A Foolproof Way To Increase Your Critical Reading Score

Published Tuesday, October 28, 2014 by Adam

If you’re having a hard time with the SAT, I’ll bet Critical Reading is your biggest source of pain. It’s the section that we at Excel see people struggling with the most, and it’s easy to see why. Grammar and math consist of complicated but concrete rules that you can break down into recognizable patterns and strategies. Critical Reading is a different ball game. It asks you for abstract thinking, knowledge of archaic vocab, and a high tolerance for boring writing.

So if you’ve practiced and practiced and you’re still not seeing an upswing in your score, what should you do? Read. A book. For an hour every day.

Alright, it doesn’t have to be a book. But it has to fit the following definition: harder to read than The Hunger Games or Cosmo (not saying you read that, I don’t know your life, don’t get mad), and on paper. For magazines, try The Economist or Scientific American. Articles online don’t count, no matter how wordy they are, and here’s why. I’m not trying to make literature your best friend—I still cringe when I remember my teachers telling me that Shakespeare was the first rapper—but from a strictly cost-benefit perspective, taking the time to read some tougher books will give you a leg up.

Contrary to popular belief, classic books weren’t written to make students miserable; they were written to move and excite readers. If you’re not one of those readers, treat it like a puzzle. Imagine a reader enjoying this stuff, and ask why. Why is this interesting to some people? What’s the point? When you think about it, that’s all that every Critical Reading question is asking: what is the author trying to do with this sentence? How does it build off the last?

Skimming Fitzgerald or Shakespeare won’t do you any favors, so don’t give yourself a page count per day. Give yourself an hour. If something doesn’t make sense or seems useless, read it again. Don’t worry about pretentious thematic interpretations; just ask, on a basic level, what’s the point? If you start asking yourself that question (and the answer is something other than “some people are boring and stupid”), you’ll be well on your way to a higher CR score.


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