Earlier this year, I wrote the first part of the article about preparing for standardized tests here at Associated Content. In case you haven’t, I highly suggest you to read the article because it goes over several strategies to develop mindset and approaches on achieving a high level of reading comprehension for standardized tests.
Comprehension Is Only a Part of Story
In all standardized tests, there are always students who say, “I scored poorly because I could not finish the exam. If I had a little more time or if I wasn’t such a slow reader…” This type of response is common, and it may be tempted to try for speed reading or skimming the passage to get done with the passage faster. The common result, however, is that the scores actually drop, and students are left in a perplexed state of thinking that they just are not good standardized test takers.
The real cause of this debacle is not speed or comprehension, but excessive focus in details. When the student reads the passage, he/she usually tries to understand every meticulous detail of it. For standardized tests, there is no need to do such a thing, and this method is actually deleterious. If students stop trying to dissect every detail in the passage and shift that into answering questions, then they will be able to allocate more time to answer questions, score those points, and finish the exam.
Other Half: Intuition
The only way to drink the water of foundation of youth in the realm of standardized tests is to practice. Countless practices will build students’ intuitions to choose the right answer even if he/she may not have understood the passage clearly. Remember, the test makers rarely test students on tiny detail that no one cares about. Instead, their focus lies on testing whether the students understood the main idea and supporting evidences.
For instance, take a look at this article called “The Supreme Court v. the Constitution of the United States” by Michael M. Uhlmann, published by the Claremont Institute. This is a challenging article that contends whether the judicial power delegated to the Supreme Court are currently justified or not, and discusses two books in the field.
Let’s hypothetically say that the condensed version of this article appeared as one of the passages in your standardized tests. Naturally, the test makers know that you will not be expected to know everything Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist or analyze the nature of jurisprudence. But, they may test to see if you can pick out what is meant by originalism or ask about the significance of quoting Abraham Lincoln in the discussion.
This article is especially difficult because the author has numerous claims and counterarguments at the same time. He does not come out and simply say what is wrong with modern judicial review. In fact, if you read the second paragraph under the heading “A New Constitution,” you will see that he actually contradicts common theories first and then state what he believes is the real problem.
Many scholarly journals and articles employ similarly complex argument styles to develop powerful points. Students who have no exposure to such readings will panic and pick one of “contradicting” arguments as the answer choices. Furthermore, each test requires a different type of intuition to answer the questions. This means that someone can score nearly perfect on LSAT Reading Comprehension and do only mediocre on MCAT Verbal Reasoning. Intuition for LSAT and MCAT differ, and the only way to develop this skill is to practice, practice, and practice. Only countless practices will lead you to that “feeling” of choosing the right answer.