Furthermore, in this section students often second-guess themselves and change their answers to incorrect ones. This is typical since the test is designed to steer students into that trap. Since the test is standardized, the wrong answers follow wrong patterns, and when students learn those patterns, they can avoid falling into the same old trap and missing the same question types again.

Another problem is when a student overthinks a question by reading too much into it or overanalyzing each answer choice to try to make it fit. This only leads to choosing a wrong answer choice. On top of that, the questions seem to have more than one correct answer, which makes the test confusing. Students think they have to pick the best version of the answer. But the truth is, each question only has one right answer because the test is objective—not subjective.

There are also trick answer choices that appear to be correct but actually contain one of four wrong hidden patterns. For example, answers often contain some extra information that wasn’t found in the original sentence, and those answers are usually wrong. A good technique can be to eliminate all the answers that break one of the rules and be left with the one answer that doesn’t break the rules. Once a student has identified and eliminated a wrong answer, he should not waste time by rereading it.

Passage-based reading questions can be answered quickly and correctly once students learn the recurring hidden patterns designed to make them choose incorrectly. It is not how fast a student can read the passages, but knowing how to distinguish the one right answer from the four wrong ones. The answers are generally found in the same place every time. Knowing this can cut reading time in half.

The second part of the “Critical Reading” section is “Sentence Completion.” In this section, students are given sentences that contain one or two blanks, and they have to find the best word to fit inside the blanks. Unfortunately, many students pick answers that sound good but are trap answers. The secret to doing well is to understand the eight key elements found inside the sentence that point to the answer. These are things like scope words, strengthening words, and commas. For example, if the word but is used, the students should look for an opposite answer.

After reading the sentence, students need to circle the key element and then draw an arrow to the other part of the sentence to clarify the word they are looking for. Then they can look at the five answer choices and find the perfect fit. If two answers have similar definitions, then they are both wrong since there is only one right answer. Students should always mark off wrong answers first to help them not second-guess themselves.

The goal is to predict a word that would fit into the blank and then find the one that is similar. But students also need to be aware of trick answers that lure them, and they should never choose an answer unless they are 100 percent sure it is correct. Often words look like the perfect word but in reality have a different meaning. For example, the perfect word may be illusion, and one of the answers may be the word allusion.

Big vocabulary words often permeate this section, so having a vast word repertoire is a plus, but knowing how to figure out words is more important. There are over 171,000 words in the dictionary, and only the test makers know which words will actually be on the test. Fortunately this test is logic based, not content based, so not knowing all the words isn’t necessary for a high score. Knowing how to figure them out is more important.

Sentence completion can be mastered once a student learns that the sentence itself generally points students to the correct answer.

“Critical Reading” is an ironic name, since these two sections have less to do with reading and more with the ability to find correct answers. Since students only have about a minute per question, it is crucial to eliminate the obvious wrong trick answers first and spend time only on the ones that are relevant.

Knowing how to approach the SAT accurately results in a better score, more confidence, and greater scholarship money.

Jean Burk is a homeschool mom and author of College Prep Genius: The No Brainer Way to SAT Success. She has been the featured SAT expert for FOX, NBC, CBS, and The Homeschool Channel. Both of her children received full-ride scholarship offers because of their SAT and PSAT scores. If you would like to learn more about how to ace the SAT, go to www.collegeprepgenius.com to find out about her program, which has helped thousands of students raise their SAT scores!

Publication date: July 5, 2012