[Document created and used with permission of Lori A. Catallozzi]

The following test-taking strategies will help you perform to the best of your abilities on the reading comprehension test and other standardized reading tests:

  1. Read the Question Before You Read the Passage.
    Always read the question before you read the passage (but never read the answer choices until after you have read the passage, as this will confuse more often than clarify the question). Knowing what the question is asking will prepare you for what you need to notice as you read the passage. You will be reading with a specific purpose in mind.
  2. Note the Key Word in the Question.
    Often a question will include a key word that identifies the kind of information you’ll need to look for. For example, if the question asks, “What does the passage emphasize?” the key word is “emphasize,” a word that signals you to identify the main idea of the passage. If the question asks, “What is the author’s purpose in this passage?” the key word is “purpose,” a word that signals you to pay attention to an author’s tone and reason for writing a passage.Beware of negative words in the question (except, not, but, least). These words signal that you are actually looking for the only answer among the choices that is not acceptable. If the question reads, “All of the following ideas are presented in the passage except. . .” the word “except” is the key word.
  3. Read the Passage and Take Notes.
    Once you’ve carefully examined the question, read the passage, making notes on your scrap paper that relate to the question. For example, if you have been asked the main idea of a passage, write down key ideas from the passage or try to summarize the passage in your own words.Reading test passages are generally short. If need be, use your scrap paper to rewrite the entire passage (and even answer choices). The very act of writing, and of seeing the words on paper rather than on a computer screen, can increase your comprehension.Pay special attention to words such as but, yet, although, since, except moreover, unless, nonetheless, however. The ideas that follow these words are usually important to the overall meaning of the passage.
  4. Use Your Own Words to Answer the Question.
    Before you look at the answer choices, use your own words to answer the question on your scrap paper. For example, if you have been asked the main idea of a passage, write down what you think the main idea is in your own words. Don’t just do this in your head, as you’re likely to be influenced by the answer choices and forget your original thought. Write it down!
  5. Read All of the Answer Choices.
    Carefully read each of the answer choices and see if any match what you have written. Even if you find a match, don’t assume you are right! Read and consider all of the choices.
  6. Learn to Spot Incorrect Answers.
    Wrong answers tend to be either:

    1. too broad: the answer may be true but covers too much, isn’t specific enough;
    2. too narrow: the answer may be true, but isn’t complete—there’s a better choice;
    3. irrelevant: the answer may be true, but is not directly related to the question;
    4. incorrect: the answer contradicts facts in the passage, or
    5. illogical: the answer is not supported by facts in the passage.
  7. Use the Process of Elimination.
    Use the process of elimination to rule out wrong answers. Since you are working from a computer screen and not a pen and paper test, write a, b, c, d on your scrap paper. Eliminate any obviously wrong answers by visibly crossing out the corresponding letter on your scrap paper. The visible act of crossing out wrong answers will save you confusion and help clear your mind, particularly if you are a visual learner.
  8. Choose an Answer and Move On.
    The computer allows you to choose one answer and confirm it. Once you confirm the answer, the computer moves on to the next question and does not allow you to go back to the previous question. It is important for you to move on psychologically as well. Dwelling on past questions may impact your ability to answer future ones.

Now let’s practice!