06/25/2013 06:37 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

How to Prep for the SAT Critical Reading Section

The SAT Critical Reading section, formerly known as the "SAT Verbal" test, features two types of questions. First, you'll be asked to complete sentences with vocabulary words that can be rather daunting. Next, you'll need to answer reading comprehension questions based on passages that are anywhere from 450-800 words. The content of the test can be intimidating, but if you use these steps to prepare for it, you'll be well on your way to your highest score:

1. Take a practice test.
There's no better way to assess where you are in your preparation than taking a practice test and then going over what questions you answered incorrectly. Look for a pattern in your wrong answers. Are the vocabulary words holding you up? Are you having trouble with those pesky "main idea" questions about the passages? Identify your weak areas so you know where to focus your efforts.

2. Beef up on your vocabulary with root/stem/suffix/prefix lists and commonly used SAT vocab flashcards.
Let's face it -- you may not know exactly what every word on the SAT means. However, you can improve your chances at getting those vocab questions right by reviewing words that frequently pop up on the SAT and by familiarizing yourself with the word parts that can clue you in to the meaning of a word. Being able to deduce a word's meaning from its parts can make the difference between scoring a 690 and breaking that coveted 700 on the SAT Critical Reading section.

3. Improve your reading endurance by, well, reading!
One of the biggest challenges for students is the length of the SAT Critical Reading test. You have to answer 67 questions in 70 minutes, all broken up by math and writing sections - that's a long time to focus! Avoid reading fatigue later on in the test by taking time to read articles of SAT-passage-section-length at least twice per day. Condition your brain to pay close attention to passages of this length by asking yourself what the main point and key facts of the article were after you've finished reading.

4. Identify what kinds of questions you have trouble with in the passage sections and discuss why the right answer is correct with a friend, tutor, or teacher.
Students often have trouble recognizing why the answer they chose is "less right" than the correct answer. Gathering other perspectives on questions that you incorrectly answered and then really understanding why another choice was better than the one you picked will help eliminate mistakes down the road. Essentially, it will train you to "think like the test."

5. Practice, practice, practice!
Put all of your work on individual questions in context by taking at least one practice test per week in the month leading up to your test date. Practice tests will bring together all of the test-taking strategies you have developed over time, and they will ensure your maximum comfort with the test so that you'll be able to perform to your highest potential on your testing day.