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Improving reading comprehension for the SAT?

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My 12th grader is taking the practice tests for the SAT which she will take in Dec. She is doing poorly on the reading comprehension portion of the test and I can't figure out why. This is her list of literature for high school:


Literature List:


Sherlock Holmes


Stories of The Brothers Grimm


Poems by Edgar Allen Poe


Poems by Emily Dickinson


Poems by Robert Frost


Macbeth by William Shakespeare


Hamlet by William Shakespeare


A Mid Summer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare


Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickinson


Oliver Twist by Charles Dickinson


The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo


One Thousand and One Nights


Mythology List:


I'm curently reading Mythology The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling the general editor C. Seott Littleton


The Odyssey by Homer


The Iliad by Homer


The Aeneid by Virgil


The Epic of Gilgamesh


The Enuma Elish


Edith Hamilton's Mythology


Bulfinch's Mythology


The Macmillan Illustrated Encyclopedia of Myths and Ledgends


Sir Gaiwin and the Green Knights





She seems to understand the overall big picture of the stories and can answer questions about specific details and yet she is doing poorly on answering written questions. She reads aloud well with good pronounciation and vocabulary understanding. She doesn't do any better if she reads aloud or if I read to her. I can't figure out exactly what the problem is so I don't know how to fix it. She seems to be misunderstanding the meaning or interpretation of specific parts of the stories. I think that it has something to do with how her brain processes information because she has the same problem communicating with people in conversation. It is like she misunderstands the meaning of what people say and not even neccessarily complex ideas.


Any ideas on how I can help her work on this?

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I would advise getting a few different SAT Critical Reading prep books - they will go over the various sections of the test and what the questions are really asking. That would help her find the main idea, make inferences, etc. Sometimes kids will focus on a few interesting facts (especially if they like factoids!) rather than identify the main point of an article. Tell her always to look at the title of the piece - it often gives a clue about meaning, if it is a well chosen title. These things should help her prep for the test, and I would approach it that way since the test is so soon. Perhaps if you read the prep books along with her, you might find ways to focus discussions about lit and current events, etc, to help her find the main ideas that others find. (emphasis on main, here, she might just find other, non-main ideas more interesting, But she still needs the skill for the test.)


Hope this helps. Senior year is such a busy time, isn't it? With all this test prep and college apps, I don't know how we find time to actually do school!



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April has great advice. I would add only to do as many practice tests as she can. Say, complete one critical reading section per day for a few weeks. Then read the explanations for the answers. I have a regular SAT prep book with 10 complete tests and explanations for every answer.


You might go over a few of the explanations with her, to make sure she gets what they're saying.


I think tons of experience with the types of questions that are asked is very valuable. Reading literature and taking a test are two different skills so maybe she just needs to practice the test-taking skill.

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When I was your daughter's age, I tended to get caught up in reading test passages for enjoyment. School bored me so testing was a welcome change. The lack of context offered for the typical reading comprehension passage intrigued me. If it happened to be something with which I was familiar I tended to obsess about how that passage did/did not reflect the whole work. If it was something unfamiliar I tended to go off on tangents speculating about the larger context. So, when I got around to acutally reading the questions I was completely flummoxed; they never seemed to address what had most interested me. It helped me to read the questions first so that I had some guidance for the reading. I think that is a strategy suggested in some test prep books.




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Both my sons do this. I think it has to do with lack of practice answering test questions and reading comprehension questions. Some of it has to do with no experience answering questions that ask you to state the obvious. My children tend to assume that the question can't possibly mean that because that is obvious; there must be another answer that actually requires thinking. I seldom ask them questions that aren't hard LOL. Why bother? When I tell them the answer to those sorts of questions, they say, "Oh! I didn't think they meant that."


My youngest is able to tell me exactly why he got a particular textbook question wrong. When he explains why his answer is correct, I can see his point. It often has to do with lack of experience guaging the scope of the question. From his homeschooled perspective, there are far more possible answers than it looks like to you or me. How much detail do they want? Which aspect of the problem do they want as an answer? I'm having trouble thinking of good examples at the moment, but one I do remember had to do with a triteness. There was a word used in a sentence that is almost always associated with another word and you needed to know the other, unstated word in order to be able to infer what the speaker meant. This isn't a very good example, but: if I say that I am in over my head, you would guess that I was in trouble, right? Well, my son wouldn't necessarily guess that. We live on a shallow lake and we look for places to swim where the water is over our head. They are good LOL. Even knowing the saying (it is one our family uses), he would be miffed if he had to use that knowledge to answer a question on a test because he would say that it could be something good, not something bad, so how is he supposed to know? In real life, he is extremely good at picking up the connotations behind comments, but out of context, he balks at guessing. We are working on it, and he'll be fine in the end, but it isn't something he has had much practice with. Normally he knows the person who asked the question (me) so well that he doesn't have to guess at the scope or the implications or associations. There were other word association questions on the PSAT practice test that had to do with trite phrases that I knew but he didn't.


I was surprised at some of the vocab my son didn't know, words which my family uses in everyday speech. I'm hoping some of that sorts itself out as he gets older. Again, I think context has a lot to do with it. When we use the words in context, he never has trouble understanding what we are saying. This is true for his French, too. He knows words in context that he can't translate in isolation or a context without clues. He will say, "I know that word, but I can't translate it."


Another thing he consistently missed were the questions about the general meaning of a passage, and yet he could answer most of the specific questions correctly. It turned out that he was skimming the passage, then answering the questions, if necessary going back and rereading. His problem was just one of speed. Going fast in order to finish the test meant that he missed things, things that he would have found obvious if he had taken his time reading. What happens if she does context passages untimed?


I don't know if any of this applies to you, but this is what we've found. I went to some effort to make sure my older one knew how to answer science textbook questions and didn't worry about the context ones. He didn't need high SAT scores for his college and he's wired such that he won't get high ones no matter how hard he tries. The youngest could test high (not astronomically but ordinarily high). I'll probably just have him take a bunch of practice tests before each real one. I'm not sure what else to do. I'm not interested in switching our English program to one that emphasizes context questions LOL.



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Adler' s How to Read A Book http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Book-Touchstone-book/dp/0671212095

Absolutely indispensable for college bound students as test prep and prep for class readings in varied subject matter. I read this with dd over the summer and it helped her tremendously for the PSAT. It is a great investment for a lifetime of reading. I also strongly suggest taking practice tests and reviewing carefully the questions missed for things like overly broad answer, too narrow , not the correct preposition thus answer is incorrect etc They are really quite subtle differences and Adler teaches well how to skim read for many purposes. I really wish someone would have given me this book before I muddled through freshman year trying to read history or philosophy as if they were fiction books. I cannot recommend his book highly enough as we used it this summer for PSAT prep and dd was able to select the right answer many times before reading all the options due to her training with the Adler book. Practice tests of every sort are very important including Barrons study guide and the old SAT tests that you can order from the publisher or get from her school counselor if she is attending outside the home environment. Barrons' has a reputation for having tests that are every bit as challenging as the real SAT . Having used them for PSAT prep I can attest to that.

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