Reading Fiction SAT/ACT Passages

For a strong understanding of fiction passages, 1) consistently adhere to the following directives, and 2) mentally articulate the following takeaways upon finishing the passage. (Please click the triangular bullets (‣) to expand the collapsible outline for important detail.)

1) Directives: How to Read SAT/ACT Passages - Follow these precepts throughout your reading of SAT/ACT fiction or nonfiction:

Read carefully and thoroughly
◦ This tactic seems obvious, but you might be surprised at how many points are lost on the SAT and ACT due to a rushed reading that misses or misinterprets a key detail.
◦ Read every part of the passage, including the introductory note and any footnotes.
Insist on understanding - clarify and reason as needed.
◦ Passing your eyes over each part of the text is not what's called for - any text that is difficult to understand or connect is most likely included intentionally and will be tested by the questions, so be sure to study and reason as necessary about any text that demands it, aiming for the fullest and clearest understanding possible.
Evaluate and identify each textual unit's function and connection
◦ Constantly ask:
• "Why is this here?" and
• "How does this connect to what comes before and after?"
◦ This is what you will be repeatedly asked by the test questions, rather than anything you could discern from reading a portion of the text in isolation.
Recall and connect central ideas and key details
◦ The SAT and ACT reading tests are not chiefly tests of memory but do demand that a strong reader digest and recall the most important ideas in each text. However, even a student with an excellent memory for detail will not perform well unless she prioritizes synthesizing, filtering, and distilling the text's information into a few simple, recallable, and easily articulable ideas.
Avoid guessing games and losing tactics
Fake It 'Til You Make It
• Skipping past a part of the text you don't understand and hoping later, easier text will tell you the meaning of what you skipped. It won't. This tactic sacrifices your best opportunity to understand difficult text and endangers your understanding of not only the local meaning, but broader meaning, including even the main idea.
Let's Not & Say We Did
• Superficially skimming a part of the text and then hypothesizing a likely meaning, rather than tangling with the text and insisting on getting the actual message.
I Know It But I Just Can't Say It
• Failing to ensure you can articulate in your own words the key understandings, telling yourself that although you can't quite say it, you understand. You don't. Complete the more rigorous work of actually articulating these meanings in your mind to avoid having words put in your mouth by tempting wrong answer choices.
It Talks About
• Noting the various topics and subtopics the text discusses but neither assimilating the message about each topic nor inquiring about the function of that message within the passage context. This results in an unindented list of topics discussed with little understanding of what is actually said and even less understanding of the author's overall message. You will get few to no points for knowing what the passage "talks about". Be sure that you understand the central ideas the author is presenting and how the passage sections function and connect to convey these ideas and the main idea.

2) Takeaways - Read each fiction passage for and be able to concisely articulate in your own words the central understandings you will predictably be tested on:

Without referring to the passage - If you've read and assimilated the passage successfully, you'll be able to articulate these essential aspects of the text without returning to the passage for reference:
• The time, place, and any relevant events or developments taking place.
• All characters referred to, major and minor, their interactions and dialogue, feelings, conflicts, key characteristics, especially any characterizations shown through action or dialogue rather than told explicitly.
Narrator's Perspective and Identity
• The role of the narrator (if any) in the action and characterizations of the passage; be especially careful to note when the narrator is an adult narrating a story from her/his childhood.
At a glance - You need not recall every component of the text, but your reading should be strong enough to identify and articulate the following with only a moment's reference to the passage to refresh and focus your memory:
Paragraph/Section Function - The function of each paragraph (or partial paragraph or group of paragraphs if in your opinion these comprise a section) in the author's overall passage organization.
• Each fiction passage is organized into sections - each a single paragraph, partial paragraph, or group of paragraphs - each of which has a function within the passage as a whole and relative to the preceding and following sections.
Sequence of Events
• Often presented in a nonlinear path including flashbacks from the present and allusions to past events.
Inflection Points - Noteworthy author's choices i.e., "Things that make you go, 'hmm...'"
◦ E.g., when the author:
• makes an important transition
• makes an unexpected choice
• uses metaphor, sarcasm, mockery, understatement, personification, or any notable literary device
• plays with words