The average SAT verbal score of American high school students has slid from 550 to 500 since 1960s. This average, out of 800, represents 50% accuracy in the test. If we count in the fact that the test is all based on multiple choice, some of the accuracy are result of chance not competence. In plain language, students on average are unable to finish more than 50% of reading and writing questions!
Experts and guidebooks take the students to every mistakes they tend to produce in the test. Some may be unable to discern key ideas from evidences; others may fall short in inferring through the logic. Attention is also paid to content areas such as the genres of passages, graphics, rhetoric, and so on. Granted, mistakes of any kind cost the students score points. But what accounts for the abundance of mistakes? It is ironic to say that students make mistakes because they are making those mistakes. Nothing can be counted as the cause of itself, except our creator.
Talking to many students, I noticed that almost all of them mentioned the same feeling—they don’t know what the materials are talking about. Many keep on reading till late, but still fail to understand. By insisting to try to understand what they eventually not, students use out their time allowance for one part and squeeze that for the rest. When they miss their chances on some easier questions in other parts, the result is disastrous.
Many others give up reading at all. They take up guessing to the best of their knowledge. This second approached are widely taught by the experts and guidebooks as a way to avoid the first disaster. It sounds wise, but is embedded with an erroneous assumption that the students’ best of knowledge will do them good. SAT reading materials are not supposed to repeat what has been presented in the textbooks or taught in the classrooms. Best of knowledge are generally inefficient for students to guess the test. In fact, SAT is increasingly deploying texts of controversial issues and ideas in its reading section. These materials are most likely the hardest for students to understand. The best of knowledge they acquired from classrooms can lead them to totally wrong directions.
Comparing both approaches, the difference—to read the hardest or to guess to the best—is minor. The students are all guided to one same direction—try to understand what they do not. It is assumed that they must understand the reading materials well in order to produce good answers. This assumption is wrong. Students are not learning but reading in the test. They should not be put into a position other than to produce the answers from the reading. Should they be required to learn there, they must be provided the time as much as they have been in the classrooms.
The better approach is to have the students focus on what they know. On stories and ideas that are not already theirs or can’t become quickly, take them as is. Do not read too hard into the material. Neither should they think too far beyond the materials. Their chances of understanding correctly is likely to diminish as they read or think too much. Here by “too much,” I mean to use more than their time allowance. A passage of ten questions is allowed ten minutes to read and answer. To read it for more than 3 minutes before answering any questions is considered “too much.” What they read is only what they know. Then apply logical reasoning on the know.
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I’ll steal a concept from Socrates to sum up here: know the knows but not the know-nots. You should read to know, instead of read to learn. When you combine this advice with mind2learn’s critical reading model, the result is what you will love.