A page from my Annotated Alice

A page from my Annotated Alice

The blaring light from the table lamp spreads across the pages of one of those SAT Ultimate Guides filled with endless drills and timed practices. Many high school juniors and seniors often find themselves spending hours under such monotony, especially when it comes to studying for the SAT/ACT Reading Comprehension sections.

Well put down that dictionary, put away those practice books and pick up a book. Because yes, just reading might be the best way to ready for standardized testing. While the book lovers rejoice, skeptics just hear me out. Reading hones the same skills that Kaplan and the Princeton Review promise on their glossy covers, I promise.


Ensconce, obfuscate, lachrymose, words I pulled straight from one of those “gotta know” SAT vocabulary lists. My own practice book contained a similar list, including a space to write the definition and sentence for each word. The words melded together, the sentences got repetitive, by the time I finished I could only cite a handful of words from the exercise. Good thing I recognized most of those words already, and I had books to thank for.

The dictionary offers you a word in the vacuum of space, with a flimsy definition tethering to keep it from floating into oblivion. Even creating a sentence with the word is no safe guard that the word won’t just snap free and float away. A text, any text, be it a novel or an article or a scientific journal, places words together to create concrete images or thoughts or memories. In this context, words become much more important and your brain works harder to digest and construct meaning. Reading not only increases your repertoire of words, but also gives you the tools to extract meaning from new words like the ones you might encounter in sentence completion question or a passage.


Twenty five minutes to read passages and answer questions, a daunting proposition. Some suggest skipping the passages and trying to answer the questions, others recommend skimming. But you can increase your speed without cutting corners! Reading a little bit each day in preparation for the test is the prefect boost because practice makes perfect. The more you read the easier it will become.

Fair warning, this won’t be an overnight transformation.

Right now I am reading two books, The Odyssey in English and Isabel Allende’s Paula in Spanish. I should add that I often neglect to read in Spanish. While I glide along with Odysseus on his homebound journey, I have to push myself to follow Allende’s memoir even though I find it poignant and compelling. I hope to one day increase my Spanish reading speed, but it takes dedication and effort. Just the same way, consistency is the key to dash through the Reading sections with time to spare.

Comprehension and Analysis

This is it. The questions labeled “hard” more often than not. They ask students to infer and analyze and read the author’s mind. For this tougher skill, students need to go further and actively read. The Open University defines active reading as “Active reading simply means reading something with a determination to understand and evaluate it for its relevance to your needs.” The actual process may seem long, but practicing two or three times a week can boost overall comprehension.

Reading takes many forms, books are my personal favorite.

Reading takes many forms, books are my personal favorite.

Step 1: Look for a Title, Author, and Date

If there is a title to the piece, take a minute to infer what the passage will be about and why the author gave it that title. In the SAT/ACT excerpts will often have italicized information on the top, for all purposes that serves as a title as some important information is usually located there.

Step 2: Annotate!

This consists of two actions. Underlining, circling, and any other marks that point out interesting parts or maybe something that’s hard to understand. Meanwhile, write comments and ideas in the margins. Try to use the same tools permitted in the SAT, so no highlighters.

Step 3: Summarize and Reflect

After finishing the text (in the case of longer novels, this can be done on chapter by chapter basis) write a few sentences summarizing the main ideas and reflecting on the author’s point of view.

This is just a basic outline on how to actively read, there are different variations so explore a little and research! This exercise eventually becomes internalized, so by test taking time students can go through these steps mentally.

While reading is truly fabulous, don’t put away your practice books for good. It is beneficial to do drills and practice tests once in a while. Moreover, many think reading for the SAT must involve 19th century novels or lengthy New York Times articles. That’s not the case! Delve into what interests you, be it mystery books or world news or historic accounts. In the end, a student who reads will not only be ready for standardized testing but will also be much more prepared to tackle the challenges of college and their professional ambitions.

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the author

Andrea Villa is a freshman at Stanford University, hoping to major in Comparative Literature or Art History, if her rogue interest in Astronomy doesn’t get in the way. Born in Bogota, Colombia but raised in Miami, Andrea’s upbringing has consisted of multicultural blend of Latin American influences. A strong believer in the power of hard work and merit, she maintains that financial difficulties do not have to be obstacles to success. As a Gates and Questbridge scholar, Andrea aims to spread awareness about these and other programs that lend a helping hand to low income students. Her life goals include publishing a novel and travelling everywhere. She is an avid reader of fiction, fantasy, historical nonfiction, and anything else that seems interesting. Andrea loves languages; she is fluent in English and Spanish and has studied French, German, and Japanese in the past. When not working or reading or studying, Andrea can be found restlessly looking for something to do.

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