There are five major differences between the SAT and ACT reading:

  1. On the SAT, students have 13 minutes per passage – 43% more time over the ACT.
  2. The phrasing of the ACT questions tends to be much more straightforward.
  3. The SAT questions usually follow the flow of the passage unlike the ACT which tend to be more scattered.
  4. Passages on the SAT tend to be slightly shorter: 700 – 900 words.
  5. ACT passages always go in this order – Prose fiction, Social science, Humanities and Natural Science. The SAT has been starting with literature but includes in no particular order passages from – humanities, social science, two natural science and an excerpt from an important speech or document.

At this point your teen knows that the ACT is the better exam – if not sure, click here. However, finishing the reading passages in time has been a challenge, so here are some easy to apply steps:

  1. UNDERLINE what’s important in the header – title of the excerpt, year published, etc.
  1. PREVIEW: Read the first sentences SLOWLY. If you don’t understand it or it sounds like a ‘hook’, read on. If the opening or closing paragraph is short, read it ALL. Relate each first sentence to the previous.
  1. WRITE OUT A THESIS STATEMENT. IF IT’S THE FICTION EXCERPT, WRITE OUT THE STORY LINE. This thesis or story line should be wordy as if so, it will help to answer at least 1-4 questions.
  1. SKIM to CONFIRM the thesis. It’s helpful to use a pen or pencil to skim in a ‘Z type motion’. The purpose of the skim is to confirm the point.
  1. When reading each question, make sure to ‘FLIP IT’ into interrogatory format to make sure it’s understood!
  1. If there is not a line reference, use what was learned from the preview to know where to go to find the answer.
  1. In going through the options, only eliminate the ‘stupid’; if an option seems worthy of consideration – even for a nanosecond – leave it in to come back to.
  1. If down to two left, read the question with each. (Very often a choice looks correct when read alone, but quite wrong when read with the question!)
  1. Don’t spend more than a minute per question – guess! Questions do not go from easy to hard.
  1. For the (vocabulary) question phrased “____ most nearly means”, always go back to the passage and plug in with a synonym or synonymous phrase. Compare with the options. If down to two, plug it in the sentence.

The preview and skim should take 3-4 minutes. The balance of the time is needed to answer the questions. Knowing the point the author is making is the ‘trick’ to going through the passages with more accuracy and speed.

Next week, I will review how to skim and provide an exercise for students to practice the technique.

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