Reading Comprehension Test Tips

Students taking reading comprehension test in classroom
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Reading comprehension is an important aspect of academic ability and is a common section on standardized tests such as the SAT, GMAT, GRE and LSAT. Reading comprehension test sections typically involve reading a passage on a certain subject and then answering several questions based on the passage. Following these tips helps you prepare and improves your chances for success.

1 Reading the Passage

A common mistake among reading comprehension test takers is the assumption that they do not need to read the whole passage presented to them. While it may be possible to skip to the questions and then go back and attempt to answer each question individually by finding the part of the passage that deals with that question, this tactic causes you to have a hazy understanding of the passage as a whole and may lead to confusion. It is always a good idea to read though the entire passage at least once, even if that read is brief. An overall understanding of the themes and arguments in the passage is important, especially for higher level tests with more difficult questions, such as the LSAT or GMAT. Depending on your reading speed, you can skim the questions before reading the passage, as it allows you to highlight or immediately answer certain questions. If you do not read fast, it is often best to begin by reading the passage, then answering the questions in order.

2 Time Management

Most standardized tests have time limits for each section. Time constraints can be particularly troublesome for reading comprehension sections, as the sheer amount of reading that must be done between the passages and questions can take all of the allotted time. It is important to know how many total passages you have to read and roughly how many questions there are for each passage before you begin the exam. Take your total time limit for the reading comprehension section and divide it by the total number of passages. This number is about how many minutes you should spend on each section. If you are falling behind on time, you may wish to answer questions more quickly and take some educated guesses to make time for later passages. If you run into a particularly difficult question, consider skipping it and coming back later if time allows. If your test does not penalize you for guessing, make sure to fill in an answer for all the questions before the time runs out, even if you don't have time to read them all. For multiple choice tests, cross out answers you know are wrong to eliminate them from contention. If you can't decide between two or three choices, make an educated guess and move on. Wasting too much time on one question may hurt you later in the test.

3 Other Considerations

It may be a good idea to read the first question before starting the passage; that way you have a specific question in mind the whole time you are reading the passage, so you will likely stumble across the answer during your read-through.

There's no better way to increase reading comprehension scores than to practice doing it. Take practice tests to improve your reading comprehension skills and to determine what type of questions are normally asked and how long it takes you to complete passages. Also consider reading material like scholarly journals and newspapers to become accustomed to absorbing dense information. Investing in a study book designed for the test you will be taking can be a great idea. Some people benefit from taking test prep classes or tutoring, though results depend largely upon the quality of the teaching. Practicing helps you increase your test-taking speed and allows you to pinpoint the areas that you need to work on the most.

Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.