Mir, there are three misconceptions hidden in your answer, so I think this is worth exploring in the form of a blog post.
First, let’s address your statement: I am not the fastest reader.
The truth is, you don’t need to be the fastest reader to do well on the SAT reading. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Fair warning: there is going to be a lot of numbers. Each passage has about 600 - 700 words. I’ve analyzed the latest SAT (March 2020) and found that passage length varied between 527 - 767 words.
*You can find the actual passages I have used at the very end of the article.
Now, let’s discuss how much time you have for each passage. Using this free timer tool - I have put together several years ago - you can see that you have about 12 minutes and 24 seconds per passage if you are not eligible for extra time. If you are, I am providing those numbers as well.
Screenshots from the SAT Timer:
Now that we have all of the data, let’s talk about reading speeds.
Reading speeds in America vary among high-schoolers greatly. You can be reading anywhere between 120 wpm (words per minute) to 360 wpm and STILL feel like you are reading slowly, or using your own words “not the fastest person.” It greatly depends on what kind of school you go to and your environment (aka who you are comparing yourself to).
I encourage you to take a reading speed test and know where you are currently. You can do it using a myriad of online tools where you can test your current reading speed. Here are THREE of my personal favorites:
Although each test has a comprehension component to it, I refuse to think of it as comprehension per se. In my opinion, the questions that follow these passages can ONLY test your memorization ability rather than your understanding of the passage. The best way to measure your comprehension is to be able to re-tell what you just read in your own words with accurate detail out loud with your notes closed. This is exactly what I do with my in-person clients. However, since there is nobody there to “check you,” tests like these have to use multiple-choice questions that ask about random details.
Please use these tests SOLELY to measure your current reading speed. Don’t get hung up on subvocalization and other tools to improve your speed that usually follow those tests. Those techniques - although helpful - are immaterial for the SAT reading.
In the ideal world, I’d like my students to spend about 4 minutes or less reading the passage and spend the rest of their time answering questions.
Let’s examine how long it takes to finish each passage at various reading speeds. I made an assumption that your reading speed will fall anywhere between 150 to 350 WPM.
The amount of time needed to complete reading the SAT reading passages at different reading rates.
Now, let’s combine all the data together and see how much time you actually have to “solve” the passage and answer the questions.
What I’ve highlighted in green is a dangerously inadequate amount of time to complete the assage. This where most readers begin to rush, lose points, and answer questions incorrectly.
As you can see, you can be reading at about 250 WPM ( slightly above average) and have plenty of time to “solve” the SAT reading passages. If you are reading below 250 WPM, I recommend working on your speed, intentionally and daily.
Second, misconception: “no matter how well I read that passage I would still need to go back and look at the text for reference”
Looking back at the passage is not a crime. The test is designed for you to be able to go back and forth between the passage and the questions. In fact, you are tested on your ability to understand exactly what the words in passages are saying and not on your ability to remember what it said.
Think about it, there are over 100 details in the passage, and memorizing them is a futile attempt. Being able to identify the main idea and the main purpose is all you need to be able to do after reading the whole passage. Everything else is done through the careful search of the passage and locating the exact sentences that provide indisputable clues.
Third, very little improvement is ever shown. You need a reading strategy.
You need to understand how the test is designed. If you are shooting for a really high score, you must learn how to navigate all types of questions along with their answer choices. Ultimately, I make my students design questions and answer choices and have them follow the specific SAT signature pattern.
Conclusion: What you can be doing this summer is working on your speed and vocabulary. If you’d like you can also start working on strategy, but only after you can easily read at 250 WPM without having to slow down, re-read sentences many times and reach for the dictionary.
Passages from the SAT test
Passage 1 (637)
This passage is adapted from Helen Oyeyemi, The Icarus Girl. ©2005 by Helen Oyeyemi.
After a long journey from her home in England, eight-year-old Jessamy is meeting her mother’s family in Nigeria for the first time.
There they all stood, an uncertain circle, and then her grandfather came forward, greeted her mother, shook hands with her father. Although he seemed mellower and smaller than the picture that her mother had painted for her over the years, Jess had a sudden and irrational fear that he might start shouting at her. He looked at her, put his hands on his hips in mock consternation, and her cousins and her mother laughed. Her father, standing slightly outside the circle, smiled encouragingly at her. Her grandfather held out a hand. His hands were big and square, spadelike, the palms deeply etched and callused. She took a step towards him, smiling a wobbly, nervous smile that she could not feel on her face. She did not know what was expected of her. She had nearly reached him when suddenly, on an outward gust of air, he half said, half announced a name. “Wuraola.” Who? She froze, not knowing what to say or do. Of course, she knew that Wuraola was her Yoruba name, the name that her grandfather had asked in a letter for her to be called when her mother had held her Nigerian naming ceremony. Wuraola means gold. She knew all this . . . But nobody had ever called her Wuraola, not even her mother, whom she could now see from the corner of her eye making anxious, silent gestures for her to go to her grandfather. Here, in this stone-walled corridor where the sunlight came in through enormous, stiff mosquito screens over every window and her clothes clung to her like another skin, Wuraola sounded like another person. Not her at all. Should she answer to this name, and by doing so steal the identity of someone who belonged here? Should she . . . become Wuraola? But how? She could not make herself move forward, so she stayed where she was, avoided his touch, looked up into her grandfather’s face, smiled and said quietly, but firmly, in her most polite voice “Hello, Grandfather.” After they had taken baths and Jess had been made to eat a little, her mother disappeared with her youngest sister, Aunty Biola, and her father befriended Uncle Kunle, who was clearly as newspaper-minded as he was, and wanted to talk about politics. Swiftly dropping a kiss onto her forehead, her father released her into her grandfather’s clutches before mounting the stairs that led up to the roof balcony of the house. So her grandfather did have a face. It was a broad, lined face; the smile and frown lines ran deep into his skin, his eyes made smaller by the loosened flesh around them. He had the same wide, strong jawline with the determined set as her mother, and the same prominent cheekbones, although Jess could see that his were made angular more through the emaciation of age than anything else. He was quite short and moved about very quickly. As Jess sat in the parlor, keeping very still so that she wouldn’t take up much space on the brown-and-white sofa, she allowed herself to stare openly and seriously at her grandfather, and he did the same. She felt as if she were a little piece of him that had crumbled off maybe, which he was examining for flaws and broken bits before deciding whether it was worth taking it to be reattached. It was impossible to tell what he thought of her. She sat at a right angle from him, breathing out silence. He sat very upright (like her, she noted, with surprise), his hands on his knees, the crisp lines of his white shirt almost molding him, fixing him still in her sight. They were both waiting, supposedly for her Aunty Funke to bring them some soft drinks (her grandfather had called them “minerals”), but really Jessamy sensed that they were waiting to see if they would like each other or not.
Passage 2 (627)
This passage is adapted from Jennifer M. Groh, Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are. ©2014 by Jennifer M. Groh.
The implication of the overlap between areas of the brain responsible for cognition and areas responsible for sensory and motor processing is that perhaps the operations of cognition are implemented at least in part via sensory and motor structures. That is, perhaps “thinking” also involves activating some subset of sensory and motor pathways of the brain. For example, when you mentally picture sitting on the couch in your living room, that thought might be implemented by partially activating the visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, and motor responses that would have occurred if you were actually there. The theory that thought might involve simulating the activity patterns in our sensory and motor areas of the brain is called grounded or embodied cognition. Some of the evidence in favor of this view comes from behavioral experiments that show that how you respond to something depends on otherwise irrelevant features of the sensory stimulus. And of particular interest here, these seemingly irrelevant features often involve space. In one classic study, Mike Tucker and Rob Ellis at the University of Plymouth asked subjects to judge whether items were upside down or right side up. The stimuli consisted of photographs of common household objects like frying pans or spatulas. Subjects were to indicate their choice by pressing a designated button, one button for upright and the other for upside down. One button was placed near the subject’s left hand and the other near the right hand—a detail we wouldn’t normally consider to be important but that was essential for what Tucker and Ellis were really getting at. Secretly, Tucker and Ellis were not particularly interested in the upright/inverted choices, but whether the subjects would respond faster when they had to press the button with the hand on the same side as the handle of the object in the photograph. All the objects had handles and were photographed in multiple orientations, upright with the handle on either the left or right, and inverted with the handle on either the left or right. Tucker and Ellis found that when the handle on the frying pan was on the left, responses involving the left hand were indeed faster than those involving the right. Subjects also made fewer errors when the correct choice involved a match between the hand and the handle. When the objects were mirror reversed, the response pattern reversed as well, indicating that it was not simply a matter of being faster or more accurate with one hand than the other. Another classic illustration of a seemingly unnecessary connection between space and cognition comes from mental rotation experiments. In one early study, Roger Shepard and Jacqueline Metzler presented subjects with drawings of blocks of various shapes (think Tetris but in three dimensions) and asked them to judge whether two pictures involved the same shape from a different viewpoint or a different shape altogether. They found that how long it took the subjects to make the judgment varied proportionally with the amount of rotation that would have been needed to bring the two objects into alignment, had they been real. Both of these experiments, although strictly behavioral, suggest that mental reasoning can show signatures of real-world spatial constraints. In the frying-pan experiment, there is no reason for the side of the handle to affect responses—subjects must merely indicate whether the frying pan is upright or not—but it does. In the case of the mental rotation, there is no physical object to be actually turned, and yet the amount of time required to perform the task varies with how far such an object would have needed to be turned if it did exist.
Passage 3 (527)
This passage is adapted from Emily Monosson, Evolution in a Toxic World: How Life Responds to Chemical Threats. ©2012 by Emily Monosson.
UVB radiation can damage DNA; DNA photolyase is an enzyme that can repair DNA damage. Andrew Blaustein, an ecologist at the University of Oregon, has studied frogs for decades, and for the past ten years he has turned his attention to the role of UV radiation in population declines. Like many ectotherms (animals formerly known as coldblooded), some frog species lay their eggs in sunlit ponds or puddles, expressly relying on the sun’s energy to speed along egg hatching, larval development, and metamorphosis before their ephemeral pond dries. Much like photosynthesis or vitamin D production, it’s a trade-off—in the frog’s case, faster development in a higher-risk environment. Of course, like most creatures living under the sun, amphibians are well defended against UVB radiation. In addition to behavioral changes, like burrowing in mud or laying eggs in logs or under rocks, and the production of natural sunscreens, amphibians have redundant systems for DNA repair, including DNA photolyase. Interested in the level of protection afforded by DNA photolyase, and the potential impacts of increased UVB exposures on frog populations, Blaustein and coauthor Lisa Belden compared the life history habits of several amphibian species with DNA photolyase activity in their eggs. Their study reveals strong positive correlations between UVBresistant frog species (a species, for example, whose eggs are normally most exposed to sunlight because they are laid in sunny shallow ponds) and increased photolyase activity, in comparison to species whose eggs tend to be protected from direct sunlight. In other words, frog species that lay their eggs in sun-drenched environments are better able to repair DNA damage caused by UVB. Not only that, but subsequent field studies confirmed the detrimental effects of naturally occurring levels of UVB to developing eggs of some frog species, while those with the highest concentration of photolyase, the Pacific tree frogs, were most resistant. Beyond killing embryos, write Blaustein and Belden, UVB exposure may also cause sublethal and potential subtle (and therefore more difficult to measure) effects on larval growth and development. Their findings raise an intriguing question. Are less-resistant species more susceptible to DNA damage caused by increased UVB? The question was answered in part by researchers working with a single species of frogs inhabiting different altitudes of the French Alps. Frog populations adapted to life at higher altitudes, and therefore naturally higher UVB exposures, showed less DNA damage than did their lower-altitude brethren when exposed to UVB intensities typical of high altitude. Identifying the genetic mechanism of this adaption—rapid evolution, increased protein production, or both—will require further study. Although DNA photolyase concentrations were not measured, the authors report an interesting twist that suggests increased photolyase activity in high altitude tadpoles. Interested in other ways frogs might experience DNA damage, they studied the effects of benzo(a)pyrene (BaP), a well-characterized carcinogen present in cigarette smoke, coal tar, oil, and myriad other combustion products. BaP is both an ancient toxicant and a major industrial pollutant. Activated BaP binds with DNA, causing a kink in the DNA helix, just like UVB. A specialty of DNA photolyase is kinky DNA. It turns out that high altitude frogs had less BaP-induced DNA damage compared with their lowland cousins. Added protection by DNA photolyase? Maybe. Until enzyme concentrations are confirmed, any added protection cannot yet be attributed to increased DNA photolyase.
Passage 4 (742)
This passage is from Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, vol. 2. Originally published in 1805. In this passage, Warren addresses the time period directly following the American Revolution.
But though the connexion was now dissolved, and the gordian knot of union between Great Britain and America cut in sunder; though the independence of the United States was, by the treaty, clearly established on the broad basis of liberty; yet the Americans felt themselves in such a state of infancy, that as a child just learning to walk, they were afraid of their own movements. Their debts were unpaid, their governments unsettled, and the people out of breath by their long struggle for the freedom and independence of their country. They were become poor from the loss of trade, the neglect of their usual occupations, and the drains from every quarter for the support of a long and expensive war. From the versatility of human affairs, and the encroaching spirit of man, it was yet uncertain when and how the states would be tranquillized, and the union consolidated, under wise, energetic, and free modes of government; or whether such, if established, would be administered agreeable to laws founded on the beautiful theory of republicanism, depictured in the closets of philosophers, and idolized in the imagination of most of the inhabitants of America. It is indeed true, that from a general attention to early education, the people of the United States were better informed in many branches of literature, than the common classes of men in most other countries. Yet many of them had but a superficial knowledge of mankind; they were ignorant of the intrigues of courts, and though convinced of the necessity of government, did not fully understand its nature or origin; they had generally supposed there was little to do, but to shake off the yoke of foreign domination, and annihilate the name of king. They were not generally sensible, that most established modes of strong government are usually the consequences of fraud or violence, against the systems of democratic theorists. They were not sensible, that from age to age the people are flattered, deceived, or threatened, until the hood-winked multitude set their own seals to a renunciation of their privileges, and with their own hands rivet the chains of servitude on their posterity. They were totally fearless of the intrigues or the ambition of their own countrymen, which might in time render fruitless the expense of their blood and their treasures. These they had freely lavished to secure their equality of condition, their easy modes of subsistence, and their exemption from public burdens beyond the necessary demands for the support of a free and equal government. But it was not long before they were awakened to new energies, by convulsions both at home and abroad. New created exigencies, or more splendid modes of government that might hereafter be adopted, had not yet come within the reach of their calculations. Of these, few had yet formed any adequate ideas, and fewer indeed were sensible, that though the name of liberty delights the ear, and tickles the fond pride of man, it is a jewel much oftener the play-thing of his imagination, than a possession of real stability: it may be acquired to-day in all the triumph of independent feelings, but perhaps to-morrow the world may be convinced, that mankind know not how to make a proper use of the prize, generally bartered in a short time, as a useless bauble, to the first officious master that will take the burden from the mind, by laying another on the shoulders of ten-fold weight. This is the usual course of human conduct, however painful the reflection may be to the patriot in retirement, and to the philosopher absorbed in theoretic disquisitions on human liberty, or the portion of natural and political freedom to which man has a claim. The game of deception is played over and over to mislead the judgment of men, and work on their enthusiasm, until by their own consent, hereditary crowns and distinctions are fixed, and some scion of royal descent is entailed upon them forever. Thus by habit they are ready to believe, that mankind in general are incapable of the enjoyment of that liberty which nature seems to prescribe, and that the mass of the people have not the capacity nor the right to choose their own masters.
Passage 5 (Paired Passage 767 P1 384 P2 383)
Passage 1 is adapted from Cristina Eisenberg, The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America’s Predators. ©2014 by Cristina Eisenberg. Passage 2 is adapted from John R. Squires et al., “Missing Lynx and Trophic Cascades in Food Webs: A Reply to Ripple et al.” ©2012 by The Wildlife Society. A trophic cascade occurs when the presence of a predator decreases the population of its prey, thereby increasing the numbers of organisms at the nextlower trophic level.
Passage 1In the early 2000s, wolves began to drift down from Canada and across the border from Idaho into Washington State. This natural wolf recolonization inspired ecologists such as William Ripple and his colleagues to conduct an exercise in scientific thinking to consider potential impacts that an apex predator like the wolf would have on the intricate workings of the lynx-snowshoe hare food web. At the time, Washington had low hare and lynx populations and a high coyote population. Coyotes had recently expanded their range and abundance there. Wolves prey on coyotes. What if the wolf’s return to the Pacific Northwest could indirectly improve lynx conservation, via trophic cascade effects? Ripple and colleagues hypothesized that two mechanisms would drive wolf-coyote-lynx-snowshoe hare trophic cascades. First, by killing coyotes, wolves would reverse the mesopredator release that had occurred when wolves had been extirpated from this region nearly a century earlier. When humans hunted wolves to extinction, they removed an important check on coyote numbers—creating a “release” on the numbers of this mid-sized predator. Coyote numbers increased, which put more pressure on lynx via competition for food resources such as snowshoe hares. Therefore, by reducing coyotes in this system, a returning wolf population could indirectly create ecological benefits for lynx. The researchers further hypothesized that because coyotes also prey on lynx, a reduction of coyote numbers by wolves would release predation pressure on lynx. Second, in western North America, south of the US-Canada border, wolves prey primarily on elk and deer. When elk and deer numbers are high, these herbivores can suppress shrubs via heavy browsing. Ripple and colleagues hypothesized that the wolf’s return would reduce elk and deer numbers and also change their behavior, as has been found in places like Yellowstone by John Laundré and others. Elk and deer need to stay alert in order to survive in areas where wolves exist. This means keeping their heads up and spending less time standing in one spot with their heads down, as they typically do when there are no wolves in a system. Via this predation risk mechanism, wolves could indirectly reduce browsing pressure on shrubs, which would improve snowshoe hare habitat, thereby benefiting lynx.
Ripple et al. correctly state that wolves can affect coyotes, both behaviorally and ecologically, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), as shown by Berger and Gese, and that such regulation can have cascading effects. However, despite the wellpublicized initial declines in coyote abundance in the GYE following wolf recovery, coyotes may now be adapting to wolves and coyote pack numbers may have rebounded. The trophic strength of wolf effects on coyotes may also differ geographically with variation in climate, primary productivity, carnivore and prey communities, and the degree of human persecution. The inverse relationship between wolves and coyotes in Yellowstone is not supported outside the two national parks (Yellowstone and Grand Teton) included in the analyses by Berger and Gese. In other systems where wolves, coyotes, and lynx coexist, research shows a positive relationship between wolves and coyotes, whereby coyotes benefit from scavenging on wolf-killed ungulate carcasses. The generally low mortality rates of radio-collared coyotes killed by wolves outside of Yellowstone in Northwest Montana is three times less than those killed by cougars. Thus, this quick review of the literature suggests that the strongest generality of Ripple et al.’s hypothesis that wolves have a direct negative effect on coyotes is, at best, inconsistent, both within the GYE and across wolf-coyote range in North America. Buskirk et al. hypothesized that coyotes compete with lynx through both interference competition (direct killing or displacement) and indirect exploitative competition for shared food resources. Ripple et al. speculated that these interactions are, in part, responsible for the imperiled status of southern lynx. Unfortunately, evidence for interference competition is essentially limited to anecdotal observations. An observation of a single juvenile lynx killed by a coyote in the Yukon is not prima facie [at first sight] evidence for a trophic-level interaction. Further, in this northern population, more predation mortality of radio-collared lynx was attributed to wolves, wolverines, and other lynx than to coyotes. Direct interactions between coyotes and lynx were rare.