student’s grasp of the English language and their ability to recognize and utilize various parts of speech. The critical reading section, in the past, was known simply as the verbal section but now its goal has expanded; the idea being that a student shouldn’t simply know a variety of words congruent with their grade level, but also be well versed with their precise usage.

The sentence completion section is designed to gauge the student’s familiarity with a range of words: their form of speech, usage, and of course, meaning. The latter of which is can be very specific, often the range of answers will include synonyms and/or homophones in order to eliminate the usage of the ever-popular educated guess. Aside from meaning and usage, sentence completion questions measure the student’s ability to structure and form sentences, to know logically how all the parts work together in order to communicate a clear and complete idea. Knowing words and their meanings is the most reliable form of preparation for the sentence completion section, guessing is not a recommended strategy.

The other half of the Critical Reading section is passage based reading. Passages are selected from a wide range of subjects and topics and can be as short as one hundred words to eight hundred. This means one passage can be a half of a short story that is followed by the opening paragraphs of George Kennan’s Article X. Scientific articles are often used as well as humanities based and political pieces. The passages will be presented within a range of styles and normally feature several elements: narration, exposition, argumentation, and the like.

A student preparing for the SAT should be aware of the range the critical reading passages can cover, but simultaneously they should be aware that the major focus of the passage based reading is to test vocabulary, comprehension, and extended reasoning. Vocabulary questions are, somewhat like the sentence completion questions, formulated in order to know that a student is capable of determining meanings of words and phrases based on context. The focus of literary comprehension is to make certain that the student grasps and understands the material. Extended reasoning comprises a majority of the passage based reading questions and they oblige the test taker to make inferences or analyze and identify causes and effects. Reasoning questions can be broader as well, requiring identification of main ideas, purpose, or tone. Another popular but very necessary sort of question, which focuses much more on the extended part of the reasoning, will ask that the test taker replicate the logic of arguments or analogies within the text and apply them to ideas extraneous to the text. Simply put, the objective behind the questions is to determine whether or not the test taker can analyze texts rather than read them and prove that basically, they understand them.

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