Preparing for any standardized test can often be boring, and uninteresting. But when it comes to the critical reading portion of standardized tests (in particular the SAT and ACT) you can prepare without breaking open another prep-book. The term “critical reading” in itself tells you what skill is being tested…Your ability to reading critically. At the end of the day this is a skill that extends beyond that pages of the SAT to everyday life, which is exactly why you can improve using less traditional studying methods.
One method that I found particularly successfully was making a conscious effort to select casual reading pieces that would enhance my skills and also taking a little time to reflect afterwards. While any reading is better than no reading, picking pieces that push your comfort with vocabulary, sentence structure, rhythm, tone and/or a range of other things. This truly can be anything from The New York Times to fanfiction (if it is well-written) but here are some sites that tend to be a safe bet for finding high-quality writing (most of them tend to be news site but some of them are not).
You may go to BuzzFeed to look at cat photos and to take Harry Potter quizzes. But more recently BuzzFeed has begun to feature some longer/serious pieces ranging from personal narrative to current events. Here are some examples.
- School Haze
- This Is What It’s Like To Be An LGBT Syrian Fleeing For Your Life
- Stella Abrera: She’s just getting started
CNN is a news site that is a great option if you like to stay up to date on current events (with the election coming up there are lots of great options for current events). Here are a few examples from the site.
- Bush ‘conflicted’ on death penalty, wants reform
- New assaults on ISIS in Iraq and Syria
- Will hacking nature protect us from climate change?
Nature is a science journal that publishes on a range of topics. If STEM is of an interest of yours it is a great option. Here are just a few of their recent articles.
- Microbiology: Create a global microbiome effort
- How to make biomedical research more reproducible
- China’s birth rate won’t be dramatically affected by end of one-child policy
The New York Times
The New York Times is perhaps the most well-known news site on the list. Featuring a range of subjects, it is easy to find something you are interested in reading about. Here are a few of their recent articles.
- FBI Tool to Identify Extremists is Criticized
- In Arbitration, a ‘Privatization of the Justice System’
- Think Like a Doctor: Dazed and Confused
Another great option if STEM is one of your interests. Scientific American tends to be a little more reader friendly than Nature if you don’t have a super strong background in the sciences. Again, here are some recent articles.
- How Surgeons Reattached a Toddler’s Head
- Obama Has Done More for Clean Energy Thank You Thing
- How to Move a Forest of Genes
USA Today features fascinating articles on a range of topics. I personally go to them predominantly for articles relating to politics. Here are a few articles from USA Today.
- Turkey’s prime minister declares victory
- Jeb Bush vows to rally from ‘bumpy time’ in campaign
- Farm to School
The Washington Post
Like USA Today and The New York Times, The Washington Post is a great option for articles on a range of topics. Below are just a few examples.
- Gay rights battle flares in Houston over nondiscrimination ordinance
- What ‘Inside Out,” a film about feelings, gets right about the brain
- Australia has a greater percentage of foreigners but less xenophobia. What is its secret?
Perhaps a bit of an unexpected article, Wikipedia is actually a great choice. With many long, comprehensive articles, reading Wikipedia articles (or even a few subsections) can easily be comparable to other options. Below are a few examples.
Try to commit to reading 1-2 articles a day and also not always reading about the same topics. After you are done reading take the time answer a few of the questions below (just pick a few that you think are applicable). You don’t need to formally write down answers, you can just answer them in your head. Also if you encountered words that you were unfamiliar with, take the time to look up their definitions.
- What was the author’s perspective on the issue?
- Was there relevant information that wasn’t included, if so what should have been added?
- Summarize the article in 2-3 sentences.
- What solutions were proposed for the problem?
- What was the author’s counterargument?
- What are two things you learned?
- If you had to write an article on a related topic what you write about?
While these questions are just some suggestions, the intention is to get into the habit of being able to reflect on what you are reading.
Never assume that what you are reading won’t help to prepare you for standardized testing. Just take the time to make sure that you are finding comprehensive articles that push your reading skills.