5 Ways To Stay Focused on Long SAT® Reading Passages

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Take notes, make predictions and assess your reading comprehension skills to stay more focused when approaching long SAT reading passages.
Vector illustration of pensive student guy holding paper sheet and pen sitting at table, focused male thinking on test at college or university isolated on white background.
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During the SAT Reading exam, you will have to read passages and answer questions about the text. Some of these passages are longer than others. Some students struggle to remain focused during these longer passages, especially if the subject matter is somewhat tedious.

If you struggle to stay focused throughout the long SAT Reading passages, consider trying these strategies. You can try them out in your practice work to assess how they impact your performance.

1. Take Notes

One great way to stay focused throughout passages that are long and tedious is by taking notes. Sometimes, even underlining the details that stand out to you can keep you on track to finish the reading efficiently. 

It is a good idea to practice marking up the margins of the passages that you read during your practice work. If a specific word choice or structural detail stands out to you for any reason, mark the page in case a question requires you to come back to it. 

Even if none of your notes correlate to a specific question, taking notes on the page will boost your own reading comprehension skills and ability to focus for longer periods of time.

2. Make Predictions

As you read, make predictions about the questions that will follow the passage. You may come across a detail that stands out to you. An excellent way to stay engaged is by predicting how the exam will question that detail.

You will find that with more experience in the Reading section of the SAT exam, you can make predictions about the format and style of big picture questions, little picture questions, inference questions, words in context questions, evidence support questions, author technique questions, and analogy questions.

With this experience and with solid reading comprehension skills, you should be able to make predictions about which claims, phrases, words, or structural details will be questioned. Remaining on the lookout for things you could recognize to make these kinds of predictions will keep you focused while maintaining strong, active reading.

3. Read the Questions First

Another way to maintain your focus throughout long passages is by reading the questions first. If you know exactly what will be asked after the passage, you can remain on alert for the answers as you read. 

Looking for specific details is a good way for some students to maintain their focus through passages that may have been boring otherwise. Consider reading the questions first if you struggle to get through long passages and maintain your focus.

4. Read to Finish First, Then Go Back For Details as Needed

Something that may slow you down or affect your ability to focus throughout longer passages is your reading strategy. If you are reading to absorb every detail within the passage, you may spend more time than you need re-reading. This task is exhausting. 

You should consider reading to finish the passage rather than reading to absorb every bit of information. If you find that you get too caught up in the details, you may be wasting energy and diminishing your ability to focus. 

This can be detrimental not only for your timing but for your confidence in answering questions as well. Read to understand the main ideas, and later while answering the questions, you can come back to the details that are important.

5. Fake Interest and Practice

This last suggestion for maintaining focus is easier said than done, but you can improve this skill over time with practice. You should consider faking interest as you read the passages that are long and boring. 

If the subject matter is not engaging, you have to do what is necessary to make it interesting. It is helpful to consider that this section of the exam is not focused on testing your knowledge of the topics that are written about in the passages. 

Instead, it is meant to assess your reading comprehension skills. Focus on showing off your reading comprehension skills rather than worrying about the subject matter too much. Many students find that it is helpful to gain lots of practice with the style of writing the SAT exam presents in its Reading test.

You can really benefit from practice exams that are similar to the SAT test, especially when practicing for the Reading exam. Find passages that are realistic and practice your ability to fake interest in order to finish the readings efficiently.

As you prepare for the SAT Reading exam, boring passages are likely to come up. If you struggle to stay focused or end up wasting too much time trying to read the passages, consider implementing these techniques in your prep work.

Taking notes in the margins, making predictions about the kinds of questions that will come up, reading the questions first to be on alert for important details, reading to finish the passage rather than focusing on memorizing details, and faking interest in order to complete the reading are all strategies you can test put during your practice tests.

UWorld’s SAT Prep Course offers practice tests with thousands of sample questions and passages that are realistic to the official SAT exam. Dedicate time throughout your practice work to honing your reading comprehension skills when focusing on long, boring passages. 

The prep course offers performance tracking tools that allow you to evaluate your progress and improvements. You can use this data to stay motivated with your studies. This resource is a concrete way to see that your hard work has paid off. 

Try the prep course to improve your scores with the Reading test and boost your ability to focus throughout the more tedious or long passages.

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