Tips for Parents

Daily reading habits for higher SAT and ACT scores

By Anthony-James Green

Even the best readers can get tripped up by the ​ACT ​and ​SAT critical reading​ sections.

Unlike the material that students read during their regular academic careers, SAT and ACT reading passages are delivered under blistering time pressure, and combined with a seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable set of questions to test comprehension and understanding.

This creates a challenge that many students have never dealt with before: not only must they comprehend the passages in full, but they also must determine ​which elements​ of each passage they need to memorize and which they should ignore. Investing time in irrelevant information is just as dangerous as failing to invest in relevant portions of each passage.

Fortunately, there’s a core constant that students can embrace: if the reader has a thorough grasp of the ​main idea​ and logical thread​ of each passage, the details become unimportant. Almost 70% of SAT and ACT reading problems can be answered with ​only ​a thorough understanding of the main idea, and the other 30% can be answered simply by re­referencing the details using their “mental table of contents.”

Because most students aren’t used to reading under time pressure, and very rarely have to think this way, their everyday reading habits don’t prepare them for the SAT and ACT. However, with a small change to their daily reading process, students can quickly and easily master the essential skills necessary to get high critical reading scores.

Hooking and Looping

The most important reading skill that I teach to my students is called “hooking and looping.” The process is simple:

  1. After each paragraph, students should summarize what they’ve just read in one short, simple sentence. ​By getting in the habit of condensing and summarizing everything that they read, students can quickly gain a knack for understanding the core concepts inherent within each paragraph. The benefits of this practice are amplified in the next step:
  2. From the second paragraph onward, students should explain, in their own heads, how the paragraph they just read connected to the paragraph preceding it. T​his process enhances focus and creates cohesion. Students who engage in this process with ​everything ​they read will start to see the “thread” that exists in every piece of reading material. “This paragraph was about how scary eels look. The first paragraph was about how much people are scared of eels. So this is showing an example of why people are probably scared of eels.” It’s a simple, easy process, but one that pays serious dividends when it comes to comprehension.
  3. At the end of any passage, article, or chapter, students should rapidly try to connect each paragraph to the next to create a rapid-­fire summary of the entire piece. ​“The first paragraph said that diamonds are expensive and rare. The second showed how hard they are to make and find, which explains why they’re rare. The third was about how some people are trying to make them on their own, which shows a solution to paragraph two. The fourth paragraph is about….” and so on and so forth. If students get into this habit with all​ of their reading material — magazine articles, textbook pages, and even novels — they’ll automatically take it to their SAT and ACT reading work, where it will make an immediate and significant difference in their scoring potential.

Both the SAT and the ACT reading sections contain peculiarities that require test-­specific study. Students aiming for high scores should always spend the time necessary to gain a deep understanding of the format, time requirements, and question­ types of each exam. However, the core skill of reading with enhanced comprehension can be developed independently, and the development of this skill won’t just pay off on the SAT and ACT — it will pay off in every timed reading assignment that students face for the remainder of their academic careers.

Changing one’s process is always a bit challenging, especially for something as commonplace and automatic as reading. However, in my experience, my students usually react very favorably to this exercise. The increased clarity that comes from hooking and looping, and the enhanced knowledge and enjoyment derived from each piece that they read, more than make up for the slight inconvenience of trying something new.

Introduce this method to your child this evening and see what he or she thinks. After a few attempts, many of my students wonder how they ever read without it!

About the Author:

Anthony-James Green is the founder of Green Test Prep and a world-renowned SAT and ACT tutor with over 14,000 hours of experience teaching these tests. Anthony’s methods have resulted in higher average student score improvements than any other tutor or author in the industry. Business Insider recently named Anthony “America’s Top SAT Tutor.”

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