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Tackling the Verbal on the SAT

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The Verbal section on the SAT can be daunting and is generally the hardest section to improve. In the new 2016 SAT, the verbal is broken down into reading comprehension and writing, and the latter section is reminiscent of the original, separate writing section in previous versions of the SAT.

First, reading comprehension is difficult to boost. Strategies boil down to three different methods: 1) Skimming the passage first, then reading in-detail when presented with questions; 2) reading and marking the questions first; and 3) reading in-detail, then answering all the questions. Most times, 1) is the best way to go, but you have to figure out what works for you. The first method is generally successful because the questions do not test every line in the passage. This means you will save valuable time, which is critical for this section. However, if you are not an effective skimmer and are not able to glean the idea of the passage on a quick first-read, this method may not be best for you.

Other tips include reading the blurb above the passage first to give yourself some context. Another strategy would be to save the “primary purpose of this passage” questions for last, after you have finished everything else; in this way, you will generally have a better sense of what the passage is about. Further note that you should alwayslook directly in the passage for the answer -- never try to bring outside knowledge into your answers!

Despite these strategies and practice, the reading comprehension still may not improve significantly, because improving how fast you read and process information is difficult in itself. If you are on a time crunch (i.e. a month) and want to boost your score fast, the writing section is likely where you should focus most of your time. With practice, you will quickly improve, as you begin to understand the rules of grammar. Free resources exist online (google SAT grammar), and a good external resource would be Diana Hacker’s Bedford Handbook.

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