Approaching Passages

Chris Lele
Lesson by Chris Lele
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh ACT
In this video, we are going to talk about how to approach the ACT reading passage. I'm gonna start with your approach number one, which is an approach that many of you might have heard of. In fact, many of you might be applying right now and that's where you read the questions first and then you go back to the relevant part of the passage. So let's say, you're looking at question number two and it mentions something that says, second paragraph or tenth line, then you simply go back to that part of the passage.

So you never actually read the passage, simply look at the questions and go back to the relevant part of the passage. It sounds like a great approach, because you don't have to read the passage. Wow, isn't that amazing those passages are so long? This is the greatest approach of all time and it saves me time. Great, I can end the video now or can I?

Because the question I have is does it save time? To answer that question, let's look at the cons of ignoring the passage or at least not reading the entire passage and just going to any little bitty parts of it based on what the questions are asking. Cons of this, you're not always sure what you're looking for. You go back, you're reading it.

You're reading the lines, what exactly are you reading? Hard to know, you know you're in the right place, but you simply don't have that context. You don't really know what's going on. And in the end, you can go back and forth between the question. Understanding the question, then going back and reading.

Going back and forth takes time, and that time you spend is valuable time. And in the end, you end up spending more time than you would have if you tried one of these other approaches perhaps. Let's see, is approach 2 our magic approach? Read the passage in a detailed manner, taking notes. This is something we've been told to do in class.

It's probably how we do our homework, how we do most of our reading. In fact, for many of you, second nature. We read, we take notes and we learn in this manner. So why not apply to ACT reading passage? Well, you do get a detailed understanding of the passage. But the question is, is that what were going for here?

Do you wanna have a detailed understanding of all of the passage? The thing about the ACT passage is the questions are asking about specific parts of it. So having a detailed understanding of everything, well, it takes a lot of time and it's unnecessary. And of course, it drains energy.

You're gonna be putting a lot of mental resources into underlining, taking notes. Trying to figure out if this is important. And by the time you get to the questions, you're pretty much drained. And of course, when you are doing all of this reading, you don't know what to focus on. So not a good approach, we don't wanna do this despite being the approach that we might use when doing our homework and studying for test is not definitely the approach we want when doing the ACT or reading section.

What do we want? The Goldilocks approach, the middle, the approach number three. What do I mean by meddle? Well, let me explain. Here you read the passage first, the entire passage. Wait a second, isn't that kind of like approach number two?

No, because you are going to do intelligent skimming. This means that you're gonna take about two minutes or so to read the entire passage, but you're gonna be looking for the big picture meaning. What is each paragraph more or less talking about? If you don't understand something and there's some technical words in there, who cares, ignore them.

You're again, looking for the big picture meaning. That is intelligent skimming and then its part of the Goldilocks approach. You read the questions after you've read the passage and you go back to the specific part of the passage and you look for evidence. And here, you can read more closely. You can slow down, because you know you're in the right place.

But whats great about that is you have a context, you already know passage at a high-level. You know where certain pieces of information are and that's great, because sometimes the questions don't tell you which part of the passage to go back to exactly. But you have a high-level of understanding of it, because of intelligent skimming.

You know where to go and this makes things a lot easier, and saves a lot of time. And when you actually go back to the part you need to go back to, you're less likely to fall for trap answers. Because when you've read the entire passage, then you understand what is going on in that specific paragraph that they're asking about or specific sentence. Whereas trap answers are written in such a way that they take words and phrases from around there, and they put them into the wrong answer choice, and they kind of mix things around a little bit.

And it's harder to pick up on that, unless you've read the entire higher passage. So that's definitely a lot of positives going for it and a big one is it saves time in the end. Approach two, we know takes a while. Approach one seems to go fast but ends up taking a while. Whereas if done right, the Goldilocks approach will save time.

What are the cons? Well, it's not necessarily the way we read a lot. This is again, not approach number two which is how we read for class. And so it requires some practice. And when it says here you must practice a lot, it doesn't mean you have to do this for two years.

Maybe a week or two of practicing this approach and getting better at it is all you're gonna need, and you'll see then the advantages that this approach gives you. Now you might be asking, what exactly is this intelligence and can you give me an example? Well, I sure can and it's right here. What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna go through this passage and I'm gonna read it as though, I'm telling you what I'm saying in my head when I read an actual ACT passage.

So I don't speak out loud. That's not part of approach number three when reading an ACT reading passage. But of course, I'm reading in my head and what I'm going to show you here is how quickly I read. I'm just looking at certain things and making note of them at a high-level. So let's start.

Algae are really thought of as remarkable plants, when and if they're thought of at all. Attitudes seemingly haven't changed all that much since the 18th century, people were as blase about algae as they are now. So I've read that and that's about how fast my mind is reading when I read it. And again, I'm not taking notes or doing anything else.

I might pause there and say, okay, that's an introduction passage about algae, but I read on. Given such an unremarkable status, it is surprising to find that a single species of algae managed to catalyze major eighteenth century discoveries. So it's about these major eighteenth century discoveries, specific algae and I'm reading on here where it says, concerning photosynthesis.

It's a long word, I don't even want to pronounce it, especially since the scientists responsible for these discoveries only stumbled upon this alga while looking for something else entirely. Accidental discovery. The species in question. Now, look at this.

They're gonna tell me and define the species in question. That's not a high-level thing, that's very specific. If need be when I'm doing the questions and it asks about this, I can go back. But for now, I'm just gonna skip that part. And then where it says was identified after that m dash at the time that big Latin word, I'm not gonna say that either.

These are all details. So intelligence skimming, I'm gonna skip that part. Go to the next paragraph. It says, Joseph Priestley was responsible for the first discovery in question and began to experiment on gases in the 1770s. Pretty similar.

He was a scientist. Reading on, one of his first and most significant discoveries was the Identification of. Another big word, ignore it. Something called oxygen two, nothing too important yet. What's the main point?

Something about accidental discoveries. Let's keep reading. Beyond that, certain process like respiration depleted the air. The air of oxygen whereas other's like introducing a plant to the test file restored, studied oxygen. Again, I'm not gonna reread the part where, what is he saying?

Respiration versus introducing a plant to the test file. That's the kind of slowing down and thinking about what you wanna do, if there's a specific question. All I know right now is he worked with oxygen, trying to find out what plants have to do with oxygen. Moving on, while testing this hypothesis, he observed that many of his files became covered with a mysterious green matter.

the CF, I'll call it. Forced to leave vials of this green matter unattended for three months. He went out, he traveled. When he came back, these specimens unfortunately did not survive whereas those in the opposite condition flourished. So the CF in the sunlight, bad sunlight at least didn't do well.

But in sunlight, it grew everywhere. So this green little fungus thing, maybe if you can visualize this in your head as your reading just spreading over the test tube when there's sun involved. So further experimentation showed that sunlight was necessary not only for the survival of green matter, but also for the production of oxygen. So this goes back to his oxygen thing.

I'm noticing when I'm reading this, this is a big paragraph. Probably gonna have to come back to it. A question or two will likely come from this passage. But again, I'm not gonna get too detailed here and slow down and try to understand everything. I'll read on a short experiments where I'm gonna first reveal the necessary role of sunlight in plants production of oxygen.

That's big, that's why he did it. But again, don't underline everything you know where this important information about. CF is then this paragraph. You can read the last sentence really quickly, skimming it. Priestley's inadvertent discovery of green matter thus began to illuminate the concept.

Blah, blah, blah, we get it. He worked with this algae and accidentally discovered that sunlight helps this thing grow, and that have photosynthesis. So again, I'm doing this really quickly though, when I'm reading. Just kinda skimming through, picking things out at this high-level. And so what we wanna get from this passage is well, not much more than this.

It's about how algae in the 19th century led to major discoveries. Discoveries gives a specific story and the key here is he accidentally discovered how sunlight is important to this green algae matter, and plays a roll in photosynthesis. Now, the actual ACT passage will be a tad bit longer. There will be a little bit more going on here, but that's basically the main point that you're getting as you're reading through the passage.

Now some important points to keep in mind is that what I gave you just now is essentially a high-level summary of each paragraph, but you don't need to do this with every paragraph. You'll notice maybe the first paragraph was a little bit short, so you don't actually have to kinda slow down to think okay, well, what was it about? What's that high-level things about priestly accidentally discovering something?

If the paragraph is short, you don't even need us. Make that short summary in your head about precede discovery of something in this case. You can just say, okay, it's about algae in the 19th century, moving on. But again, everything is high-level and this will help you. Cuz when you get to the questions, you'll know where stuff is and you'll be able to get to the right answer quickly and accurately.

Show Transcript

Next Lesson


Basic Strategies