29 May 2017

Prepping the Mental Game for Reading Comprehension

One of the most difficult sections for all students is the Reading Section, whether it is for the SAT, ACT, GMAT, or many other standardized tests. For most students, they’ll just practice the reading section over and over and hope they get better. However, that’s not a great way to approach it. Think about it like basketball. You can shoot the ball again and again hoping to get better. And at first, you’ll make some improvements. However, the ceiling is limited if you don’t work on the right mechanics or worse, you can actually develop bad habits.

When working on the Reading Section of any test, I always tell my students that in the beginning, it’s about quality, not quantity (although practicing a lot does matter later on). You have to do your drills, but then you must go over the answers. The biggest mistake students make is that they’ll look at the correct answer, believe they understood it, and then move on. That’s not enough.

When looking at your mistakes, you have to compare the correct answers to your incorrect choices. Why is the correct answer better than your choice? What made you pick your answer? You have to think deeply about your actions so that you can correct it next time. Most of the time, you can usually see the phrasing that made your answer incorrect. But to get better, you have to ask yourself why you didn’t see it in the first place. Did you make a wrong assumption? Did you just skim too quickly? Or did you just not understand the phrasing? All of these questions are important to answer when working on your improvements.

In short, you have to work on your mentality when approaching the Reading Section. Identify and acknowledge what you’re doing wrong. There are even some drills that will help in your progression. One such drill I’m fond of is the 50/50 (or 2/3 split depending on the test) elimination drill. Go through the Reading Section and ONLY elimitate 2 answer choices. Make sure it’s a timed drill. Then, when you’re going through the answers, count the question as correct if you didn’t eliminate the incorrect answer. Do this until you’re 100% correct almost all the time. Then go though another Reading Section and do the same thing, but this time, pick an answer before moving on to the next question. If you’re doing this correctly, then your problem at this point should be between picking the correct answer out of the remaining 2 choices (or 3). It’s at this point that you should pay close attention to the phrasing that made your incorrect answer worse than the other (correct) answer choice.

Improving on the Reading Section isn’t easy, but it’s quite doable. A lot of it has to do with mindful practice. Remember that it’s not enough to just do reading drills over and over. Pay attention to your mistakes and why you’re making those mistakes and you’ll get better in no time. Happy studying!