The Reading Comprehension Conundrum

Why is it that the SAT and ACTs feature boring content? Why is it that students can’t be tested on passages they would read with enthusiasm – passages about science fiction, fantasy worlds, sports, or other stimulating topics?

If you answered, “because students don’t require any skill to understand subjects that interest them,” then you’ve grasped the core of the reading comprehension conundrum.

There’s no denying that it takes more skill to fathom material you have no interest in, versus material you’re familiar with and fascinated by.

3 Ways Students Can Learn To Concentrate On Material That Doesn’t Necessarily Interest Them

The material students are required to read for their SAT and ACT exams may be boring. But sometimes, it is necessary for students to endure said passages to get to where they want to go.

So, how can students learn to focus on this material?

1. Identify When Your Enthusiasm For The Material Drops Off

    Prepare a variety of texts you’ve never read before. As you’re reading these passages, note when you begin to lose interest or focus. Do certain words trip you up? Are you having trouble understanding the context of the content? What is it about the piece that caused you to lose focus?

    If you can identify what you’re having trouble with, you can begin to address the issue. You can have a dictionary at the ready if you don’t understand certain words. You can gain a better understanding of the context of the material by doing a bit of background research. There are always ways of overcoming comprehension challenges.

    2. Expand Your Vocabulary

      Learning new words can be difficult, but it can also be a lot of fun. There are many great resources out there, beyond the standard dictionary. You could install a screensaver on your computer that flashes new words and their definition onscreen. You could explore the Word Power section on the Reader’s Digest website. There are so many interactive and entertaining ways to learn these days, and these methods should be taken advantage of.

      3. Read More

        According to a study conducted by the Jenkins Group in 2003 (Mental Floss):

        • One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

        • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.

        • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

        It’s surprising how little reading is encouraged today. But books contain a lot of useful information and may even hold the keys to personal growth and career advancement. Plus, the simple act of reading helps with comprehension. As you read more articles and books, you become a better reader. Students should be encouraged to read more broadly, choosing to study topics that interest them in their spare time.


        In summary, students should be encouraged to identify when they’re having trouble with a passage, expand their vocabulary, and read more. These simple steps can make a significant difference in test scores too.


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        Nailing Your ACT Essay Comes down to Facts, Not Generalizations

        There are plenty of theories around how to score high on your ACT essay.

        Some say you need to summarize the prompt.

        Others say you should focus on making your points.

        But it will prove challenging to nail it unless you understand what the ACT is looking for.

        Here are some tips on how to score high on the ACT essay.

        Understand The Prompt

        The test booklet contains a prompt for your essay. It will present to you a controversial issue as well as some background about it. You will also be introduced to three perspectives on the issue.

        Understand How You’ll Be Graded

        There are essentially three criteria your essay will be graded on.

        The first is how thoroughly you evaluate and analyze the perspectives that were introduced to you.

        Your second task is to state and develop your perspective on the issue.

        Finally, you’ll need to explain the connection between your perspective and the ones provided.

        Outline & Plan Your Essay

        The test booklet contains two pages for planning your essay.

        Planning the structure of your essay is critically important to your success. It’s important to think about how you can add additional insights to the perspectives offered, the merits and flaws of each argument, what your view on the issues is, the strengths and weaknesses of your argument, as well as how you’ll build a case for your perspective.

        Use Facts In Your Arguments, Not Generalizations

        The above are general tips designed to help you score higher on your ACT essay.

        But there is one critical truth that is perhaps more important than any other factor: facts come before generalizations. In other words, you need to prove your arguments.

        Taking a stance on the controversial issue being presented is important. But your thoughts and opinions should also be well-supported.

        The most important aspect of building a home is the foundation. If the house is built on a strong foundation, the rest almost takes care of itself. This is an analogy that can also apply to writing essays.

        What To Do & What Not To Do

        Generalizations tend not to help your arguments. Making broad, sweeping statements, such as “the wealthy are greedy,” are unfounded, at least without further evidence to build your case around.

        The best way to provide proof is by offering compelling examples that align with your perspective.

        Examples are harder to criticize than general statements. They demonstrate how someone thought and acted in a specific situation. The right or wrong of their decisions becomes irrelevant considering your citation of a case study. Someone acted the way you described, and in the mind of the reader, that leaves less room to poke holes in your argument.

        There are few constraints and limitations as to what examples you can use. You can pull relevant historical examples, instances from literature, current events, science, and even examples from your own life.

        You can recount a historical event to the best of your ability, but you can’t relate a story more vividly than the one you experienced, in some instances giving it more credibility.

        Final Thoughts

        There is so much more that could be said about nailing your ACT essay.

        But in summary, the critical thing to remember is to plan well and to think carefully about how you’re going to support your arguments. The more detail you can offer, and the more supporting evidence and proof you can provide, the better.

        This proof comes from examples. Examples can take many forms, and there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong. The goal is to offer convincing facts and not just broad, sweeping generalizations.

        Should You Retake the SAT or Not?

        You’ve taken the SAT.

        Perhaps you’re not sure whether the score reflects your best performance.

        Or, maybe you’re hoping to gain access to more opportunities with a better score.

        There can be many reasons for retaking the SAT.

        But is it something you should be considering? Here are several questions you can ask yourself to determine whether this is a step you need to take.

        Did You Take The Test On A Less-Than Ideal Occasion?

        It’s possible you prepared well for the test.

        But last-minute issues can prevent you from performing at your best when test day arrives.

        You could have been sick, you may have lost a lot of sleep the week prior, or things at home could have been a little troublesome.

        College entrance exams can be stressful enough. Adding to the student’s stress load can cause them to score worse than expected.

        Per The New York Times, distractions can cause mistakes or time lost, and studies show that even a 20- to 30-point score difference can affect admissions decisions and merit-based financial aid.

        Though you can make a formal complaint, especially if the proctor was responsible for causing the distractions, either way retaking the test is a good idea.

        Were You Well-Prepared For The Test?

        Some students can go into a test feeling confident they know the material well enough to excel.

        Then, when test day arrives, and they scan the questions, they may quickly realize they should have prepared better.

        Or, they may come to realize they were more comfortable with specific subjects over others.

        Once you have access to the test results from the first test, it’s easy to identify areas where your child could use some help.

        Retaking the test allows the student to learn from their mistakes. They can even take a class or work with a tutor to improve on their weaknesses.

        Preparation can make all the difference.

        Was Your Test Score Not What You Expected It To Be?

        You may have gone into the SAT with the best of intentions.

        But your test score may not reflect the work and effort you set forth.

        As a parent, it’s easy to become concerned for a child who you know is smart and capable but fails to score at a level that matches their intellect and work ethic.

        The College Board notes that more than 50% of the students who take the SAT a second time improve their score.

        Many factors can affect a student’s score (such as those noted above), so the second time around could be the difference maker.

        Are You Looking To Improve Your Chances Of Getting Into The College Of Your Dreams?

        You may be able to improve your chances of getting into a school you have been wait-listed for if you retake the SAT and score higher.

        This is not a guarantee by any means and improving your score does not assure you a safe passage to the college of your dreams. But in most cases, it can improve your odds.

        With school selection being an important consideration on the path ahead, retaking the SAT may be a wise choice, especially if you want to move up on the waiting list.

        Final Thoughts

        If you’ve already scored high enough to get into the school of your choice, then retaking the SAT may be a waste of time and energy.

        But in most other cases – especially situations where you didn’t do as well as expected – you can benefit a great deal from retaking the test.

        An improved score can even lead to scholarships and other benefits.

        Second chances do exist, and it when it comes to college entrance exams, it might be your ticket to a brighter future.

        9 Common Mistakes That Lead to Careless Errors on the ACT and SAT

        ACT and SAT examinations can be nerve-wracking.
        Tests like these are often a measure of how well an individual performs under pressure.

        But even when you’ve studied, and you’re well-prepared for your college entrance exam, careless errors can leave you with less than desirable results.

        Here are 9 common mistakes that can lead to careless errors:

        1. Bringing Your Mobile Device Into The Test Centre

        Even if you have no intention of using your device to cheat, if you are caught with your smartphone, you will be asked to leave, and your score will not count.
        Mobile devices are sometimes used by students to look up answers or formulas, share questions and answers with friends, and even take pictures of the test questions. It’s not hard to see why a proctor might take an issue with a mobile device at the testing site.

        2. Not Making A Few Calculated Guesses

        Sometimes students will leave questions blank. In instances where you can eliminate at least one of the answers, it’s better to take a guess than to pass up on questions.

        3. Not Studying

        It’s careless as it is silly – and yet it happens all the time. Some students will not spend any time preparing for their ACT or SAT examination. You’ll be stuck with whatever score you get, so it’s best to put your best effort forward on your test.

        4. Overthinking & Second Guessing Your Answers

        This is a common occurrence with Passage-Based Reading questions. You’ve narrowed down your selection to one of two answers, but end up overthinking and picking the wrong one.

        Or you have a related issue and lack confidence in your answers. You answer a question and move on to the next, but you never really move on. You keep thinking back to previous questions and second-guessing yourself. You lose focus on the question you should be answering.

        Each time you answer a question assume you’ve gotten it right. This allows you to move on. And most of the time you do get the answers right. Trust your preparation.

        5. Not Reading The Question

        Many students will skim questions instead of taking the time to read them over carefully. This can quickly lead to incorrect answers. Don’t be too hasty – take your time and ensure you comprehend the question before answering.

        6. Panicking & Losing Your Cool

        Indeed, you are under a bit of a time crunch with the ACT and SAT examinations. But if you panic and lose your cool, you could end up mismanaging your time and misreading questions.

        7. Not Preparing Your Materials Beforehand

        Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare your tools. You’re going to require your photo ID, admission ticket, pencils, calculator, and spare batteries. Prepare the right materials, and do it in advance of your test, preferably the night before.

        8. Failing To Understand Directions
        Familiarize yourself with the nuances of directions and rules beforehand. This can help you avoid costly and careless mistakes that may lead to undesirable results.

        9. Not Budgeting Your Time Well

        You only have so much time to answer each question. With the SAT Writing and Language section, for instance, you have 35 minutes to read multiple passages and graphs. There are 44 questions to answer, meaning you have less than a minute to answer each question.

        Final Thoughts

        The better prepared you are, the less likely you are to make careless mistakes on the day of your exam.

        The best strategy for avoiding unnecessary and costly errors is to focus on the right material and prepare well. Students feel more at ease on examination day if they think everything is in order. But if they end up having to scramble at the last minute to ready themselves, even simple tasks can sometimes feel complex, leading to careless mistakes. Don’t wait until the last minute.

        How Best to Prepare for the SAT/ACT

        You could spend a lot of time preparing for your SAT or ACT. But unless you have a study plan designed to help you get a high score, it may be all for naught. It’s not about the amount of time you spend studying – it’s about studying effectively.

        So, what is the best way to prepare for your test? Here are several options worth considering.

        Studying On Your Own

        In some cases, studying entirely on your own is perfectly okay, and can help you reach your desired score on your SAT or ACT.

        If you’re going to be studying on your own, it’s important to recognize that overwhelm can quickly set in. You’ll need to put together a realistic study plan and be motivated to follow it. You’ll also need to remain organized and disciplined as you study.

        Studying on your own is also the most cost-effective method. But it’s important to recognize that a second pair of eyes is a good thing, as others can help you with your weaknesses or point out what you might be missing.

        Working With A Tutor

        Working with a tutor is a great option, as they can help you stay motivated and focused on the material you should be working on. It’s better to have a study plan tailored to you, so you aren’t wasting time working on stuff you already know well. A tutor will work hard to keep you on track.

        One downside is that tutors can be expensive. Additionally, finding a skilled and qualified tutor will require some time and patience.

        Here are some qualities to look for in a tutor:

        They’ve taken the test, and they’ve done well on it. This is proof they know the material.

        They know how to teach the material. Just because they got a high score on the test doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach others to do the same. Hopefully, they can demonstrate proof in the form of successes they’ve had with other students.

        Their excellent reputation precedes them. Other students are willing to give them great recommendations, or they have testimonials proving their ability. When you’re looking for a tutor, if possible, get a recommendation from another student.

          Taking Classes

          SAT and ACT classes equip you with the knowledge you need to succeed on your test and are worthwhile options. These classes will provide you with a solid foundation in the test material, which can also help when you’re studying on your own.

          Not everyone learns best in a classroom setting, but if it’s where you feel most comfortable, then it might be a good fit for you.

          As with other strategies, classes do have their drawbacks too. For one, they aren’t customized to your needs. Often, students are stronger with specific materials and weaker with others. So, you could end up spending a lot of time on content you’re already comfortable with, and not enough on items you need to spend more time working on.

          Classes tend to vary significantly regarding skill level. If you’re thinking about going to prep classes, find one that caters to your needs.

          Final Thoughts

          Which prep strategy is right for you?

          This largely depends on how motivated and organized you are, as well as what settings you work best in.

          Some students feel too distracted at home to focus on their studies. Others find it difficult to learn and hard to concentrate in classroom settings.

          Your budget may also be an important factor. Whether it’s hiring a tutor or taking courses online, there are some costs associated with study unless you’re going to be studying on your own. Some options, however, are still cheaper than others.

          Take inventory of your tendencies, study habits, and resources. This will give you a good idea of which method is right for you.

          SAT or ACT ??? That is the question!

          When the format of the new SAT was announced some two years ago, a dramatic shift took place. Students who never considered taking the ACT flocked to this exam in record numbers. Many savvy pupils prematurely took the "old" SAT frightened of what was to come. Was this fear justified or just a knee-jerk reaction? After analyzing the new exam and developing strategies to combat the new format, I am convinced the fear is unjustified. Both exams are challenging, but with substantial preparation, each can be dealt with effectively.

          The two exams are closer in format than ever before. They both contain a reading comprehension section consisting of either four or five long passages followed by ten questions each. The significant difference is the time element. A student typically can allow nine minutes per passage on the ACT and thirteen minutes per passage on the SAT. ACT success depends on speed while the SAT provides a more relaxed pace. Each exam contains an "English" section in which questions on syntax, punctuation, grammar, and word choice dominate the exam. The SAT section has 44 questions and is part of the overall reading score, while the ACT has 75 questions and is scored independently. The SAT has two math sections, one without a calculator and with one. The ACT has one long math section in which the use of a calculator is permitted.

          Perhaps the most significant difference between the two exams is the Science section which is only on the ACT. Not really a test of hard science, it deals mainly with interpreting data and experiments. Many strong math students do not find this section particularly challenging. Each test has an essay as its final section, but neither is mandatory.

          One of the major advantages of each exam is "Score Choice." The student decides if he wants to send his/her score to the colleges. This eliminates the trepidation over whether a lousy test day will kill your chances for acceptance.

          My best advice- Take both exams! While most students seem to score about the same on each test, probably around 25% will do significantly better on one exam than the other. To maximize your score, you need reliable, professional preparation conducted by experts on the exam, not just people who managed to get a high score.

          We at Academic Achievement welcome your questions and comments and look forward to working with you.