The key to mastering the reading sections of the SSAT tests is two-fold: reading the passage effectively, and answering the questions efficiently. The reading section of the SSAT tests is designed to assess how well you are able to grasp the main idea and tone of a passage. The most important thing to remember is that you are not expected to retain details as you read. This is different from how you probably read other books in school. Here you are being asked to read many passages and answer many questions within a very short time frame. It will not be possible for you to accurately read and retain everything in a passage as you go along, and still have time to finish the test.
When you read the passage, your goal is to act like a detective, who is seeking out the passage’s main idea. The passage’s main idea is basically its thesis statement. Think about when you write an essay: you have a thesis statement, usually located in your introduction, and then subsequent paragraphs that include details to back up your thesis. The passages you read will be organized in the same way: a thesis with supporting details. As a detective, you are seeking out that thesis, and remembering that, along the way, you will come across details that back up that thesis. You do not need to carefully read all of the supporting paragraphs, because once you understand the thesis, you are just reading detail after detail that backs it up. You are reading only to uncover the thesis.
The most important thing to practice in the reading passages section is the skill of active reading in order to understand the main point. Practice writing a couple words on the margins of each paragraph so that you can understand how the passage is developed and what the thesis is. Deciphering the thesis, or main idea, is the most important piece of this whole process. You also want to be reading for the tone to understand how the author feels about the subject matter. Before you get to the questions, you must already have the main idea and tone in mind, so you can efficiently eliminate answer choices.
When it comes to the answer choices, for main idea questions you want to reflect back on what you already thought the main idea was, so that you don’t pick an answer choice that is too broad or too specific. In both main idea and tone questions, you want to avoid extreme wording and find the tone that accurately represents the way the author presented the passage. For detail questions, continue to keep in mind the main idea and tone, but also go back to the passage and make sure you have proof before you choose any answer choice. For inference questions, remember that you can only choose an answer choice that you can safely assume is accurate based on the facts in the passage.
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