How many of us loath the stress and pressure of an ever-changing college entrance exam, one that is still necessary for admission into the U.S.’s most prestigious universities, and yet, may or may not determine one’s success in college or life?

Regardless of our antipathy toward the exam, a high score on this daunting test of 2100 or higher “unlocks doors” to veritable success during the college application process. For instance, the average combined SAT score for incoming freshman at UCLA in 2012 was between 2100 and 2200 out of a possible 2400 in combination with a 4.5 GPA or higher. Believe it or not, a score of 2180 demonstrates no more than a handful of mistakes. Until universities are able to dislodge the SAT’s powerful legacy throughout America’s college admission’s history, the SAT is here to stay.

As it is now (changes are due next year), the exam has three primary categories that are segmented into 10 timed sections including an essay: the Critical Reading, Writing, and Math sections.

The passage-based questions within the Critical Reading category present perilous traps for even the advanced reader; therefore, the consistent application of strategy is necessary to achieve as close to an 800 as possible in this section.

The Passage-based Unlocked

1. Questions First- Answers Last

Before reading the passage:

  • Circle only the key works in the question- annotation is necessary!
  • If a line number, word, or phrase is referenced in the question, immediately move to the passage and circle, underline or annotate only the word or lines indicated by the question.
  • If a general question such as the excerpt’s main idea, author’s tone, or purpose is asked, make a written note somewhere at the top of the passage.
  • Avoid reading answer choices before reading the passage– a preview of the incorrect answers may confuse the test taker as he or she reads the passage.

2. Read with the Questions in Mind

Once the questions have been annotated:

  • Be aware of the general idea and the questions you’ve read.
  • Avoid any prior knowledge– stay focused on the author’s perspective of the topic, not any other. The SAT does not consider the test taker’s outside knowledge or opinion, but only that of the author or those of other persons presented in the passage.

3. Process of Elimination is Paramount!

Many test takers who are advanced readers believe they will do well on this section because they achieve high scores in their honors or AP English courses. Unfortunately, the SAT is designed to deceive us all; consequently, consistent strategy is necessary.

  • Avoid selecting an answer without eliminating other answer choices– in many cases, a question will provide two to three choices that may work, but only one is “SAT correct.”
  • Systematically cross out each letter of a wrong answer choice for every question in the test booklet.
  • Eliminate as many as possible.
  • Refer back to the passage if left with two to three choices.
  • Eliminate an additional one to two choices.
  • Hopefully, only the correct choice stands tall above the rest!