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OUTSMARTING the SAT
An Expert Tutor Reveals Her Proven Techniques, Strategies, and Confidence-Building Exercises That Will Maximize Your Score
By ELIZABETH KING
TEN SPEED PRESS
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One CRITICAL READING
CRITICAL READING OVERVIEW 2
Shooting for Your Goal Score 3 Critical Reading Fast Facts 3
SENTENCE COMPLETION 4
Vocabulary 4 Techniques to Learn Vocabulary
Sentence Completion, Step by Step 7 Step 1: Read the Sentence Step 2: Choose a Guideword
Double Blanks 9 Eliminate a Pair by Ruling Out One Word or the Other Identify the Relationship Between the Pair
Making Sentence Completions More Difficult 13 It's Not Just the Words That Get More Challenging
How to Read the Passages 17
How They Ask (and How You'll Answer) the Questions 19 Methodically Eliminate Incorrect Answers Spot the Exaggeration That Makes an Answer Wrong Base Your Answer Only on What You Just Read
Deconstructing Question Types 21 Pronoun Reference Questions Definition Questions Be Aware of Themes
How They Turn Up the Difficulty difficulty of reading questions is not incremental: questions of varying level of difficulty are all mixed up because questions are asked in the order of their line references (questions about the first paragraph will be first and questions about the concluding paragraph will be asked last) . It's entirely possible for the last question in the section to be a level 2 and the first to be a level 5. That's why you really want to make sure you at least see each question in the Passage-Based Reading sections.
The Critical Reading section often ends up becoming the section in which students feel they need to buy themselves the most time to complete as many questions as possible. If this is you, this is what you need to know about how many questions you need to answer correctly to reach your goal score.
Shooting for Your Goal Score
I'm going to assume that if you're all college-bound students, you're all shooting for at least a 500 on every section of the test.
To score at least 500: Answer 46 questions (36 correct/10 errors), for a raw score of 34.
To score at least 600: Answer 62 questions (52 correct/10 errors), for a raw score of 50.
To score at least 700: Answer 67 questions (64 correct/3 errors), for a raw score of 63.
Critical Reading Fast Facts
* Fact: While I'll explain this idea in more detail later in the section, I'd like you to go into the Critical Reading section with an understanding that this is not a passage analysis test, where you read and respond to a passage like you might in your English class. Instead, this is a test of your critical-thinking skills-it measures how well you can arrive at the same conclusion (answer choice) as someone who has already read the passage-namely, the test maker.
* Fact: The strength of your vocabulary affects your ability to answer both Sentence Completion and Passage-Based Reading questions. While it's obvious why not knowing a vocabulary word can trip you up on the Sentence Completions (you could get stuck if you need to know the difference between metastasize and metamorphosis, for example), it may be less intuitive in the reading passages. As you'll see, on the SAT the questions themselves aren't always challenging, so simple statements about a passage may be made to seem more complex by using tougher vocabulary. The most important thing to remember is that an answer isn't necessarily incorrect just because you are not familiar with a vocabulary word it contains.
* Fact: There will be only one scored double reading passage per SAT. Sometimes an extra double reading appears as an experimental section (the top-secret unscored section I told you about earlier), but only one of them will be graded.
* Fact: The Passage-Based Reading questions pose an extra danger for misbubbling-sometimes the first question is tucked at the foot of the page below the passage rather than starting on the next page. Be on the lookout so that you don't skew all of your answers!
There are two major elements of outsmarting the Sentence Completions: a robust vocabulary and solid understanding of the ways these questions are constructed. In this section we'll discuss the importance of a great vocabulary, then we'll learn a step-by-step process that guides you through the basics, followed up by an insider's look at how the questions are made to seem more difficult.
There is plenty to consider when preparing for the Sentence Completion section of the SAT. For starters, the size of your vocabulary absolutely matters. There is no better way to prepare for both the Sentence Completion and the Passage- Based Reading sections than to spend time learning new words. I'll show you a few good ways to do this in a moment, but for now I want to mention a couple of other ideas that are important when you're trying to motivate yourself to study vocabulary.
Now: The more vocabulary you know, the more familiar you will be with the answer choices on each Sentence Completion question and the more likely you will be to be able to eliminate your way to the correct choice. Basically, more vocabulary = more right answers = higher score.
Later: If you want to go to a top school, building your vocabulary is an absolutely worthwhile investment in your college education. Think about it: if the whole point of excelling on the SAT is to help you get into the best school for you, doesn't it make sense for you to be ready to perform at your best once you arrive on campus? That means you'll want to be able to communicate with your professors and fellow students as best you can, and the bigger your bank of words, the more successful you'll be.
The Long Run: Communicating effectively is extremely important in today's job market, especially when so much of modern business involves representing yourself, your product, and your ideas. The better you are at representing yourself, I guarantee, the further you'll go.
Techniques to Learn Vocabulary
There are all sorts of ways to increase the sheer size of your vocabulary, and though everyone works differently, these are the methods my students and I agree work the best.
The Classic Flashcard
Rest assured that you'll be making at least a few of these while studying for the SAT. There are always going to be stray words here and there that demand flashcards, and I'll admit that I still use them when I come across something new to memorize. The process of creating the classic flashcard is pretty straightforward: the new word goes on the front of the card, and the simplest definition you can find goes on the back. You don't need to bother copying and memorizing the full definition from the dictionary. On the SAT you'll find that each Sentence Completion question includes five distinct answer choices, all of which mean entirely different things. The test is so fast-paced that questions can't include answer choices that require you to take your time and really pick apart the deep, nuanced meanings of words; every answer choice must either be completely correct or dead wrong. Therefore, insofar as the SAT goes, as long as you know what words basically mean, you'll be in good shape.
If you want to upgrade your flashcard, you could put a little mnemonic device or sketch on the back of the card.
Word Roots Diagrams
Mastering word roots can be a little labor intensive but absolutely rewarding. For those of you who may not already know, the English language is an amalgam (a big mixture) of words taken from other languages-primarily the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian) and German. Studying the etymology of a word (more or less the history of its existence) will help you not only remember more words but also figure out the meaning of words you come across that you've never seen before. Whenever you look up a word in the dictionary, take the time to look at all those italicized bits written before the actual definition. You'll eventually start to recognize and make connections between root meanings and the words into which they've evolved, thereby enhancing your ability to really remember new words and-even better-use them.
Plus, there's good news: you already have a huge number of these little guys buried in the language you use every day, so learning them and applying them to SAT words is actually pretty simple and makes learning new words easy. We're going to use your existing vocabulary more or less as a spider web in your brain to "catch" new words with stuff you already know.
Let's look at the root mal as an example:
See? Just by learning one root, you learn five new vocabulary words and can find relationships to another seven-that's twelve words for the price of one! I recommend putting these roots together on bigger cards; the 5" by 8" ones usually work best, especially if you have big handwriting. Plus, when they're not so small, you always have room to add something new!
It's important that you always include everything you can think of on your root card-the idea is to use what you know to remember what you don't know, so the more familiar stuff you put on your card, the easier it will be for you to remember the new stuff.
It's true, your local bookstore offers all sorts of mass-produced preprinted flashcards, and plenty of students use them with varying degrees of success. Particularly if you're really busy, I say find a set that you like and start studying them every day. But I would encourage you to not kid yourself-many people, including me, find that memorized information is reinforced most effectively when we write and study the info ourselves. If you have time, skip the glossy commercial cards and pick up a pen. However, commercial cards are better than nothing.
Read in Your Free Time
There is one trump card that some students hold over others-they're avid readers. I have to be totally honest here: the students who are most successful on the Reading Comprehension section are those students who enjoy reading and generally do so for fun. If you're spending four hours a night in front of the television or playing video games, you're at a disadvantage because you're not putting yourself in a position to see and learn new words. "But that's what makes playing Halo 3 so relaxing," you say. I know. But we both know that the student who reads for pleasure is likely to be a high scorer on the SAT. If you really want to learn, you have to read.
Sentence Completion, Step By
Let's take a look at the process I'd like you to use while you're working through the Sentence Completion questions. Many tutors use a process somewhat like this, which is a testament to its effectiveness. Make sure you take the time to read the explanations of why I recommend you follow these steps. When you really understand why you're doing what you're doing, you're likely to use the ideas more effectively and, of course, score higher.
Step 1: Read the Sentence
Please notice that I don't say: "Glance at the answer choices, get really overwhelmed, and then read the sentence." Simply read the sentence. Reading the sentence is especially important on more difficult questions, as the context of the sentence contributes to the difficulty level.
DON'T LOOK AT THE ANSWERS YET.
Looking at the answers at this stage of the game is the worst move you can make and precisely what the test maker is most hoping you'll do. Why? You're vulnerable when you're under pressure, at which point you're very likely to fall victim to the "I'm never going to get into college!" freak-out.
What could very well happen is that you'll see a word in the list of answer choices that "sounds good" (a classic student comment) or a word that you know really well, and you'll choose it without thinking it through and making sure it's an appropriate option.
Step 2: Choose a Guideword
A guideword is a simple word from your own vocabulary that could work in the sentence. When I say a simple vocabulary word, I mean really simple; sometimes it can be more an emotion or idea than a specific word; sometimes it's a phrase. What is most important is that you be as specific yet as flexible as you can be. If it helps you to write the simple word you come up with in the blank before you check out the choices, I say go for it-just jot it down quickly so that you don't waste time. More than anything, I just don't want you to get sucked in by a word that's fancy and "sounds good" but ultimately isn't the correct choice.
If you're struggling to find the right word, try out the following hints.
Look for Definitions Hidden within the Sentence
Within the first three-quarters of the sentence completions, you will usually be able to find a minidefinition or a couple of synonyms that will help you pick an appropriate word for the blank (or at least one of the blanks if there are two) right there in the sentence. And although high school students generally loathe grammar and punctuation, in this case, commas and semicolons can be your friends.
In each of the following examples, I've added italic emphasis to identify the hidden definition:
Procrastination can promote ongoing _______, lethargy and disinterest in work. [Possible answer: indolence.]
Architect Rem Koolhaas is best known for his extraordinary structural theory; his innovations as a writer and publisher are equally _______.[Possible answer: distinguishing.]
The president always appears in public accompanied: Secret Service officers _______ him everywhere he goes. [Possible answer: escort.]
In each of these examples a definition that expresses the answer choice is embedded right in the sentence. Although the definition usually comes right after the punctuation, it can appear before it, with the punctuation acting as a sentence divider. Before you start making up your own definitions from thin air, use what you've been given in the sentence to direct you.
Excerpted from OUTSMARTING the SAT by ELIZABETH KING
Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth King. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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