During the SAT, each section is only given about 20 to 25 minutes. Reading fast is thus a definite advantage. How much more of the text could you read and absorb to answer each question in that one minute? A friend once told me, “I always ran out of time on the SAT practice tests. I would worry about understanding everything before tackling the questions, especially in the reading comprehension section. As a result, I didn’t have enough time to really think through and answer the questions as well I could have if I had had more time.” In the reading comprehension section especially, one key skill would be to speed read.
[Continue reading to find out more about speed reading in the SAT…]
- Skim through the questions. Before you even begin reading the passage before you, have a quick look at the questions that you would have to answer. This will give you a good idea of the key points and ideas you would have to look out for when you actually read the passage. It will also allow you to pass over less important parts of the passage and help you to waste less time trying to understand every part of the passage.
- Determine your baseline speed. To determine how fast you currently read, take a practice SAT exam, and count the number of words in the first 10 lines. Thereafter, divide this number of words by 10 and you have an average number for words per line. For example, 120 words/10 lines = 12 words per line. Next, mark the first word of the first line, start the timer for 1 minute and read at the pace you would normally use during a test. After the minute is up (make sure you keep to this!), multiply the number of lines that you were able to read by the average number of words per line and add up the last couple of words in the final line that you read to get your baseline words-per-minute rate.
- Getting rid of fixations and back-tracking. Many students worry about comprehending every single nuance of the passage the first time they read it. Fixating on a certain word or sentence or back-tracking to re-read a sentence can throw you off while speed reading. To solve this, try using your pen or finger to track the words that you are reading at that point in time. Having a point to follow helps to keep your eyes and mind focused on exactly what you are reading then, therefore eliminating waffling.
- Practice reading groups of words at the same time. Most people probably already read three or four words together to some extent. Often not every word is important and being able to read a couple of words together at the same time will help you to read through the passage more quickly.
- Keep on practicing and timing your reading speeds. Timing will not only help to keep you on track to improving your reading speed, but will also keep you motivated when you see progress!
All the best!
About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!