Approaching Passages

Chris Lele
Lesson by Chris Lele
Magoosh Expert
Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why does this lesson reference the SAT? 

A: This lesson was originally created for our SAT test prep tool but we think that it contains useful tips for approaching the ACT too. So think of it as a bonus lesson!


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In this video we are gonna talk about how to actively read. And this is so important for the SAT. In fact, this is the fundamental skill that will really help you improve on the critical reading section. If you are always flailing about the passage in terms of not being able to get the meaning.

Or if you are racing through the passage or even going slowly through the passage but never really thinking about it or realizing what it is that you're reading. You get to the end of the passage and you think, oh I just read something. That's gonna be problematic. Because if you don't get over that hump, you don't have that initial comprehension of the passage, then the questions will always be difficult and you will always get trapped.

So we're gonna talk about active reading, the process by which you read for the big picture from the passage. So by the end of the passage you know what the passage is about at a very high basic level. You don't know every single detail but you know the big picture. So when you read for the big picture, when you get involved, you want to think of this passage as being really exciting.

Because again, these passages are being drawn from areas, from genres, and fields of study that just don't interest the typical high school student. So you have to kinda psych yourself up and say, okay, I'm really gonna get into this. This is gonna be really fun, and you're gonna throw yourself at the passage with that gusto. Instead of thinking, oh gosh, here is an 80 line passage about sea mollusks.

Do not think that. Think, yay, go sea mollusks, 80 lines of sea mollusks. Okay. Now that I've given you that little pep talk, let's get back to active reading specifically here. So, to read for the big picture, you want to be able to paraphrase as you are going through, meaning, you're reading the passage and you're picking up on whats being said.

Ha there saying that sea mollusks are more likely to go extinct then other sorts of marine creatures. Again, when you paraphrase, when you put the text into your own words, then your not as overwhelmed by the verbiage or the writing that the passage use. Cuz, obviously, the passage uses writing that is not straightforward, but if you can paraphrase and if you can kinda get at the big picture.

What's this passage saying, what is this paragraph saying? Then you will be also able to note important transitions within the paragraph, as well as between paragraphs. So always think okay well, first paragraph was about why sea mollusks are in danger. The second paragraph, ha it shifts, it's talking about general sea life that has gone extinct in the past let's say.

So that's how your brain wants to function or needs to function. You have to be noting these transitions, you have to be paraphrasing. And that's why we call this active reading, because you're in the passage. You're not just reading word after word after word, therefore your brain really isn't doing anything and you're gonna start thinking of random things, like, oh, what am I going to do when I'm done with this SAT passage?

And you don't want to think that, again, you want to get involved in the passage, paraphrase, and note these important transitions. Now, after a while when you practice and you get really good at this you're gonna be able to sometimes anticipate or at least try to anticipate where the passage is heading next. What's gonna happen now that we've talked about other sea life that's gone extinct.

Well, it's probably going to bring it back to something about the sea mollusks that, maybe they're similar to other sea life in the past. Maybe they're different, so maybe they won't quite go extinct even though they're endangered. So, again, you're putting yourself into the passage, you're getting involved. That's gonna help you at the end, know the big picture.

So think of it this way, imagine reading blah, blah, blah, blah, about the sea mollusks, you're on the fifth paragraph, imagine a large, giant just boom. It puts their hand over the screen, so you can't see anything about the sea mollusk. Could you turn to that large giant and say, well that's a redundancy. Could you turn to that giant and say, hey this passage was about why sea mollusks, though they're endangered, may not go extinct because they're different from other aquatic life that has gone extinct in the past.

And of course, the giant would say, oh very interesting. But if you can't do that. If you just look at it and go it's about sea mollusks. Then you do not know, the big picture. So, that said, we're not gonna read about sea mollusks so you can exhale. But, we are gonna take apart here, a passage.

And this passage, interestingly enough is about reading, and how we read. And it's specifically about the internet. But anyway, lets dive in here and try to actively read this passage and take it apart together. So we start here, always start at the beginning. And it says thanks to the ubiquity of text.

You have a lot going on here you don't have to worry about the fact that maybe you don't have ubiquity which happens to be omnipresence something that happens everywhere. But don't worry, thanks to the text on the internet, not to mention text messaging, we may be. Well, we may well be reading more today than we did in the '70s or '80s.

Interesting point. Now again, you want to think big picture. What's this passage gonna be about? Looks like it's about reading or the internet but here's what we call these main idea things. Note here it says but it's a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking, perhaps even a new sense of the self.

And now, think paraphrasing. This passage is talking about how we read online or when we read, like text messages, it's not the same as when we're reading a book, a-ha. That is paraphrasing, so now you don't have to worry about those paragraph, and think oh yeah wait, what was that about? You know you've paraphrased, in your head.

Now, sometimes of course getting to the point where you can paraphrase in your head is a little bit difficult. So definitely underline. It's fine to underline. In fact, it's a good idea to underline when you're starting off with active reading.

The only caveat is don't start underlining everything cuz then all you're doing underlining and your brain isn't actually really engaged in the text. So use it in a limited fashion, that can be helpful. But ultimately really, you want to be able to attack these passages so that you're paraphrasing in your head and you're not necessarily underlining everything. Okay, so we've read the first paragraph, now we're gonna note if there's ones to transition.

Well, we start here with what's called a direct quotation. The passage is quoting something, so think in your head, you go a-ha, direct quotation. This is not just the author of the passage, but it's someone else that he or she is going to care. And this person says, we are not only what we read we are how we read.

Okay, so this is going to be important. This idea of not just what we read but the way to read. And this person worries that, so you can see that a-ha, there's a shift in the paragraph that we're getting an opinion in a way on what's going on here in terms of the internet. It's not necessarily a positive way we're reading.

Why? Well, it says that a style that puts efficiency and immediacy above all else. Again, we're paraphrasing, so oh, it's all about reading quickly. That's your own words. You're taking this passage again and putting in your own words, that's paraphrasing.

That's great. Cuz now you don't have to worry about efficiency and immediacy, you can just say oh, we read really quickly online. Okay. Maybe weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when earlier technology, etc, happened. So the idea of paraphrasing is, yeah, it's different from deep reading. It's sitting there at home, reading Of Mice and Men or some book, and you really engage with what's going on.

That's different from when you're online and you have 30 or 40 different chat windows open, and news feed, or who knows what else, in front of you. You're obviously not reading the same way as when you're sitting there with the book, sitting down in a relaxed fashion. So again, you're making this passage, or what I'm doing now is, making it relevant to your own life.

You need to do that as well, so you can say, okay, it's not the same when I read a book and I'm not distracted. And of course the passage goes on to add these other details. When we read online we tend to become mere decoders of information. You don't have to always paraphrase everything because as long as you're getting the first part of the text that's so important.

Because they're, here we usually have our topic sentences, and the main thrust of the paragraph and so it's important to definitely read this as well. But in general, this person's saying that reading online is all about speed and we're just trying to decode information on here. And there's distraction and it's not the same as when your reading deeply okay? So now that we've paraphrased both the paragraphs again we're gonna have a new paragraph here.

Again the topic sentence is really important. Reading is not an instinctive skill for human beings, okay interesting. And I guess that we can add SAT reading is not an instinctive skill. So, again it's something that's learned, but in the terms of this passage though, it's so important to see that this is the topic sentence. Now we know what the sentence is gonna be about.

It's gonna be about how we have to learn to read. It's not in our genes. We have to teach and the media that we use, the technology, what we use plays an important part in reading. Because if we use books versus the internet it actually changes, it makes changes inside our brain.

So how you read or the process or the media, the technology you read changes our brain. And then they go on and they add this specific detail here, which is, experiments demonstrate that readers of Chinese. Basically, those people who read Chinese or Chinese symbols, their brains are different from those people who read alphabets.

That's interesting. This person writing this passage is backing up the claim that what we read, the media that we read, the technology has actually changed our brain. Which again goes back to the main point, that reading online, reading text messaging is fundamentally different from the deep reading you get when you're reading a book, or when you're of course reading a passage on sea mollusks.

Finally, maybe you can anticipate where is this going? Well, probably back to that main point. So therefore, we read the very last sentence that was important. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books, and other printed works. And that's great, that's a paraphrase of really the whole passage.

But by engaging yourself in the four paragraphs, paraphrasing, noticing here are the shifts throughout the paragraph if there's some evidence backing up a claim. Of course reading a topic sentence, doing all that, you've picked up on the geography or the layout of the passage. You know the passage. You know the big picture.

So that if all of a sudden you get to the very end and now someone covers the screen and that happens to be a giant, anyone, you can turn to them. Let's say your friend. You can turn to them and say oh, I just read a passage about how when we read online is different from when we read a book and there's no distractions there. And that's because how you read or the media that you're actually reading from changes stuff deep inside your brain.

They like that these experiments where people read Chinese and their brains are different from our brains. The circuitry we use is different from when we read alphabet and their friend goes oh, that's really interesting and that's what you need to be able to do when you read an SAT passage.

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