The MuchSmarter Blog

For Students Who Consider Themselves “Bad at Reading”... How to Get Better Before the SAT or ACT

Tom Schecter
August 4, 2020

If you’ve had a hard time with reading comprehension in the past, and it’s making you dread the SAT or ACT, this one’s for you.

Let’s start with the most important thing first: just because you haven’t done a good job in the past doesn’t mean you’re automatically doomed to do a bad job in the future. 

Reading is a game of skill, and just like any other academic challenge, sport, musical instrument or art form, there’s a simple set of steps you can take to not only get better at it, but get great at it...and maybe even learn to enjoy it a bit in the process.

What do I mean by a “game of skill?”

Think about anything you’ve ever learned how to do before. How’d you get good? You almost certainly did these four things:

  1. You got someone who already knew what they were doing to teach you
  2. You learned the “moves” — the basic steps, the little skills you need in order to play a bigger game — and then you practiced those moves until they were easy
  3. You practiced them in combination with each other, so you know which one to use when
  4. You played the game a lot. I mean, a lot. Until you were good.

And that’s it. You can learn how to do basically anything by following those four steps and giving yourself enough time to succeed. 

So if you’ve seen reading as this massive, impossible thing in the past, let that idea go. It’s a game. So let’s start treating it like one. 

First thing you want to do is be willing to play badly at first. A lot of us get frustrated if we’re not good at something early on, get discouraged by mistakes, and give up before we’ve had enough practice.

Instead, learn to love your mistakes. You need to make them in order to learn anything.

Second, be willing to start from scratch. Especially in a situation where you’ve struggled with reading or reading-based classes since, what, maybe as far back as middle school? You’re going to want to go back to the basics. And that may mean reading “easier” stuff at first in order to build good habits.  

Think of it this way: you wouldn’t ask someone who had just picked up a baseball bat for the first time to try to hit against a major league pitcher, would you? You’d put them in a situation where they were more likely to succeed if they did what they were supposed to do — and let them work their way up to face a more difficult opponent. 

Third, and this is a big one, understand what you’re actually trying to accomplish. 

Being “good at reading” doesn’t mean being able to read every word at superhuman speed and understand all of them. Being good at reading simply means knowing, after every passage you read, the main point of what the author was trying to say. 

Once you know the main point (or main idea, as we call it), you can use it to see out how the rest of the passage supports that main point, and that’s really all you need to know before you start answering questions. 

Now, I’m going to assume you want a little more detail, so right now, your next step ought to be hitting this link:

Everything you need to learn how to master ACT Reading is right there.

And if you have other questions, feel free to reach out. 

Until next time!


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