Best Tips for the SSAT Reading Section

By Grant Hanada, Tutoring and Test Preparation Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

The reading comprehension section for the SSAT tends to be one of the hardest parts of the test for most students. Very few students are actually taught in school how to prepare for these types of reading passages and even fewer are given specific advice on how to tackle this in an effective way under time pressure.

Here are 5 great tips for students to have when they approach the SSAT reading comprehension section:

1. You choose which passages to read

Before the test, you should spend some time practicing all the various types of passages (historical, story, science, etc.) and know which ones you are stronger in. During the actual test, nobody will stop you from completing the passages out of order. Quickly browse each passage as soon as time begins, start answering the easier passages first, and save the hard ones until the end. It is okay if you don’t have time to finish the hard passages completely; you can still get a great score!

2. Don’t read the entire passage like a book

It is not important to know every detail like you would when doing a book report. Start each passage by doing a quick scan of only the introduction, the topic sentences of each paragraph, and the conclusion. You should be able to do this in less than 1 minute. Just gather the overall ideas and the general tone of the passage. That is it; don’t try to read the entire passage at once. When you get to the questions, you will read specific parts more closely.

3. Separate “specific” vs “general” questions

There are always 2 types of questions—specific or general. A specific question will point you to a very specific part of the passage and often the exact line numbers. Do these types of questions first and leave the general questions for later. When you answer specific questions, you should read a few lines before and after the specific area you are looking at for context, but make sure the answer you pick is directly related to the information in the specified lines from the question. General questions are much broader and should be answered last because after you answer all the specific questions, you should know the entire passage well enough to answer questions about the main purpose.

4. Be careful on “definition” questions

Many passages will have a question that asks you to answer what a certain word means in the context of the passage. Usually, the reason this word is important is because it is being used in a different manner than you are used to seeing. Be very wary of picking answers that are the typical dictionary definitions. Also, if 2 answer choices are synonyms of each other and since 2 answers can’t both be correct, most likely neither one of those answers is correct.

5. Be a skeptic

As you look at all your answer choices, you should be negative and critical toward everyone. Imagine that they are all incorrect and that it would take direct evidence to convince you that an answer choice is really correct. Therefore, when deciding which answer is best, you need to find hard evidence from the passage to prove that an answer is the best fully. Also, be sure not to have any prior assumptions about topics. If you know a lot about dogs and the passage is about dogs, forget everything you know. The answers must come directly from the passage alone. Remember, you are not picking a “perfectly correct” answer; you are picking the best answer.

Grant Hanada has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology from UCLA and is currently pursuing his Masters’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University.

To know more Best Tips for the SSAT Reading Section, do write to Prepped & Polished.

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