What to Read to Prepare for the SAT
Reading to prepare for the SAT is a smart choice across the board. In fact, it’s one of the simplest preparation approaches out there, and one of the few that we point to when students ask what they can do to prepare for the SAT.
While studying for the SAT in earnest doesn’t usually start until 11th grade, reading as a means of building vocabulary, stamina, reading comprehension, and awareness of current and historical events is always a good idea.
But what, exactly, should you be reading to do this? Is there a recommended reading list? In this post we outline what and how much you should be reading to prepare for the SAT.
Why Is Reading An Important Skill to Develop for the SAT?
At its simplest, the SAT is a written test. Obviously, in order to perform well on a written test, you’ll need to read it. This means you’ll need to be prepared to read content that varies across subject matters. Some passages might be from scientific journals. Others may be from significant historical texts. Not to the mention the multitude of math questions that you’ll need to read before you answer them. At its most basic, you need to be able to read and understand the SAT before you can conquer it.
Beyond basic comprehension of the test questions themselves, you’ll need to build reading stamina. The test is long—an SAT with the optional essay section takes four hours to complete. This means you’ll need to be able to sustain your concentration and attention for four hours while reading. Specifically, the reading portion of the test is dense. It contains one challenging reading excerpt after the other and you’ll need to be able to scan them, absorb them quickly, and shift from one topic to the next as swiftly as they do.
In addition, the SAT relies heavily on vocabulary, and reading is a simple and enjoyable way to build your vocabulary. Using the context of words to determine their meaning is a skill that you’re likely to lean on heavily during the SAT.
Finally, remember that the SAT is a test that is written to trick you. It takes common mistakes and repeats them on paper, tempting you to fall into traps if you’re not careful. Building reading skills is one way to avoid these traps.
What Should I Read to Prepare for the SAT?
Read What Interests You
Reading doesn’t have to and shouldn’t feel like an arduous task. Odds are that you are assigned plenty of reading through school. You’re probably reading some of the staples of great literature and being exposed to many different styles and genres already. When you read outside of school, choose things that are genuinely interesting to you.
Of course, if you love reading classic novels, continue to do so, but if you like mysteries, or science fiction, or short stories, read these too. If you enjoy what you’re reading, you’re less likely to tire of it and more likely to do it consistently and often. Try to find reads that engross you; find texts that pull you in and cause you to lose track of time. Nurture a passion for reading and you’ll reap the rewards for a long time to come.
Read Things That Challenge You
Of course, reading things that interest you doesn’t mean you should stick to simple or easy texts. You should still try to find texts that challenge you. Read texts with a rich vocabulary. Read texts that make you think. Read things that seem confusing at first, and then snap into focus as you work through them.
If you’re having trouble finding challenging texts that interest you, seek input from teachers, friends, and other mentors. Sometimes, society has a tendency to label certain genres as “trashy” or simplistic, but there are quality texts in every genre. You just have to know where to look.
For some great book suggestions, check out our post Smart Summer Reading Recommendations for High School Students.
Read A Wide Variety of Materials
Finally, try to broaden your perspective and experiences as a reader by reading a variety of materials. This means reading newspaper articles, reading science journals, reading op-eds and historical texts. Don’t rule certain materials out simply because you’ve found them boring in the past. Instead, work hard to find things in them that interest you. Remember, the excerpts you read on the SAT won’t all be interesting to you, but you should be able to find elements that interest you in all of them. Nurture your academic curiosity to create a genuine appreciation for all kinds of written work.
How Much Should You Read to Prepare for the SAT?
In general, you should set daily and weekly reading goals. On a daily basis, aim to read for twice as long as you watch TV. If you don’t watch TV at all, aim to read at least for 10 minutes outside of your assigned readings each day. This should give you time to read a longer form newspaper article or a short chapter in a books every day.
On a weekly basis, aim to read at least three articles. These should vary in content and style, but might include articles about politics, sports, pop culture, science, or other current events. Try to vary the sources and subjects of these articles to get a broader exposure. Some great sources include the New York Times, the Washington Post, Science Magazine, and The Economist.
Reading is an important skill to develop not only for the SAT, but also for high school and college level work in any subject area. Even students who intend to pursue careers or majors in the STEM fields will find that they need a solid background in reading and writing to do so.
For more about preparing for the SAT, check out popular SAT tips and strategies, available here:
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