My Favorite Reading Strategy: Intro, Topic Sentences, and Conclusion
April 1, 2016
I have heard of several strategies to approach a Reading Passage:
Just read it and answer the questions!
Read the questions first, gaining a sense of what they will ask about. Then read the Passage, and then do the questions.
Read the whole Introduction, then the Topic Sentences, then the whole Conclusion. Then go to the questions and jump back and forth between them an, reading the bits of the passage you need to in order to answer each question.
Read the first two paragraphs fully, then skim the rest of the passage, then read the conclusion, before proceeding to the questions.
I prefer Strategy #3: read the Intro, Topic Sentences, and Conclusion, then go to the questions to figure out which paragraphs need to be read more closely.
Here is why:
I used to use Strategy #1: reading the entire Passage before answering the questions.
However, reading an ACT Passage closely could take me as long as 5 minutes, and then in 3 minutes and 45 seconds (you have 8:45 per ACT Passage) I would race through the questions.
I scored really well on some tests with this method – as high as 36 – but sometimes I could not finish a Passage in time, and then I would be pressed to finish the next one even quicker than 8:45. That can be risky.
This year I evolved to use Strategy #3: reading the Intro, Topic Sentences, and Conclusion before getting to the questions, then bouncing back and forth between them and the passage as I fished for specific details to support my answers.
I find that between reading some of the Passage up front and then other parts while answering specific questions, I end up reading only 60-70% of the whole Passage, yet I still find all the answers.
Because I am reading 60-70% of the Passage now, I am getting through it much quicker and now have as much as five minutes to spare at the end of Reading Sections, something I never used to have when I used Strategy #1: reading the whole Passage first before answering the questions.
I have taught my students Strategy #3 and seen their scores go up from 22’s to 28’s, and one jump was as high as from 20 to 34.
The strategy works excellently on SAT Passages, too.
Even though you have more time to read Passages on the New SAT, your brain will still appreciate having to do less to achieve the same, if not better, result.
Strategy #3 is not a magic solution; reading Passages will always be challenging.
But this lets you get through the Passage quicker by having to read less, and to still have a sense of the Passage’s main point and overall structure before looking at the questions.
So, to save time yet lose no accuracy (I would argue I GAIN accuracy with this strategy, actually), read Introduction, Topic Sentences, and Conclusion.