How to Improve your SAT & ACT Reading Score

We commonly get asked the question during test prep: What can I do outside of test prep courses to improve my Reading score?

The answer is pretty simple: Read regularly.

Yes, reading challenging materials, like pieces from The New Yorker, Scientific American, Forbes, or historical documents, will expose you to more sophisticated vocabulary and dense texts similar to those in the Reading section on the ACT and SAT.

But really, reading any material consistently will help you with standardized testing. The key is to make reading a daily or weekly habit.

Read YA novels or ESPN articles or tourism books or “how-to” guides or science fiction or the secret history of beekeeping. Read about something that interests you. Then, keep reading.

Ways Reading Habits Translate to Strong Test-Taking Skills

  • Reading Comprehension--The ACT and SAT directly and indirectly test on Reading Comprehension.

    • Directly--Can you understand a passage and locate information within that passage in the Reading sections?

    • Indirectly--Can you understand what is being asked of you in Math-section word problems, English-section composition questions, and Science-section questions?

  • Timing-- Reading regularly also increases your reading pace, which comes in handy when being tested on reading passages quickly.

  • Composition Questions--Both the ACT and SAT in their respective English sections test on “composition” or “rhetoric” questions. These kinds of questions ask the student to analyze how a paragraph, sentence, or passage is being put together. Students with higher reading comprehension also do well on these kinds of content questions, which usually make up about 40% of the ACT English and SAT Writing & Language sections.

  • Grammar & Sentence Structure--The other 60% of the ACT English and SAT Writing & Language sections test on grammar and sentence structure rules. When reading consistently, you absorb a lot, including common sentence structures and grammar patterns.

  • Idioms--Part of the reason the SAT & ACT Word Choice questions can feel subjective is because often they are testing on idioms. Idioms are common patterns in language. We say things a certain way in English. Why? Because that’s how we say it. For instance, I would say that “I am familiar with the SAT & ACT,” not “I am familiar about the SAT & ACT.” Why do I choose one preposition over the other? Because that’s the way English has evolved. The SAT & ACT test on idioms quite a bit. Reading is one of the best ways to become more familiar with patterns in English.

  • Vocabulary--A common reason students miss questions on ACT, SAT, and AP exams is not quite knowing what a word means. Reading also helps students develop a strong vocabulary bank. When reading, each time you encounter a word you are unfamiliar with, try to figure out the meaning through context. Then, Google it and see if you were right.

  • Writing Skills--Since consistent reading develops stronger vocabulary, familiarity with sentence structures and grammar, and overall critical thinking, a student’s writing skills are also strengthened.

Additional Benefits of Reading include (but are not limited to) exercising your brain, reducing stress, increasing empathy, fostering better sleep (when reading before bed), and increasing knowledge.

An additional way to prepare for the timed writing is through freewriting regularly.

Rules of Freewriting

  • Give yourself a set amount of time 5-10 minutes.

  • Just write (the old-fashioned way--with a pen/pencil and paper).

  • Don’t worry about punctuation; don’t worry about spelling; don’t correct yourself as you go.

  • Just write what you are thinking. [You could use freewriting to brainstorm an essay for class, to rehash a conversation you had, or to generate a to-do list for your day.]

  • The hardest part of writing an essay (especially timed) is most often getting started. Freewriting helps students tackle the daunting first steps of writing and is good practice for brainstorming for timed writing (whether prepping for AP tests, SAT essays, or ACT essays).

Make Reading & Writing a part of your weekly routine. It will pay off in the long run!

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