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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        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 totally unjustified. Both exams are difficult, but with solid preparation each can be dealt with effectively.

        The two exams are actually 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 major 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 allows for 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 calculator and one with. The ACT has one long math section in which the use of a calculator is permitted.

        Perhaps the biggest difference between the two exams is the Science section which is only on 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 bad 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. In order to maximize your score, you need solid, 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.