The SAT and ACT Reading sections are not designed to be read at a “normal” pace – they’re designed to test your ability to read quickly and with focus. If you find yourself struggling to complete the SAT or ACT reading passages in the allotted time, we’ve put together a few strategies to increase your reading speed to help you speed up and attack the Reading passages.
First, we need to remember that slow is a comparative word – so let’s look at timing objectively. You have just under 9 min per passage for ACT and 13 min passage for SAT. So slow is relative to how you compare to these times.
Let’s start with the basics – what’s going on in your head as you read.
First, Pay Attention to How You Read
Do you hear the words you read as you read them? If you do, that’s your brain voice! Your brain voice is the voice you hear as you read that pauses at commas or reflects the tone of a phrase. These changes to your internal brain voice offer hints to help you understand what the author is really saying.
As you read this paragraph, tune in to your brain voice. Can you hear it? It seems at first like your brain voice is about the same pace as reading out loud but actually it is much faster than when you read aloud. And you can train your brain “muscles” to read even faster with a few strategies:
Increasing Your Reading Speed, Step 1
Pick a passage type you are less comfortable with (maybe you don’t really like the science or history passages). Then time how long it takes you to read the passage and answer the questions with a goal of being efficient–reading at your most comfortably fast speed that allows you to get the most questions correct as possible. Now you have your baseline time.
Increasing Your Reading Speed, Step 2
Once you have your baseline time, read another passage and practice hearing your brain voice while you read. Practice speeding up over the details (they aren’t too important) or parts of sentences filled with jargon (those aren’t too important, either).
You’ll know if you are reading too fast because you will have to go back and reread what you just read. When this happens, slow down a bit and keep going.
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Increasing Your Reading Speed, Step 3
Once you’ve read your second passage, with the clock still running, answer the passage’s questions–and see if you answer as many questions correctly as you did on your baseline.
Increasing Your Reading Speed, Step 4
So now you have a baseline time and a practice time. You might not see much improvement yet – so this is why you need to repeat the 3 steps above until you reach your goal time per passage.
Yes, it’s tedious. But if you were trying to run faster, you wouldn’t just put on your shoes and sprint as fast as you can one time and call it a day! You would increase your speed over time. It is the same when increasing your reading pace. Each time you practice you get a little better and you create a new baseline to improve upon.
The Quick Guide to Increasing Reading ACT or SAT Speed (for Procrastinators)
So, the 4 Step plan above is how we recommend students study to increase their reading speed. But it takes time – and we all know you’ve probably procrastinated and need the quick version. Well, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few strategies to take with you to test day that will improve your reading speed:
1. Read the entire first paragraph and then the first sentence of each following paragraph.
2. Then go through the questions and answer the paired command of evidence questions. These are two-part questions; the first question asks a question based on the text in the passage and the second question asks you to choose evidence that supports your answer. These can be answered without reading the entire passage. Here’s an example from the SAT:
3. Next, look for the vocab in context questions. These are the ones where it’s like “this word most nearly means…”
4. Finally, if there are questions about graphs or tables then see if you can answer these just by looking at the data without reading the entire passage. There are usually a couple that ask directly about the graphic (and not really about the passage).
With the time you have left, see what other questions you can answer. You may have tackled most of them by now!
These “quick” strategies are best to use if you’re running short on time. Try completing the first few passages at your most efficient natural pace and use these strategies on the last passage when it’s getting down to the wire. You really do best on the ACT or the SAT reading section when you get to read the entire passage.
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