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The Most Important SAT Critical Reading Tip

by Jeff Bergman

in Tutorials

The biggest thing you can do to improve your SAT Critical Reading score is to focus on the main idea of the passage.

If you can really get this concept and apply it when you’re taking the SAT, your score on the Critical Reading section will increase dramatically. In fact, if you combine this one tip with my Sentence Completion method, your Critical Reading score will go up by 50 to 100 points.

Here’s why.

If you’re having trouble with the critical reading passages, you’re probably getting stuck on the details and missing the main idea of the passage.

Sometimes when you read a passage, you may get confused by certain words, sentences, or even whole paragraphs. You might be tempted to re-read those parts until you understand exactly what they mean. Don’t do it, it’s a waste of valuable time.


Most of what’s confusing you is details, but not all of the details will be referred to in the questions.

If they don’t ask you about them, you don’t have to know them. That’s why it’s important that you don’t get caught up in the details as you read.

Which details do you have to know? The SAT will tell you. Any question that asks about specific details from the passage will refer you back to specific lines. When that happens, you do need to go back and re-read lines, and usually a little bit before and after as well.

While you don’t need to know all the details, you must know the main idea, which for our purposes includes the author’s opinion on the topic if his opinion is clear.

Most of the questions, even if they’re about specific details, relate back to the main idea in some way. That’s why once you know the main idea, almost all of the questions get a lot easier.

I’ll show you how that works in a moment. First we have to look at our second tip.

In the Critical Reading section of the SAT, unlike in the Math section, you’re not looking for an exactly right answer. You have to look for the best possible answer among the choices they give you.

Sometimes you’ll be doing a question and think to yourself, none of these answers seem right to me. I know. Sometimes none of them seem right to me, either.

Sometimes none of the answers will be the same as how you would answer if you could write anything you want. That’s OK. One of the answers will still be better than all the rest.

All of the wrong answers have something about them that make them wrong. Students who do really well on this section know this. They use the process of elimination to eliminate the answers that are clearly wrong, then pick the best remaining answer.

The good news is that in almost every question, 3 of the answers will obviously be wrong, and you’ll be able to cross them out right away.

In fact, when using the process of elimination, after you’re done crossing off the answers that are obviously wrong, if you’re not sure which of the remaining answers is the best choice, pick pick the one that most closely reflects the main idea of the passage.

Let’s see how this works for the second long critical reading passage in Section 7 of the Official SAT Practice Test for 2009 – 2010. It’s the passage that begins, “Ridiculing television, and warning about its inherent evils, is nothing new.”

Download it now and follow along with me.

The main idea of that passage, and the authors opinion, can be simply stated as:

“The idea that TV is evil and dangerous is not new. In fact, going all the way back to Plato, the primary means of artistic expression have always been attacked like TV is today. I think that people who do that are wrong.”

If you thought the main idea was anything along those lines, you probably did pretty well. Here’s how knowing the main idea applies to the questions.

Question 16: If you know that the passage is about criticizing TV, you know that B, D, and E are wrong. If you know that the author himself is not criticizing TV, you know that A is wrong, and the answer is C.

Question 17: The lines they refer to say, “television has been blamed for corrupting our youth,” and is a, “big, perhaps dangerous, waste of time.” Notice that this detail is just an expression of the main idea of the passage. This question is easy. The least bad television show is D, which is the correct answer.

Question 18: This type of question is asking you about what a word means in the context of the passage. The main idea won’t help you on a question like this. Just plug the answer choices into the sentence in place of the word “drawn” and you’ll see that the correct answer is D.

Question 19: Plato thought those stories, and their heroes, were bad, in the same way some people today think that TV is bad, so you know that A and B are wrong. Since Plato felt very strongly about that, the answer is E.

Question 20: If you realize that the “academic” mentioned in this question disagrees with Plato (and agrees with the author), you know that A, B, and D are wrong. If you noticed that he called Plato an “elitist”, you know the correct answer is E.

Question 21: This question is about the same lines you read for the previous question. The author is building up his argument that Plato was wrong, so the answer is A.

Question 22: Remembering the main idea, the correct answer is D.

Question 23: The author disagrees with Plato, so A, C, and D are wrong. Plato was a Greek philosopher, so E is wrong. The correct answer is B.

Question 24: Again, remembering the main idea, the correct answer has to be E.

Get how this works?

Knowing the main idea and using the process of elimination is like having super powers.

I picked this passage to show you this concept because it’s particularly clear. In some other passages, it’s not quite this easy to apply the main idea to each of the questions. For all passages, though, knowing the main idea is the key.

Let me add a few additional steps that will help you do your best on the reading passages, and put it all together in order.

  1. Read the part in italics before the passage.
  2. Always read the passage before answering the questions.
  3. Read for the main idea and the author’s opinion, not the details.
  4. If a question refers to specific line numbers, always go back and re-read those lines. It usually helps to read a little bit before and after those lines, as well.
  5. For most questions, when you’ve eliminated the answers that are obviously wrong, if you’re having trouble deciding which of the remaining answers is right, pick the one that is closest to the main idea of the passage.
  6. As long as you’re not rushing, always go with your gut on this section of the test.

That’s it. Practice this a few times until you get the hang of it. Then watch your Critical Reading score shoot way up.

Try it and let me know how it works.

If you want a more great tips and a full SAT study guide that will help you raise your SAT score fast, check out my ebook.

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{ 165 comments… read them below or add one }

Shaurya September 21, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Hi Jeff!
I’m planning onto giving the SAT in December. I am having great difficulty in understanding the long as well as short comprehension passages. Almost all of my answers are wrong in the RC part. It weighs down to the score to a low of 1650-1700. I really need to get a good score at the first go only. As for maths, the score averages around 570-600. It would be great if you could help in improving upon the following.


Jeff Bergman September 24, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Hi Shaurya,
Everything I teach requires you to be able to read and understand these passages to at least an average level. For example, in the passage that I talk about in this blog post, you have to be able to read it and at least understand that the author says that people who criticize TV as evil and dangerous are wrong, and that people have always criticized what the author calls the “dominant medium of the moment”, whether that was TV, radio, film, poetry, drama, etc., going all the way back to the time of Plato, and that the author thinks that those people who do that have always been wrong.

If you can read that passage and come away with something along the lines of what I’ve just said, then you can understand it well enough to do pretty well on the questions, if you practice the techniques I teach in this post and in the video course. However, if you read that passage and didn’t get that that was what the author was saying, then you have to spend some time getting better at reading the kind material that you’re likely to find on the SAT.

If that’s your situation, then my best suggestion is to find someone who can read with you and help you increase your English reading comprehension. Do that for the next six weeks, and then come back to practicing specifically for the test and see how it goes for you.

I hope that helps!


Vlad September 21, 2014 at 9:28 am

Hi Jeff!

Thank you for your great tutorials. Helped me dramatically. I scored in low 600s. Now I am between 700-800 (once hit 800 on a test from BB). But, I have a problem with timeing. I need like 5 more mins to finish most of CR sections. here are the reasons why it happen: 1. I spend too much time on initial reading for main point. 2. Sometimes have troubles with understanding detailed questions so stick too long contemplating . 3. Very rarely have troubles with summarazing.

What would be your advice on how to read faster? find idea more efficiently and be more focused? I feel that I can score 800 on the real test; however several minor flaws set me back from that feat.

Thank you in advance.

Btw, I am an international student (non native speaker), but I’ve spent about a year prepping. I have my test in October. And I definitely need 2250+


Jeff Bergman September 24, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Hey Vlad,
You’re welcome, and thanks for the kind words. I’m glad I was able to help.

The question of how to read faster is an important one that many people are working on.

My experience is that most people can read a little bit faster than they’re comfortable with and still retain most of their understanding. You have to practice this, and you have to trust yourself and your abilities. If you keep in mind that the most important thing to come away with is the main idea of the passage (and you might think of this as finding the main point of each paragraph), and that you’ll have to return to the passage and reread the line references anyway, you’ll realize that you can speed up a little bit by not needing to understand every single word or phrase, or even every single sentence the first time through the passage.

When you encounter a phrase or sentence that you don’t quite understand, ask yourself if it’s new information or if it’s meant to be supporting details for a point the author has already made. If it’s supporting details for a point you already know, then simply note that and skim through it, not worrying about understanding it exactly unless you get a question that references those lines. If it’s new information, then say to yourself, I know this is new, and I don’t quite understand it yet, but I know that the author will give give some supporting details and if I get the gist of those details, then I’ll understand this sentence, too.

Remember above all that not all of the details will be asked about in the questions, so don’t worry about understanding all of them exactly the first time you read the passage. If you have to understand them the questions will direct you back to those line numbers and you can reread them then.

Trust and practice, and you should be fine.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Best regards,


Abdullah September 18, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Hey Jeff.
I just visited this page and found it pretty intresting. However, I do everything as you have said above. There are a few extra suggestions I recieved from Barron’s.
So I just wanted to ask you if it is wise to use these tricks:
1) Before reading the passage, check the line numbers in line reference questions and mark them. (This hardly takes 30 seconds)
2) Skip short passages if you’re a slow reader.

I am pretty doubtful if the second tip is worth applying. (I am a slow reader though)
I wanted your opinion. Should I skip the short ones?

Btw, I am pretty good in math (780+) and writing (680+) but find critical reading arduous.
I am stuck at 580 and trust me, I have done more than 11 full length tests but never seem to get a score more than 600. I am giving my first ever SAT on october 11 and really need to get more than 600 or the university I wanted to go to will reject me.
And I have even heard people say that on the real test, everyone gets a lower score because of the time pressure, it gets hard to focus on the passage. Is this true?
I think I will have only one shot for the SAT as I will be busy preparing for the Subject SAT later on.

So the problems I face are:
1) I am a slow reader (I find americans lucky because they are able to read quickly with understanding)
2) I face the two choices problem almost all the time. This is a huge reason for my score drop.
3) Because I time all of my tests, I usually dont read the actual meaning of the question.
4) On almost every line reference question, I return to the passage and reread. (Although this helps me spot the right answer, it consumes a lot of time)
5) I take a LOT of time in paired passages. (like 17 minutes).

Just to let you know, I’m perfectly okay with the sentence completion questions. (I have learnt 3400 words from Barron’s 3500 word list)
Is it possible to improve from like 560 to 620 in Critical Reading in just 20 days?

Sorry about the plethora of questions.


Jeff Bergman September 19, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Hi Abdullah,
These are great questions. First of all, it’s very possible to improve your CR score from 560 to 620 in 20 days. Keep working at it, and if getting 600+ on the CR is make or break for getting into the university of your choice, make this your most important priority for the next 3 weeks.

Here’s the most important thing. Only practice with official College Board material. Hopefully you’re already doing this. There are 3 main sources for this material. The first is the “Official SAT Study Guide” by the College Board. That has 10 practice tests. Then there’s the College Board’s online course, which has an additional 10 practice tests. You can also go to and search for “official sat practice test” and click on the documents tab. Only by working with official material can you trust your results when you practice.

Ok, now to address the Barron’s tricks…

1) If checking the line numbers in the questions and marking them in the passage takes only 30 seconds, try it and see how it works for you. If it helps you and makes you feel more comfortable, then you should certainly do it.
2) This is a very interesting question. Don’t skip the short passages simply because you’re a slow reader. Check your results on the short passages vs your results on the long passages. If you’re getting a lower percentage of short passage questions correct than long passage questions and you need to find some extra time, then it might make sense to skip the short passages.

The important thing you want to focus on here is that there are probably a few questions that take you longer to answer than most of the others, and most likely you’re getting a greater percentage of those questions wrong. What you really want to do is learn to recognize those questions as quickly as possible and skipping them and only going back to them if you have time left at the end of the section.

For example, take a typical CR section with 24 questions and 25 minutes to complete it. Let’s say there are 2 questions in a section that together take you 4 minutes to answer, and you get them wrong anyway. And let’s say that when time expires for that section, there are 4 questions that you didn’t have time to answer. And let’s say that you answered the other 18 questions correctly. Your raw score for that section would be 17.5, because you’d get 1 point for each of the 18 correctly answered questions, and lose .25 points for each of the 2 incorrect answers.

Now let’s say you skipped those 2 questions, and with the time you saved were able to answer those 4 questions that you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to. And let’s say that you got 3 of those 4 questions correct. Your raw score would now be 20.75, because you’d have answered 21 questions correctly and 1 question incorrectly.

I hope that makes sense. It’s just a hypothetical situation, but it shows you how important it is give yourself a chance to answer as many questions as possible that you know you can get right and not be as concerned with the questions that give you more trouble. Trust me, this can make a huge difference in your score.

And your questions…

1) Most people can read a little bit faster than they’re comfortable with and still retain most of their understanding. You have to practice this. If you keep in mind that the most important thing to come away with is the main idea of the passage (and you might think of this as finding the main point of each paragraph), and that you’ll have to return to the passage and reread the line references anyway, you’ll realize that you can speed up a little by not needing to understand every single word or phrase, or even every single sentence.

2) Do you mean that you can almost always cross off 3 answers but have trouble deciding between which of the 2 remaining choices is best? Remember that you’re looking for which one of those 2 is the best answer, rather than looking for an answer that’s exactly right. There will always be something about one of the answers that makes it the better choice, or something that makes it the worse choice. And for approximately 80% of the questions, the better choice will be the one that’s more in keeping with the main idea of the passage.

3) You have to read the actual meaning of the question. For the next week, don’t try to finish in the time allowed. Just notice how long it does take you to finish, practice what I wrote earlier about learning to spot the questions that take you longer than the others, and keep track of which questions you answered after the allowed time expired. Then you’ll learn how to fine tune your timing to answer more questions that you’re more likely to get right.

4) You have to reread them. But that’s why you can let yourself read a little faster the first time through.

5) The main idea is even more important in the paired passages, because there are even more questions that rely on the main idea, or point of view, or the author of each passage. Focus on that, and see if that allows you to speed up by not worrying so much about the details.

Try this and let me know how it goes. And good luck, Abdullah!



Elen September 10, 2014 at 4:17 am

Hello, I am Elen.
I am an international student and plan to take SAT in December. I am improving my math skills and think it will be ok. Also I’ve read essay examples and in my opinion I just need to practice more.
Sentence completing is really hard for me, because I’ve never seen that ridiculous words. What can I do to fix it?
Reading is also bad. I understand English well, but I am not being able to understand normally during writing test.
Please advise me what I need for doing well and provide any useful resources.
Thanks a lot !


Jeff Bergman September 16, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Hi Elen,
I agree with you, some of the words on the sentence completions are ridiculous! Nobody would say some of them, and hardly anybody would write some of them. I have 2 blog posts about the sentence completions that show you how to make the most of the english vocabulary that you know. That link is in some of the other comments so you can scroll down and look for it, or look through the tutorial section of the blog. If you want to truly maximize your score, you’ll have to learn more english vocabulary. There are plenty of online resources for this, the best one might be Spark Notes. I have the link to their list in some other comments too.

For the reading, you just have to practice. Read this post several times and follow along until you understand the principles I’m sharing with you. Essentially, what I’m saying is that if you have the basic main idea of the passage, you can do pretty well, even if there are words, phrases, and whole sentences you don’t understand. Keep practicing and you’ll get better at it. You can also sign up for a free video mini course that I’ve created for you. Here’s the link for that:

Good luck! And let me know how it’s going for you.


Tarek September 9, 2014 at 7:18 am

Hi jeff,
I am good in math and in writing…In critical reading I do know how to deal with passages…so please tell me!!!


Jeff Bergman September 16, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Hi Tarek,
I tell you in this post! Read it and try to apply it, and then ask me specific questions if you have them!


Shivansh September 8, 2014 at 12:27 am

Hi Jeff,
I’m an International Student(from India) and am appearing for the SAT in october….
My math score is perfect, writing is around 750, but.. CR score is stagnant around 650-700 and is not improving… I really suck at long passages(both paired and Unpaired) particularly at tone, mood and attitude questions.. also i’m taking 2-3 min more in CR section in each practice test;
please suggest how can I increase my CR score …..


Jeff Bergman September 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi Shivansh,

For the tone, mood and attitude questions, you have to decide how positively or negatively the author feels about the topic (or whatever the question is asking about). I’d draw a picture for you if I could, so try to picture in your mind what I’m about to say, or even draw it on paper. Picture a spectrum running from negative to positive, with a line down the middle that means neutral. Now draw a line on the spectrum that shows where you think the author’s feelings about the topic lie. You don’t have to be exact. You want to decide on one of these 5 areas: Very negative, more negative than neutral, right in the middle (where the author is just reporting information), more positive than neutral, and very positive. Then pick the answer choice that corresponds to where you drew the line.

The 2 – 3 minutes is pretty easy to fix. First of all, see if there’s one or two questions that are taking you longer than the others, and that you usually get wrong. If so, learn to spot these questions and skip them until you’ve answered all of the other questions in the section. If you’re not getting to a couple of questions that you’d get wrong anyway, your problem is solved. The next place to look to save a little time is whether you know the correct answer to a question before you’re willing to commit to it. This is pretty common. If it’s true for you, practice committing to your choice sooner, and track your results. The last place to look to save a little time is whether you can read slightly faster and still retain the information you need to know.

Try these things and let me know how they work for you. And good luck! I have a strong feeling that you’re going to do very well.



Salman September 1, 2014 at 8:34 am

I will give my SAT in december,so I have time. I took some practice tests and I am scoring around 1600 but I want it to be at least 2100.for maths I am scoring 700 plus and I know I can get 800 by overcoming silly mistakes but the problem comes in CR and writing, I am scoring around 450-500 in that. I figured out that I need to work on my vocabulary alot. So how should I do that?from where?I have alot of pressure of my studies so I cant give more than one hour to SAT practice daily. So actually I dont have alot of time for reading things. I hear people learning words daily. I googled it and there are so many websites for vocab words but which one should I pick? I will really appreciate if you help me.


Jeff Bergman September 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Hi Salman,
For the next month, divide your hour of study between reading the passages (don’t answer the questions for the first month, just get used to reading them), and learning vocabulary. I recommend Barron’s SAT Vocabulary Flashcards to all of my private students. There are probably a lot of good vocab lists on line, but you should probably start with Sparknotes. Just google SAT vocabulary and you’ll see their link on the first page.

Write back in a month and I’ll tell you what to do next.



Abinash Bharti September 1, 2014 at 12:37 am

Hi Jeff,
I have given my all to the Passage and I am doing fine eliminating three answer choices. But I am not able to select between the two. Help me, I want to score above 750 in CR.


Jeff Bergman September 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Hi Abinash,

If you can eliminate three answer choices, ask yourself which of the two remaining choices is more in line with the main idea of the passage. This will lead to the correct answer about 80% of the time. There are a few questions where that won’t work, but it should be pretty clear which ones they are.

Also, go with your gut and don’t second guess yourself. When you practice, keep track of these questions and note what percentage you’re getting right. It’s probably pretty high.

Feel free to write back with specific examples and I’ll see if I can help you with them.


Bikalpa August 26, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Hello Jeff,
First of all I would like to say that your strategies are really helpful. Thank you for sharing it.
I have been practicing SAT for three months now and completed up to twenty five full length sets. But i seem to be stuck at 550 on CR, 750 on maths and 650 on the writing.
On the CR section I get up to 70% of the sentence completion question right and most of the passage question right( that is most of the question that I could finish and when I understand the passage and know the main idea). I know how to attack the questions, which I learnt from many SAT guide, but my problem is that I can’t finish the all of the question on time and most of the time because the passage seems to be difficult. So how can I raise my CR scores to 700 (and in about six weeks if possible)?
Similarly, on the maths section I make common errors. How can I reduce these errors?
Thank you.


Jeff Bergman August 29, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Hi Bikalpa,
If you’re having trouble finishing the section, make sure you’re quickly skipping the questions that seem harder to you and that you feel will take you longer than usual. It might take a little practice to recognize which questions these are for you, but you’ll be able to identify them pretty soon. You want to skip them until you’ve gotten a chance to do all the other questions in the section that are easier for you. In other words, you don’t want to spend a lot of time on a question that you’ll get wrong and not be able to get to a question at the end that you can get right.

The next thing you should try is to begin to notice whether you identify the right answer earlier than you’re willing to bubble it in and stick with it. Once you think you know the right answer, don’t over think the question. Another way to say this is to think about the question only as much as necessary, but not more. That might sound a little strange, but it’s good advice. For example, if you’ve crossed off three answer choices and have two choices left, ask yourself which of the remaining choices is better and just pick that one. Don’t spend time thinking about which answer choice is exactly right.

After that, see if you can read a little faster than you feel comfortable with. You’ll have to experiment with this, because if you read it too fast you’ll do worse. But we often can read a little bit faster than we usually do and still understand what we’re reading.

The last thing is to practice getting better at reading English and learning English vocabulary.

Your question about the math section is a great one. I share what to do about it in these posts:

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


erika August 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Thanks a lot…but I find it really difficult to identify the main idea. And I also loose focus most times. Pls how can I correct this?


Jeff Bergman August 29, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Hi Erika,
First try to pick up the main idea naturally by asking yourself, “What’s this passage about?” That’s really all you need to get started. You should be able to say what the passage is about in somewhere between 1 and 4 sentences. If you’re still having trouble, go paragraph by paragraph. Ask, what’s happening in this paragraph? Sum it up in a sentence. Go on to the next paragraph and do the same thing, and so on. That will help you a lot.

Now about losing focus…

I don’t really have anything special to tell you. You just have to keep practicing. Think of focus like a muscle that has to be exercised to be strong.


Saad August 18, 2014 at 12:41 am

Hello Jeff,
I gave SAT in January, 2014 by working hard for three weeks and got 1270. Now I am planning to give it another try in December so I’ve got like WHOLE 3 MONTHS! But the problem is that I am not understanding large paragraphs like I am unable to sum it up, so please help me on this because I want to get a total score of 2200+ and I think everything is possible. I am learning 5 words a day and working hard for almost 5-6 hours daily. Please give me some suggestions. (I am from Pakistan and don’t have many opportunities so I am studying all by myself like I did for the previous SAT).


Jeff Bergman August 19, 2014 at 10:57 am

Hi Saad,
I love that you said, “I think everything is possible.” Spend most of your time getting better at reading English. Read a lot. When you read a word you don’t know and can’t figure out from the context, look it up. Spend 3/4 of your time reading nonfiction and 1/4 of your time reading fiction, because that’s roughly the proportion you’ll find on the SAT.

Also, practice understanding large paragraphs and summing them up in your language. There are plenty of Americans who have trouble with this on the SAT, so it’s not only a matter of being able to read English. You have to learn this skill, and if you can realize that it’s the same skill in your language as it is in English, it might make it easier for you to do in English and on the SAT.

If you have trouble with that, you might Google “How to find the main idea” and read some of the results. Do some of the practice examples if they give any. And if you’re signed up for my email list, you’ll be getting some videos that will help you with that.

Lastly, spend some time each day with official SAT practice tests. Go to and search for “official practice sat”, then click on “Documents”. You’ll find a lot of them that way. Even if you just read the passages and don’t even bother with the questions at first, it will get you used to reading that material.

I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes. And good luck!


Saad August 20, 2014 at 12:35 am

Thank you so much Jeff! :)


John August 11, 2014 at 11:11 am

Thanks for the help! I’ll try using these strategies. I really need to improve my reading score quickly. I scored a 790 in math but I can’t seem to get above a 620 in reading. I really hope to get a 700 in reading when I take the SAT again.


Jeff Bergman August 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Hey John,
Good luck with your goal of 700. The method I teach in this post is the absolute most important thing in the CR section, and the method I teach in the Sentence Completion tutorials is the absolute best way to maximize your vocabulary for those questions (you should also get some SAT vocabulary flashcards and learn more words, too.)

I have both a free video mini course and a full length video course that you can purchase that teaches these concepts in greater depth, and with more examples of how it works. If you learn well from videos, this course will help you a lot. You can check it out here:
Free mini course:
Full length course:



Mia Y. August 4, 2014 at 7:33 am

Hey Jeff,

First of all, thank you for the great guide. I am taking the SAT in about three months. My writing and math is okay (writing 790 math 780) but I am currently finding CR section most challenging and ‘unstable’ section in the SAT. I am currently in the high 600s and low 700s zone. There seems to be always those two or three questions that I would get wrong each section? How can I improve my score?

Thank you so much.


Jeff Bergman August 5, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Hey Mia,
You’re welcome. I’m glad it helped you. What kind of questions are you getting wrong? Are they always different types of questions, or do the same sort of things give you trouble each time? Also, if you can give me examples, I could probably help you even more.
Keep up the good work. You’re doing great!


Meet July 28, 2014 at 8:25 pm

hi jeff, I just came from india before 1 year. I gave my sat in june and I got 350 on critical reading. I at least want to get 600 but i did not understand the paragraphs properly. I don’t know what to do. Can u please help me with critical reading sections? PLEASE PLEASE!!!!!!


Jeff Bergman July 31, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Hi Meet,
There’s 2 things you need in order to do well on critical reading. The first is that you have to be able to read English reasonably well. Personally, I can’t read any other languages too well, so I wouldn’t be able to take a test like the SAT in a language other than English and do well. I have a lot of respect for you and everyone who does it. You have to figure out if you read it well enough to get the score you’re looking for. You have to read a lot and look up vocabulary that you don’t know, and find someone to help you understand what you read if you need help with that.

The thing about the SAT that can make it really though is that even if you read English well enough to get a good CR score, you have to understand what the SAT is really looking for and learn how to use your skill and ability on the CR section to get the best score possible.

The most important things to learn are the stuff I teach in this post about identifying the main idea and using it to answer the questions, and the stuff I teach in the sentence completion posts about how to analyze the sentences and make educated guesses to make the most of your vocabulary.

I have an ebook, an online video course, and some free videos too that can help you with that. And if you’re really serious about raising your score, nothing will help you as much as one on one tutoring. I might be able to help you with that, too.

Anyway, if you’re on my email list you’ll be getting more information about that stuff, including links to the free videos. And you should feel free to email me directly if you’re interested in some personal, one on one help.

The most important thing is to keep at this, and I’m sure you’ll get the improvement you deserve!


Asal July 19, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Hi Jeff:
I just came to US 8 months ago and I’m pretty new to here and also to the language. I have lots of problems with reading portion of the SAT and since I’m going to be a junior next year I don’t have much time. I did the practice test this summer and I got 300 for the reading and I want it to reach 500 for the next one that I’m going to take it in the October. I have read lots of articles and I’ve gone to SAT prep course bur that didn’t make any difference. I’m so worried about that. Can you tell me what am I suppose to do?


Jeff Bergman July 21, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Hi Asal,
You write pretty well for being pretty new to English. That’s a good sign that you’ll get a good score on the reading section by the time you send in your college applications. You said that you don’t have much time, and it’s true that you’ll be taking the PSAT in October, but remember that you don’t have to have your final SAT score for college until the fall of next year.

The first thing you have to do is honestly assess how well you read English, and whether you read it well enough to get the score you’re looking for. Especially coming from a country where English isn’t the native language, part of getting better at SAT Critical Reading is reading a lot, looking up the vocabulary you don’t know, and finding someone to help you with how well you understand what you’re reading. I have a lot of respect for everyone whose first language is not English who takes the SAT. I couldn’t take a test like that in a different language.

Anyway, the first part of the process is being able to read English at least pretty well, and continuing to read and increase your English vocabulary. The second part of the process is being able to use that ability on the CR section to get the best score possible. The most important things to learn are the stuff I teach in this post about identifying the main idea and using it to answer the questions, and the stuff I teach in the sentence completion posts about how to analyze the sentences and make educated guesses to make the most of your vocabulary. If you’ve signed up for my email list, you’ll be getting some videos soon that will help you with all of that.

Also, I’m going to send you an email to the email address you gave with this comment with some exercises that I’ll personally help you with to see how well you’re able to understand the main idea of these passages and to improve that understanding if you need help.

Keep working at this. I think you’re going to end up doing quite well.



Patrick Liu July 5, 2014 at 2:32 am

Hey Jeff,

My name is Pyae Sone Aung, but my friends call me Patrick. I am a student from Myanmar (Burma) who is looking to pursue an undergraduate degree in US. I was accepted into a couple of US universities for this fall term but I decided to stay a year back because I believe I can get into a better liberal arts college the coming year. I intend to major in Civil Engineering. So far, I have taken SAT I a couple of times and I scored 700 on my Math and Writing section. However, my highest Critical Reading score is 580. I have read your blog posts on how to tackle sentence completion sections and paragraph readings and I appreciate you for the invaluable ideas you’ve shared with us.

I am writing this email/message to seek your advice on how to enjoy reading for fun. Or, let’s just say, what to look for when reading a novel. It sounds preposterous to ask someone how to enjoy reading but truth to be told, I am not an avid reader. I am merely developing a habit to “like” reading, first with the intention of getting a great score on CR, but now to be a knowledgeable student. You strike me as a jack of many trades and I am sure your help would give me some insights to read meaningfully in life. May I know what you think is key to getting a near perfect grasp of difficult readings? How do I get accustomed to the varying sentence structures and abstract ideas, if any are entertained, in the readings?

I understand that sticking to the main idea and not getting distracted with the details are what you’ve suggested. But you, or any strong reader wouldn’t need to comprise the details over getting a better grasp on the main idea. So, in a nut shell, what I am requesting is your advice on how to become a really strong reader and thinker. SAT reading is merely a test. And I want to be a good reader for more than a test. The thing is, I was brought up in an environment way different that yours or that of anyone who come from an English speaking country . English is my second language. My parents aren’t good in English either. Also, Myanmar has only recently been free from the military dictatorship that has left the country isolated for more than five decades. It is not surprising that I was not taught to enjoy reading in English from an early age. That said, I would love if you could recommend me some of your favorite novels and authors. I look forward to conversing with you further about reading or of any topic of interest.

From a fast changing Yangon,
Patrick Liu
P.S. Call me crazy, but I just read about you and your career as a voice actor. People here, including me, are not so much exposed to the American movie industry. However, I do know Bugs Bunny and trust me, you are one hell of a character.


Jeff Bergman July 7, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Hey Patrick,
Thank you. I really appreciate your note. Also, you write very well. If you didn’t say that English is your second language, I wouldn’t have known.

You ask some great questions. First of all, let me say that I might not be the best person to ask about reading fiction. There are so many works of fiction in the world that if you’re reading for pleasure, my primary advice is to pick a book that you think you might like and be completely willing to stop reading it and move on to a different book if you don’t like it. That’s because there are so many stories and themes and writing styles and it’s largely a matter of personal preference for each person. Sometimes if I don’t like the first 20 pages or so I’ll skip to page 50 or 100 and read another 10 or 15 pages to see if I like that better, and then if I do I’ll go back to the beginning and start again. I have no idea why that works, but sometimes it does. The other important thing I can share with you for reading fiction is to consciously imagine what the author is saying. We all do this unconsciously when we like a book and can understand it pretty well, but when a book is challenging for you, consciously imagining it can make it easier to understand.

You might think of it as a picture that’s gradually coming into focus. At first maybe you can only make out the most obvious details, but as you get used to it and it becomes clearer, you’ll find that the more details you can see, the faster you’ll be able to see others because everything has to fit into a coherent picture. I hope that makes sense.

My favorite novels of all time are two that I first read in high school: “Catcher in the Rye” by Salinger, and “The Great Gatsby” by Fitzgerald. Two of my more recent favorites are “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, and “Girl with Curious Hair” by David Foster Wallace (this one is a collection of short stories).

Because this is an SAT blog, I have to remind everyone who reads this that 3/4 of the reading passages on the SAT are non-fiction, so if your main goal at the moment is to raise your Critical Reading score, you should spend 3/4 of your time reading non-fiction.

Last, I have to let everyone know that I’m not Jeff Bergman the voice actor. It’s a pretty common name in the US. I wish I was the voice of Bugs Bunny though. That would be awesome!


karim July 2, 2014 at 8:46 am

i have a problem with the critical reading section , i can’t finish it on time , and i can’t reach the main idea that the writer is talking about , so i selected answers randomly in june test and i get a bad score (390) , what do you think i should do to improve my skills , i did what you have written in that post but i still have the same problem


Jeff Bergman July 3, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Hi Karim,
The first thing you should do is not select answers randomly. I can’t stress this enough. Get in the habit of only answering questions when you can cross off 3 answer choices with reasonable confidence that they’re not the correct answer.*

Next, I have a question for you. Are you a native English speaker? If not, honestly ask yourself how well you understand written English. Looking at the how you’ve written your comment, you understand it pretty well, but if you think you have room for improvement in that area, find a tutor or class in your area and get a little help there.

The next thing you should do is to practice reading a lot. Don’t even worry about answering questions yet. There are a ton of official practice SATs on You should read several long passages every day, and practice outlining the author’s argument. For each paragraph, write a sentence about what the author is trying to say. When you’ve done that for each paragraph, you should have a good idea about the main idea, what the passage is about. You can also do this for op-eds in a well written English language newspaper, such as the NY Times or Wall Street Journal, or go to this site:

That should get you started. You can also check out my other site,

*For other people reading this, some people should sometimes answer some questions when they can only cross off 2 answer choices, but unless you’re already scoring above the mid 500’s, you probably don’t have the proper feel to know when to do it.


James L June 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Hello Jeff!
My SAT scores are pretty decent, (720+ math, 700+ writing) but on the CR section I just barely get above 600. I read your tips on how to improve, but sometimes I have trouble finding the main idea on the long CR passages. Do you have any tips on how to quickly and effectively find the main idea? And also, should I read the passages before i answer the questions, or read along as I go through the questions?
PS: My parents want me to score above 2100 by my junior year


Jeff Bergman June 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Hi James,
It’s easier to explain how to find the main idea on video, so check out these videos where I show you how to do it – When you enter your name and email, you’ll get emails every few days with a series of videos about the CR section. The second video shows how to find the main idea.

In the meantime, think of it this way: The main idea is the big picture. It answers the question, “What’s this passage about?” You want to answer that question for yourself in just a couple of sentences. Look for big general statements that the author makes that seem to sum up his point.

The overwhelming majority of people should read the passages before answering the questions. The only exceptions are people who have a really bad attention problem, and people who can’t really read very well. I’m pretty sure that’s not you!


marygab May 22, 2014 at 10:38 am

hello!, well i am egyptian and my score in the critical reading is not good, i read and do a lot of stuff to improve my self, but nothing! what is your suggestion?, thank you.


Jeff Bergman June 4, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Hi Mary,
My best suggestion is in this post. And if you’re signed up for my email list, you’ll be getting links to some videos that explain the concept, too. The concept that I talk about here, which is to focus on the main idea of the passage and not get caught up in the details while you read is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your CR score. I’ll be posting a link a new online course soon, too. So watch for that. And feel free to write again with specific questions that come up.


Sambhav May 13, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Hi Jeff,
I have been studying for over 4 months for the June SAT, and while my score has gone up in the math and writing sections ( 690-800 and 600-650 respectively), my CR score has remained fairly constant at a about 580.Can you give me some last minute tips. I would also appreciate it if you would give me some examples that I should read for the essay.


Jeff Bergman May 15, 2014 at 10:55 am

Hi Sambhav,
The method I describe in this blog post is the biggest thing you can do to raise your CR score, especially when the test is coming up soon. Using this method lets you maximize your understanding of American style English, and keeps you from getting bogged down by words and phrases that you might not understand. Keep in mind that everything the author does is meant to support his main idea, and lead you as the reader to understanding or agreeing with it. That’s why knowing the author’s main point, and how he lays out his argument, is so helpful in answering most of the questions.

I’ve just created a free online Critical Reading mini course (as of today it’s only about the reading passages). If you’re on my email list you’ll be getting emails about it. In case you’re not, here are the links:

You should also check out my blog posts about the sentence completions: (there’s a link to part 2 at the bottom of that one)

Here are the links to some posts about the essay:

Finally, if you do this test:, you’ll be able to read sample essays, the scores they received, and an explanation of why they got those scores. This is extremely helpful for learning what the College Board expects on the essay.

Good luck. Please let me know how it goes, and feel free to ask further questions, etc.


Rana May 1, 2014 at 9:38 am

hi jeff
first i want to thank u about your great efforts ,second ” time ” is my biggest proplem how can i finish answering long passage , short passage ,and sentence complation in 25 minutes and making sure that my answer is right . I can do any thing to get a high score , please i want your advice


Jeff Bergman May 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Hi Rana,
You’re welcome. It means a lot to me.
I could give you more specific advice if I knew how it was going for you now. Here’s what you should do first:

Do a practice section and keep track of your time, but don’t try to finish in 25 minutes. Take whatever time you need to finish it. However, mark everything that you answer before the 25 minutes are up, and note how much time it takes you finish the whole section. Also, don’t spend too much time on any question the first time through. If a question is taking you longer than most of the others, and it’s harder than most of the others, skip it until you’ve had the chance to go through all of the questions. Then you can come back to the ones you skipped afterwards. When you do a section this way, you get a sense of what you could answer if you had enough time, how much of that you can currently get to in the time allowed, and what you can’t currently answer even if you had unlimited time. This is important because it makes no sense to speed up to have a chance to answer the ones you can’t answer anyway.

Here’s another way to think of it: If you can currently answer 18 questions correctly, then treat the CR section as though you have 25 minutes to answer 18 questions rather than 24. That gives you enough time to correctly answer the ones you are able to correctly answer, rather than rush through them and possibly get them wrong because you were rushing. And you leave the other 6 questions alone because you wouldn’t be able to answer them anyway even if you had more time.

The other thing that’s very important is to keep practicing the method I teach in this post. It’s faster to read for the main idea, and slower to try to understand all of the details.

Try these things and let me know how they work.


Siddhant April 30, 2014 at 11:14 pm

When I look at my work on CR section, I find that I spoil last few questions every time. I do not know why but I cannot find myself with ample time to do those last parts effectively. I find myself simply skimming the last paragraphs of the passages and then ticking some abrupt answer. Please help me out.


Jeff Bergman May 8, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Hi Siddhant,
There’s a couple of things to look at. First of all, are you getting all of the other questions right before those last few? If you are, you might be doing pretty much what you should be doing. You don’t want to rush and then get questions wrong. Now, if you are getting some of the earlier questions wrong, then you want to develop a sense of when a question is harder for you than most, and when a question is taking more time than most. You want to be able to recognize those questions as quickly as possible and skip them, so that you get to the other questions that you might be able to answer correctly if you have the time.

The bigger picture thing to do is to keep the tip in this post; read for the main idea rather than the details. That’s how you can read faster while still taking in all of the important information that you have to get when you read.

And the last thing to keep in mind is that when you go through the answer choices, you want to cross out the choices that you’re pretty sure are wrong, and leave in the ones you ‘re not sure of. Don’t spend too much time deciding whether to cross out an answer choice. Just leave it in, and save your decision until you’ve looked at all of the choices. Then, from the choices that remain, you want to ask, “Which one is better?” There will always be a reason why one choice is better, or a reason that one choice is worse.

Try it and let me know how it goes.


Jack April 8, 2014 at 9:14 am

Is there an answer key for the Official SAT Practice Test for 2009 – 2010 which you used as an example for this lesson? I would like to complete it and see how many I get wrong.


Jeff Bergman April 9, 2014 at 10:22 am

Yes, the link is in the post.


Yassir April 13, 2014 at 4:26 am

Hi Jeff,
I would like to thank you for all the great efforts you are doing to help us as students. I am an international student, I have been off school since very long time. Lately I decided I wanted to pursue my education in the US ( I’m 28 now), so I passed the GED test about a month ago, I’ve been preparing for it about 2 months. Now I am taking the SAT on May 3, and I have been studying on the offical SAT book (the blue book). My goal is to get a 550 on each section. For the math and writing, I think I’m ok, but my biggest problem is with the CR passages and sentence completion. My vocab is very poor because English is my third language and I’ve never studied in english nor read books.
I am motivated, but what are your suggestions? how should I practice? and how do I have to approach the passages ( I am very bad at managing time)?
I still have 9 full lenght practice tests from the book to do untill May 3.

Your help would much appreciated.



PS: email:


Jeff Bergman April 26, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Since English is your third language, there are probably words and phrases that you don’t know. That’s why It’s even more important for someone who’s not a native English speaker to approach the passages the way I describe in this post. Focus on the main idea of the passage and don’t worry about the details as you read, because most of what’s confusing to you will be the details. Also, look at the sentence completion posts on this blog for my best suggestions about how to handle that part of the Critical Reading section.


virginia March 26, 2014 at 2:04 pm

hi, I have one month for May exam . My first trial was in Dec 7 last year ,but i got 1130 which is worst score.however, I got it without practicing that much. I’m doing all my effort in this month to get high score . Do U have any advice to get higher in math, writing ,and reading in same month?? I have 12 hours free I can learn in these hours. please I want any help.

Thanks :)


Jeff Bergman April 1, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Hi Virginia,
That’s not a lot of time to get a higher score in all three sections. You might do it, but I would suggest that you put in at least 8 hours each week, and aim for 50 or more points higher in each section. There’s a lot of good advice here on the blog, and here’s a link to my SAT Quick Fix Study Guide, which is specifically designed to help you raise your score in a short amount of time (although it works even better if you have more time).


Evelina March 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Hi, I’m an international student. I have a huge problem with CR. I’ve improved math (450-620) and writing sections, but unfortunately I am not able to get higher score in CR than 450. Do you have any advice how to solve that problem?


Jeff Bergman April 1, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Hi Evelina,
Great job on the Math sections. That’s pretty impressive. This post is my best advice in a nutshell. You might also check out the posts about sentence completions if you need help with them. As I’ve been saying to others, if you have more specific questions, I can be more helpful to you.


Sheldy Shin March 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Hi, I am a Korean student who is in junior studying SAT. Sometimes I struggle to get the main idea of the passage because the passage switches in a strange way but I cannot find the connection. (I write a small note on each paragraph) Isn’t there any way to improve how to get the main idea? Or any tips to get main ideas better?


Jeff Bergman April 1, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Hi Sheldy,
You might think of the main idea this way. When you’re done reading the passage, you want to be able to answer the question, “What’s this passage about,” in just a couple of sentences. If you send me a specific example, I’ll be happy to help you with it.


Habiba March 7, 2014 at 8:14 am

Hey! I’m applying for sat in two months; the main reason I hate my sat score is because of the critical reading section. I REALLY NEED YOUR HELP!


Jeff Bergman April 1, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Hey Habiba,
If you ask me specific questions I’m happy to give you specific help. Let me know what you need help with and what form would be most helpful (meaning a video course, an ebook, just exchanging emails, a class, whatever). Until then, there’s plenty of stuff here on the blog that has helped a lot of students raise their score. This page is the most helpful one, and you should also look at this one about the sentence completions.


hasan February 16, 2014 at 9:48 am

Hey, I am applying for the SAT exam in 2 months or so, and I need to succeed in order to be accepted in the university, please give me some tips or anything that can help me because I am new for this type of exams. Thank you


Jeff Bergman February 19, 2014 at 11:53 am

Hi Hasan,
This really is the most important critical reading tip. Read it over and practice until you understand it and can apply it yourself. Then write back to me again and let me know how it goes.


Divya February 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Hi I’m taking the March SAT and I was wondering if there are any tips for reading the long passages faster?


Jeff Bergman February 19, 2014 at 11:51 am

Hi Divya,
Don’t get hung up in the details. Read with the intention of finding the main idea, which is the topic of the passage and the author’s opinion about the topic. Another way you can think about it is to answer the question, “What’s this passage about?” That’s faster than trying to understand all of the little details. Try that and let me know how it works.


IVY January 4, 2014 at 12:11 am

Hi Jeff,
Is it better to read the whole passage before answering the questions, or is it okay to read according to the questions?


Jeff Bergman January 12, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Hi Ivy,
Most people should read the whole passage first. You can get a pretty good score reading according to the questions, but there are some questions that are much harder to answer if you do that. That’s why the only people who should read according to the questions are those who have a really hard time reading the passage without spacing out.


Lara HM December 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

So i was scrolling down and reading the questions asked and your replies and they helped me, but i have one more question, im applying for the sat on dec 7, which is like after 6 days. I guess i’m well prepared but the thing is that i dont score as high in the critical reading as in math and writing, so do you have any advicesand extra tips? That was about the passage based questions, while for the sentence completions i memorized a lot of words using the cards and the sat book of “hot words for the sat” but on the exam, words still confuse me..
That was all i guess, thankyouu!


Jeff Bergman December 2, 2013 at 11:33 pm

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