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SAT Passage Questions - How to Approach
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs
Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In this episode we're going to talk about how to approach different types of questions because surprise, surprise different types of questions call for different approaches. We're going to talk about these three question types here; vocabulary in context, line reference, whole passages and a pair of related question types called 'I, II, III questions and except, least, not' questions. Let's check those out.
The first question type is vocabulary in context and FYI all these questions are also available in your bonus materials if you want to check them out and even try answering them. So vocabulary in context is going to look like this and it typically has the words most nearly means in it so that how you can immediately recognize what you're dealing with. Now when you have a vocabulary in context question here's how you deal with it. You simply treat them like sentence completion questions that means you're going to read two lines before and after the word in the passage and if you need a little more you can read maybe three lines above and three lines after up to you.
After you do that you're going to try to capture the concept for what goes in the place of that mystery word with a prediction of your own and then finally try to find the answer choice that best aligns with your concept and you want to always do these problems because they're pretty quick and that you're also more likely to get them right than another question type, so they're some easy points. Let me show you what I mean 'cause they are a little tricky to understand the first time you see them. So we're back to the sample question and in line 10 we have annals there it is right there. We're going to want to read two lines above and below and treat it like sentence completions. So you should visualize it magically turning into a blank and then what you're going to do is read two lines above and two lines below a little more if you need to get some context. So let's do that now; We no longer imagine that the history of our institutions has less interest than that of our wars, nor that the blank of the humbler classes are irrelevant to those of the privileged orders. We go further still. What is above all sought for in historical works blah blah blah.
Now this a actually a pretty tough question but there is a common construction that you should recognize which is repetition, so the author says; We no longer imagine that the history that's the key word the history of our institutions has less interest than that of our wars, nor that the history of the humbler classes are irrelevant to those of the privileged orders. So just like the author says the history isn't less interesting than the wars, the history of the humbler classes or the lower class isn't uninteresting relative to the history of the privileged orders. So our prediction is something like the word history and lo and behold it's actually a perfect match but it doesn't need to be, it all it needs to do is have a concept that's similar to what you see in the answer choices and I want to point out that a lot of these other choices would actually kind of work in the sentence but they're not the same as the concept you predicted. The concept you we're expecting to see here, which it's important to treat them like sentence completions and have an idea what you're looking for first.
Incidentally these question types come in two flavors you know maybe half the time the word here is a word you know but many different meanings and other times it's a word you may not know or at least you'll recognize is like a big word or an SAT word and so what makes these difficult varies sometimes it's the fact that a word has many meanings and other times it's the fact that a word is unfamiliar. This obviously a case where the word is unfamiliar but annals means written histories or historical records and that's why it's A not that you couldn't also get the same answer by making a prediction for what concept goes in the blank. So that's vocabulary in context.
Next up we have line reference questions, now they're simply called line reference questions because they refer to a line that you need to look at in the passage and here's how to approach these. You're going to rephrase the question in your own words so that you know what you're trying to answer, then you're going to read about two lines more if you need above and below the line or the lines you're told check out, after that you're going to answer the question in your own words based on what you've read and finally compare your answer to the answer choices presented to you and try to find the best match, they're pretty simple but you definitely want to get into this habit it's really important.
Another question type is the whole passage based question. So you're not told specifically where to look as you were with vocabulary in context or as you were with the last question type line reference. So in this case you can see it's not telling us where to look but it's talking about the passage in general and here's how to approach whole passage questions. Well first off they could address the tone of a passage, the attitude of the author, the purpose of the passage, how it is structured general stuff like that. Whatever it is when you see it you're going to want to hold off on doing these questions until after you've done the other two types we've already talked about; vocabulary in context and the line reference questions. That's because when you go back and do the vocabulary in context and the line references and they're usually tons of line reference questions, you'll really flash out your understanding of the passage and by the time you get these you'll have covered basically all the passage and filled in the blanks and really understand what's going on. So of course at the outset, you don't understand what's going on but by the time you've done all the other questions pretty much it'll make sense. So do these pretty much last and you'll understand where the passage is at.
Lastly there is a pair of questions types those are the I, II, III questions and the except, least, not questions. So to give an idea the I, II, III questions are called that because you get I, II and III to choose from and you have to pick out which combination of those answers is right and except, least, not you're given a statement and you have to find the exception which of these is the exception. So here is what you should know about these two question types which are related. First of all they require you to answer several questions for the price of one like especially the I, II, III you have to figure out whether I is true, you have to figure out whether II is true and you have to figure out if III is true. So you're answering three questions but you only get the credit for one. It's a total waste of time and very frustrating.
In addition to taking more time they're also going to be more likely to turn out wrong because if you get number I wrong you get number II wrong or you get number III wrong either way you get the overall question wrong which kind of sucks right. So what you should know is to leave these for the very end, you may remember that the SAT in general and for a lot of people especially the reading comprehension portion is really tight for time which means you may not finish everything and that's fine but if you're going to not finish everything you should leave off your plate the things that are most time consuming and that you're most likely to get wrong and these I, II, III questions and these except, least, not questions definitely fall in that category.
So let's recap how to approach these four question types.
So the first question type again is vocabulary in context and what you want to do there is go back and treat the word as if it were a blank in a sentence completion, read above and below for context, make your prediction for the concept that goes in the blank and then look among the answer choices for the match for what best aligns with the concept you thought went in the blank. You always want to do these and you also want to do the line reference questions those tell you where to look, you should go look there maybe two lines above and below again for context, rephrase the question in your own words, answer it as best you can and again go look at the answer choices for the best match for what you thought the answer should be.
Then the two last question types you want to hold off on until after you finish these and those are whole passage questions which aren't necessarily super time consuming but do require you to have a whole understanding of the flavor and layout of the passage which will come once you've practiced more with these two types and lastly are the I, II, III questions and the except, least, not questions. Those are the most time consuming and the most likely to turn out wrong. So if you are someone who has time to finish every question on the test that's awesome go for it but definitely make this low priority and do them after you've done the other three question types and that's how you should approach the different questions on the critical reading section.
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