Reading and Writing Test-Taking Tips

I came up with this list long time ago. I was looking for review materials when I noticed this old cheat sheet. I believe these strategies are still applicable. I thank all of the sources here that have helped hundreds of students prepare for standardized, diagnostics, and IQ exams a lot better.

Here are highlights from Brian Witte five years ago for the US News.

  • Understand the true meaning of guessing. Eliminate answers that are obviously wrong. To guess right, removing responses is removing the odds to boost your overall mark.
  • Learn how to address time constraints. As time winds down, “follow your immediate instinct.” Time in standardized, diagnostic, and IQ tests will always be “not enough.” But pace yourself to make sure that you could work on at least two questions in a minute.
  • Recognize chain questions.  At times, there is a number of questions that, like a chain, build off one another.  Recognizing these linked questions and answering the first question right is thus essential.  If you must guess, guess on the latter questions.
  • Develop a strategy for “lost cause” questions.  Eliminating just one possible answer raises your odds of answering correctly.  This means that it is worth your time to research why each potential answer is wrong.  Once you have eliminated these answers, pick one of the remaining options and move on.

From Jessica for Magoosh, read more. There is always a very wide range of topics so you will benefit from reading a diverse caste of articles at a fairly sophisticated level.  It isn’t enough to skim passages.  You need to start digesting what you are reading thoroughly and critically.  Discuss what you have read with your friends and family.  Reflect on the author’s meaning and main points.  This level of analysis will help you answer questions with ease on the Reading and Writing sections.

From Princeton Review, they suggest that you should know your personal order of difficulty. Questions are not arranged in order of difficulty (so that easier problems come earlier in the test than the hard ones).  Instead, it’s important to identify the questions that you find easy or hard. So slow down on the questions you personally find easy or medium difficulty so you can pick up the most points.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, she shared these three practical strategies:

  • Don’t Flip Back & Forth — Most students approach standardized tests by circling the correct answer in the test booklet, flipping to the answer sheet and bubbling in the answer, and then returning to the test booklet to tackle the next question.  This is not the most efficient approach because it wastes time and interrupts the flow of the test.  To save time and decrease interruptions, only flip to the answer sheet after you have answered an entire page of questions in your test booklet.  Answering an entire page of questions will increase your confidence to tackle the next page of questions.
  • BOSS — Build (Your) Own Simple Solution — This is the key to unlocking the Reading section. Create your own answer before looking at the answer choices.  In order to avoid peeking, cover answer choices with your hand.  BOSS solves the biggest problem associated with the reading section: selecting enticing, but incorrect answer choices.  Imagine going on a treasure hunt without knowing what the treasure looks like.  If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then it’s hard to find the right item.  Similarly, reading through answer choices without knowing what you’re looking for can make it hard to find the right answer.  BOSS is like having a picture of the treasure!
  • COP — Cross Out Prepositions — Grammar errors are almost never in prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases only distract you from grammar errors.  You can remember many prepositions by thinking of anything a squirrel can do to a log (ex. in, on, out, under, etc.).  To quickly identify writing errors, cross out prepositions.  By focusing on the simplified sentence that does not contain prepositional phrases, you will be able to identify grammatical writing errors more easily.

Lastly, from KHAN Academy, here are several tips they shared when students are to take the SAT Reading Test.

  • Look into what the questions are asking.  Questions are divided into two broad types: (1) Expression of Ideas – questions will ask you to improve the effectiveness of communication in a piece of writing; and (2) Standard English Conventions – questions will ask you to make sentences consistent with standard written English grammar, usage, punctuation and other conventions/rule.
  • Not too haphazardly.  Many of the test questions rely on the context of the passage, so you may have to read more than the sentence that corresponds to the question to choose the best answer.  When there are no additional directions or questions, assume that you have to choose the option that is most effective or correct.  Some passages include one or more tables, graphs, or charts that relate to the topic of the passage.  A graphic may provide additional support for a point made in the passage.  Questions may ask you to use information from the graphic(s) to correct an error in the passage.
  • Author’s purpose.  As you read the passage, be on the lookout for the ways by which the author attempts to influence the audience, sometimes by using something other than a strictly logical, rational approach.  Your analysis of the author’s use of stylistic and persuasive elements can follow a number of paths: (1) point out instances in which the author uses such devices and evaluate their role or their effectiveness in convincing an audience to action; and (2) analyze and evaluate the varying extent to which logic and emotion contribute to the persuasiveness of the text.
  • BLANKS. Bring your word to the blank. Locate a context clue. Assign a positive or negative value to the blank. Never sniff around the answer choices. Keep level-headed. Say the sentence to yourself to ensure that it makes sense.
  • 4Ps. Paraphrase as you read. Predict the answer.  PET the answer choices. (Process of Elimination Technique) Pick the best answer. (Never settle for the second best.)
  • READING. Read longer passages piece by piece. Extract the main idea from each chunk. Answer line-reference and sidebar questions first. Delve into higher-order thinking questions. (Read between the lines. Take note of phrases: infer, suggest, implies, it can be concluded that, it seems that, most closely means, and the like) Identify the author’s tone and mood as you read. Narrow in on the best answer choice. Global questions should be answered at the very end. (These are questions that focus on the overall idea of the whole passage.
  • Other strategies include these (1) Cross off the entire answer choice to eliminate verbal clutter. (2) Underline keywords and phrases. (3) Consider all choices. Never leave a stone unturned. (4) Answers are always supported by context clues and other supporting details. (5) Skim questions. Mark line-reference, sidebar, and global questions.

Here are frequent exam words that appear on different sources when you search for vocabulary words to focus on.


Another huge factor in these exams is familiarity to questions given. At times, items included are culturally and experientially close to your scholastic background and interests. These items would appear easier to tackle. Your level of knowing them will surely boost your confidence. Still, nothing would hurt you if you continue praying that test items will appear close to who you are as a learner and continue taking practice tests so your brain gets used to the overall pacing and thinking processes involved in answering different types of questions.

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