The Dreaded Comprehension Passage

One of the most difficult sections of the SAT for everyone — but particularly for non-native speakers of English — is the reading comprehension passage. Context and textual clues are your best tools for deciphering the passages and their questions.

The factual or informative passage
The topic sentence is your friend. Identify as soon as possible what the main point of the passage is, and underline it. Read the passage with this point in mind. Underline or mark other sentences that support or explain this point. Focus your reading on understanding this point. If you encounter unfamiliar vocabulary words, and you can’t figure out what they mean based on prefix or root word, move on. If you encounter an unfamiliar word and it seems to be the main point of the sentence, do not despair.

This is where context comes in. If the word is “apartheid,” and you have no idea what it is but it seems to be the main focus of the passage, then look at the other terms that the passage uses to talk about the idea. Segregation (which you NEED TO KNOW — it is the legal prevention of a group of people from taking part in some public activity or service based (usually) on racial background or ethnic association) should be one word used. It should also be discussing the idea that a group of people are not permitted to take part in certain activities or social roles. Once you get the idea that the legal system is being used to prevent a certain group of people from having a set of rights that are granted to others, you are getting an idea of what apartheid means. But you must understand the rest of the passage in order to be able to make a guess.

If there is a word that occurs once in a passage that you do not understand, and it is not followed by a discussion of that word, then it is probable that it will not be the focus of the passage and you can move on.

Read the last section of the paragraph — often it will repeat or restate the main point of the passage, which will help you identify what the paragraph is talking about. When you answer the questions, READ the directions thoroughly and make sure you understand what the answer choices are saying. You will occasionally have to make an educated guess based on the passage — for example, some questions will ask you to predict what the next paragraph will be about. If that is the case, you will have to re-read the last part of the passage and see which option BEST MATCHES that part.

When you are reading, make notes on the passage in question, if that helps you. Sometimes restating what the writer is saying in your own words can help you keep track of the meaning.


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