The Best Daily Reading Habits for Higher SAT and ACT Scores

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The ACT and SAT reading sections are infamously difficult. While they don’t require any subject knowledge (especially now that the New SAT is getting rid of the Old SAT’s challenging vocabulary requirements), they do present students with a dizzying array of unfamiliar questions under extremely strict time pressure.

Studying test-specific problems and tactics is essential for success; any student unfamiliar with the peculiarities of each exam is going to face an uphill battle on test day. However, there are certain habits outside of the tests themselves that will pay significant dividends on the SAT, the ACT, and any other reading-based quiz or test.

If you can master the following everyday reading habits, you’ll end up reading more quickly with more comprehension, and you’ll be able to more rapidly reference information that eluded you on the first go-around:

  1. Immediately summarize every paragraph that you read. Whether you’re reading a newspaper, textbook, or magazine article, get in the habit of giving a 5-10 word summary of every paragraph you read. Forcing yourself to do so will prevent you from zoning out and will push you toward the core idea of everything that you read. You should do this even when you’re reading fiction; a simple “Sarah doesn’t want Jeff to come to her party” will do the trick.
  2. Try connecting every paragraph you read to the one before it. About 70% of the problems on any given SAT or ACT critical reading section can be answered simply by obtaining a thorough understanding of the main idea. However, if you lose the “thread” of what you’re reading – even for a moment – you might end up sabotaging your own comprehension. This trick allows you to get in the habit of connecting everything you read, every time. Starting with the second paragraph of any reading material you encounter, try to tie each paragraph’s main idea to the preceding paragraph’s. In this way, you’ll start to build a much stronger chain of logic in your head, and while it might take a few more seconds to complete a passage, you’ll end up doubling your comprehension. It can be as simple as: “The first paragraph said oil is hard to come by. The second paragraph is about where you can find oil, which shows that it’s relatively rare and annoying to get, just like the first paragraph said. The third paragraph talks about the politics of oil, and how because it’s so hard to get, it causes a lot of problems between countries.” If you do this in your everyday reading, you’ll have a powerful habit that you can take directly to the SAT and ACT reading sections.
  3. After every passage, article, or chapter you read, summarize the main idea, the purpose, and the tone. If you can answer these three questions on the SAT and ACT, you’re about halfway toward a perfect score – so start working on them in your everyday reading and get a head start! The main idea is simple: just figure out how you’d summarize the entire passage or chapter in a single sentence. Purpose is a bit more complex: it’s about what the passage aims to accomplish. Is it simply to list facts and inform you? To persuade you of something? To make you laugh? To make you cry? If you figure out why an author wrote something, it’ll be very easy to figure out tone, which is about how the author is communicating. Is he or she angry? Amorous? Amused? Annoyed? Neutral? You don’t need to nail all three on your first try! The more you simply attempt to define main idea, purpose, and tone, the more easily all three will come to you, and the more quickly you’ll be able to answer the most common questions on the SAT and ACT reading sections.

If you want amazing SAT and ACT reading scores, I highly recommend spending some time with the tests themselves, working through some reading sections under realistic, timed conditions, and researching some of the best strategies and tactics. However, getting into the three habits above can make an enormous difference in your overall ability to read, understand, and digest the passages you face.

Give all three a shot right now! Grab the closest magazine or newspaper, or go to and read an article of your choosing, then try to summarize each paragraph, connect all the paragraphs in a thread, and define main idea, purpose, and tone. It won’t just raise your SAT and ACT scores – it’ll turn you into a better reader, so why not!?

Thanks for reading, and good luck with your SAT, your ACT, and beyond!


Anthony-James Green is a world-renowned SAT and ACT tutor with over 10,000 hours of experience teaching these tests, crafting curriculum, and training other tutors to teach their own students. He is the founder of Business Insider called Anthony “America’s Top SAT Tutor

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