In order to answer a question, you must first know what the question is asking! On the reading portion of the SAT, test makers use a variety of ways to ask the same questions. Since each question type has its own strategy, students who can quickly identify question types will reread less and improve their test performance. This may seem obvious, but in our years of teaching, not IDing the question correctly is the most common and easily fixable standardized test-taking mistake.
Here is a quick summary of SAT reading comprehension question types and their strategies:
1. Global Questions - zoom out, what's true?!
Global questions require you to look at the passage and determine the main point the author is trying to make. The answer to a global question MUST BE TRUE based on the passage. Clues that you're looking at a global question include language that refers to the passage as a whole, such as, "the author's main point is," and "the primary purpose of the passage is to," etc. Select the answer choice that sums up the passage as a whole! Quick tip: if you’ve narrowed it down to two answer choices, pick the choice that talks more about the first paragraph since the first paragraph usually introduces the main idea of the passage, hence its name, the “intro paragraph.”
2. Inference Questions - what must be true?!
Inference questions ask you to determine the answer choice that is UNSTATED, but MUST BE TRUE based on the passage. Evaluate each answer choice and ask yourself, "must this be true, beyond a shadow of a doubt, based on the passage?" If it must be true, then it's the right answer. If it might or could be true, then it's not the right answer!
3. Inference - Attitude Questions - for or against?!
Inference - Attitude questions are similar to inference questions in that you must select the answer choice that MUST BE TRUE based on the passage. The only difference is that you're focusing on the author's attitude, so look closely at keywords that reveal whether the author is for or against whatever he or she is talking about. In other words, look for words that would give you clues as to whether you should draw a smiley or a frownie face to describe how the author feels about something.
4. Inference - Strengthen/Weaken Questions - what would strengthen/weaken?!
Strengthen and Weaken questions ask you to select the answer choice that would strengthen or weaken the argument in the passage. Clues that you're looking at a Strengthen question include, "which of the following would support the author's position," "which of the following would strengthen," "if true, which of the following would bolster the author's argument," etc. Clues that you're looking at a Weaken question include, "which of the following would weaken the author's argument," "which of the following would undermine the critic's opinion," etc. Select the answer that strengthens or weakens the argument!
5. Inference - Author’s Purpose Questions - why did she write this?
Purpose questions are similar to inference questions in that you must select the answer choice that MUST BE TRUE based on the passage. They differ in that they focus on HOW the author made his or her point. Clues that you're looking at an Author's Method question include, "the author stated... primarily to," "the second paragraph serves to," etc. Look for the answer choice that describes HOW the author argued.
6. Vocabulary-in-Context Questions - what does that word mean?!
Vocabulary-in-Context questions ask you to determine the meaning of a word based on the context of the passage. Clues that tell you you're looking at a Vocabulary-in-Context question include language similar to: "the word... could be replaced with which of the following words." Whether you know what the word means or not, zoom out and look at the sentence as a whole and ask yourself, "what is the author trying to say here?" Pick the answer choice that most aligns with the author's intent for that sentence.
7. Detail Questions - the passage said what?!
Detail questions ask specific questions about things mentioned in the passage. The question prompts use phrases that essentially mean, "the passage said," such as, "according to the passage," "the author mentions," and "the passage states." These questions will also commonly include a line number to guide you to a particular part of the passage. To answer these questions correctly, review each answer choice against the passage, asking yourself, "did the passage say this?" When you can link an answer choice with something the passage actually said, you've got your answer! If the passage didn't mention what's in an answer choice, then it's not the right answer.
8. Compare and Contrast Questions- what's the difference?!
Compare and Contrast questions ask you to determine what's the same or different about two different viewpoints or even between two separate passages on a common subject. Clues that you're looking at a compare and contrast question include language such as, "viewpoints differ in that," "compared to the first paragraph, the second paragraph...", etc. All you have to do is identify the two things being compared, and ask yourself, "what's the difference between these two things?"
Hope this breakdown of the SAT question types helps! Please stay tuned for our forthcoming SAT prep guides!