Critical Reading Skills Key to Performing Well on PSAT, ACT, SAT – Chicago Tribune

Dear Mr Bradshaw,

I’m a sophomore in high school and I need advice on how to prepare for the admission tests. I plan to take the PSAT/NMSQT this fall and the ACT and SAT in the spring of next year. I want to do well in the PSAT because the National Merit Scholarship uses these scores to determine the winners and the best ACT and SAT scores will be essential for my applications to the top colleges that are now on my list.

What do you recommend I do to prepare for the tests?


Second year of high school

Dear high school student,

You are correct that your PSAT performance can earn you scholarships. The PSAT and the SAT are almost identical. Your timing is also good because you have the summer to prepare. The ACT prep will also provide an excellent foundation to hone your testing skills. There are good prep books available as a guide.

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I’m sure you know the pandemic has led to some schools taking optional tests, so check the colleges on your list to see what the requirements are. This has brought about a dramatic change in the way admissions decisions are made. MIT has announced that it will again require you to submit test results. The future of testing will be based on studies of how each cohort performs in the university environment. That remains to be seen. There are more than 1,800 colleges taking elective tests this fall, and the SAT is expected to go digital in 2023.

In my opinion, the key to passing these tests is to focus on your critical reading skills. Math and writing are important, but critical reading is usually the hardest part to master on these tests. The key is to improve your verbal performance. This will help not only for standardized tests, but also in the classroom. The time you spend on mastering reading skills will pay big dividends.

One way to improve verbal performance is to increase your accuracy and reading speed. It takes a lot of practice. I suggest you get into the habit of reading thought-provoking articles on a variety of topics daily. You will find that the the wall street journal is one of the best global publications to meet this challenge. They have exceptional journalists who are specialists in all areas. The stories are both interesting to read and educational.

You must learn to read to understand 100%. Read with a dictionary. That’s not what you’ll do with standardized tests, but you have to train your brain to read accurately. When I teach the SAT, I often spend an hour analyzing three or four test questions. You need to understand how the question is written and why the next to the correct answer is do not The right answer. I also insist that my clients know the correct definition of all the words in the question – even if they get the correct answer.

Be sure to think about how the prompt sets up the main points and main point of the passage. What are solid facts versus vague opinions and assumptions? Remember that you have to stay focused if you want to avoid having to choose the wrong answer. After all, your discernment is what the test is designed to determine.

It is recommended that you spend 10-20 hours per week over a period of two or three months preparing. Do some practice tests. The SAT is currently a 3 hour and 50 minute exam including reading, writing, and math with and without a calculator.

Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Council at Crown Point.