How to Improve Reading Comprehension on Standardized Tests


It is important to know why you are reading something, so you can tailor your reading strategies around it. On a test, the purpose of the reading is to answer the questions. If you find yourself getting caught up in the subject matter of the passage or losing focus, remember that the main goal is to understand what the questions are asking, so you can find the right answers. 

Read over the questions first before you start reading the passage. This will help you know what to look for when reading so that you can answer the questions quickly and efficiently. As you read, be sure to underline or circle parts that are relevant to the questions. This is important for all reading-related questions on any test. 

Types of Questions on Standardized Tests

The reading section of standardized tests can sometimes be tricky because of how questions are worded, so it helps to know what types of questions to expect. This way, you can anticipate how questions will be asked to avoid any confusion during the test.

There are 8 types of questions that are commonly asked on standardized tests.
1. Big Picture/Main Point

Asks you for the overall purpose and/or point of the passage.

2. Little Picture/Detail

Asks about a specific line in the passage. (Ex: What does this sentence mean?)

3. Inference

Asks you to interpret the meaning of a line (or multiple lines) in the passage.

4. Vocab in Context

Asks what a vocabulary word means in the context of its sentence.

5. Function

Asks how a certain phrase/sentence/paragraph functions in the passage and how it relates to the main purpose.

6. Author Technique

Asks about the author’s tone/style in the passage. This may also ask you to compare the passage with a different one.

7. Evidence Support

Asks you to provide evidence to support the answer to a previous question. This often refers back to other types of questions already asked on the test. (Ex: Which choice provides the best evidence to the previous question?)

8. Data Analysis

Asks questions about graphs or charts that are related to the passage. This may also be combined with inference questions.

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Steps for Reading Passages on Standardized Tests
#1: Read over the question first.

This is where purposeful reading comes into play! Know what you’re looking for before you start to help you locate the answers more quickly.

#2: Read the informational blurb that introduces the passage.

This will help give you important context, so you know more about the tone, style, and purpose of the passage before reading it.

#3: Read the passage.

Read the passage quickly and circle any relevant parts along the way. Pay attention to the thesis statement, opening sentences of paragraphs, and the conclusion. These parts often have important information for the questions.

#4: Answer the questions.

Just like with any test, remember that you do not have to answer the questions in order! Think of your answers before you look at the options to avoid getting tricked by multiple choice answers designed to trick the test-taker. It’s also recommended to answer the “main purpose” questions last because you will have a better understanding of the passage at that point.

Tips for critical reading:

Avoid answers that have “always” or “never” in them, anything too specific or too broad, answers that include unrelated concepts, etc. (Note: Any answer that you have to work to justify is most likely incorrect.) 

Basic Reading Comprehension Tips

Here are some basic tips to increase reading comprehension at home. Reading comprehension is an incredibly important skill to have in life, outside of tests and school. If you are struggling with reading comprehension or simply feel like you could use some improvement, Try out some of these tips!

Tips for improved reading comprehension:

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