Here is one strategy a respected educator offers test-takers to help them cope with the dreaded Reading section of either major standardized test:

“Before reading the answer choices, come up with your own answer to the question: This strategy is exactly designed to counteract the trickiness of the answer choices.  If you don’t apply this strategy, your thinking process likely meanders like this: “OK, I just read the question. Answer A is definitely out. B can kind of work. C…it doesn’t exactly fit, but I can see how it might work” and so on.  By now, you’ve already fallen into the College Board’s trap of muddling the answer choices. Take the opposite approach. While you’re reading the question, come up with your own ideal answer to the question before reading the answer choices. This prevents you from getting biased by the SAT’s answer choices, especially the incorrect ones.”

Excellent time-tested strategy, but…If you’re not a reader in the first place, strategies are hit-and-miss as to whether or not they work.  I can coach you through the English (Grammar, Usage, Mechanics) section of either test, and in the process I will teach you some principles of usage that may have escaped you earlier in your education because you were focused elsewhere or – let’s be honest – you were bored to tears and could not have cared less.

Start reading!  It’s never too late. Recognizing tone and various literary nuanv=ces becomes so much easier – and even enjoyable – when you feel comfortable grappling with various texts.

“I hate reading” or “My teacher doesn’t read, so why should !?” or “I’m too busy to read” are lame excuses at best.

Following are two true to life scenarios that will help reinforce my point, although in each instance it is but a skeletal remedy for doing the real thing on your own.

In the first scenario, I was working with a group of five wonderful students, each from a different school, on Sunday nights at the home of one of the students. The kids’ scores improved but one young lady was struggling with the reading, even though she was doing well on the English section and, quite frankly, improving steadily in math. She was confounded by the reading section. After she had taken the test a number of times with no meaningful improvement, I realized the problem: she simply does not read. Some early education misadventures had compromised her reading skills and, consequently, certainly her enjoyment of reading. I announced, “From now on you and your mom and I are going to read out loud every Sunday night instead of practicing in the SAT booklet.” I picked a contemporary youth-oriented novel, we read dutifully for a month, and with the student’s mom’s asking her to explain what had just happened in each chapter we had just read, a noticeable wonderful confidence began to radiate from the student’s eyes. Her score went up 190 points.

In another situation while trying to prepare a young woman who at 21 years old and in this country only a year was still trying to pass the Virginia Reading SOL, my esteemed colleague and I were stumped. I asked this delightful young lady if she ever read. The answer was a blunt but polite “No,” as in “Why would I?” I asked her what she liked to do on weekends and she said “Cook.” We happened to be sitting in the high school’s library while we were preparing for the test, and as I gazed around the room in frustration I noticed a whole shelf of magazines devoted to cooking. I peeled them off the shelf, piled them up in front of her, and started pointing to recipes – and asked her to prepare those meals for us for next time. Of course to do so she had to read, and she was reading something she enjoyed; she even found struggling with various concepts most rewarding because she wanted this information – it was relevant to her. She finally passed the reading SOL. Needless to say, she was ecstatic. And I, of course, was 20 pounds heavier from the delicious meals she had produced.

Now do I believe in each instance this is all a student has to do to do well in the reading section of the SAT or SOL? Of course not.  These are merely examples of the power of reading, even in small doses.  Imagine if each of these young ladies were to stumble across fiction and nonfiction that was so enjoyable to read that she would carve time out of each day just for reading!