SAT Tip of the Week: Know When the Author is Speaking

Welcome to AJ Tutoring’s SAT Tip of the Week blog series!  We’ll be doling out behind-the-scenes tips and tricks from veteran test-takers to get you the best SAT score possible.

Today’s tip focuses on the critical reading section of the SAT.  Critical reading is typically seen as the most difficult score to improve on the SAT.  Your critical reading score, based on vocab and reading comprehension, is for the most part resistant to quick fixes.  In order to maximize your score on reading comprehension, you must do one thing well: understand the passage author’s main argument.

The corollary to understanding the author’s main argument is understanding what is NOT the author’s argument.  Difficult reading comprehension passages often present multiple viewpoints, all delivered in the author’s voice.  It’s your job as the reader to distinguish between when the author is stating his argument and when he’s just describing the other side’s position.

Here’s an excerpt from a passage in the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide:

As a scientist, I find that only one vision of the city really gets my hackles up–the notion that a city is somehow “unnatural”, a blemish on the face of nature.

The argument goes like this: Cities remove human beings from their natural place in the world. They are a manifestation of the urge to conquer nature rather than live in harmony with it. Therefore, we should abandon both our cities and our technologies and return to an earlier, happier state of existence, one that presumably would include many fewer human beings than now inhabit our planet.

Now, it’s clear from the first paragraph that the author believes that cities are a part of nature (a viewpoint he’ll expand upon later in the passage).  But if you, the reader, are reading too quickly, you might skim the second paragraph and think that the author believes we should abandon our cities, because they are unnatural.  After all, the author affirmatively states: “Cities remove human beings from their natural place in the world.”  Many students who aren’t reading attentively come away from this passage feeling very confused — they think the author somehow believes cities are both part of nature and at odds with nature.

The careful reader, on the other hand, will note that in the second paragraph, the author is presenting the opposing side’s view, the vision of the city that gets his hackles up.  The careful reader reads slowly and methodically, and distinguishes between the author’s argument and the opposing side’s viewpoint.

You can bet that the folks who develop SAT reading comp passages are aware that students will misunderstand the second paragraph.  In fact, one of the questions in this passage directly refers to that paragraph, and it’s a question that students often get wrong.  Read carefully, and you can be one of a small number of students who get this one right!

SAT Tip #1: On tough reading comprehension passages, make sure you know when the author is speaking and when he’s presenting the other side’s argument.


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