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Question

Dear Mitch,

This is not so much a question as a plea.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE... could you keep those SAT tips coming until October when we have to take the PSAT?

I am not kidding when I say that my friends and I think that your tips are BETTER than the ones in the thirty-dollar books. Besides, most of the big books say the same things that all the other big books say, just in a different order. They add a picture or something to make it look new, but the pictures aren't good enough to do it. Anyway, as soon as the test is over, we won't bother you for a long time, I promise, so you can get back to questions from younger kids and teachers and whatever.

So, since I really need a decent score on this test, could you keep giving tips, please?

Please, please...

Sincerely,

SAT Down (get it?)

Answer

Dear SAT Down,

I enjoy teaching in any way I can, so, if techniques for a particular test like the SAT is something people find intriguing enough to learn, it will be my pleasure to keep at it.

Though, in the future, I would appreciate a few more 'pleases' from you. You can never lay that stuff on too thick with me, so don't worry about overdoing it. A LOT of pleases is good, and a ton is better. Get it? Good.

Here goes:

Many students are taught to read through the questions pertaining to the passage before reading the passage itself. For many, that is an excellent idea, as it gives a rough road map of the spots to slow down and note the necessary detail. For others, who are equally intelligent, reading is a slower process and it is not worth it to go back and forth between pages to read questions which are only going to have to be reread in a few moments when one is trying to answer them.

So, even after one or two practice tests with the right guidance, it can be seen if the individual is one who benefits from taking a look at the questions beforehand or not.

Also, of course, almost no one always benefits from checking out the questions first, and it depends on a few factors such as the type of passage and the number of questions following it. Also relevant is the format of the passage to be tested. Poems, for example, can be quite short and require the reader to go one or two layers deeper than usual before even figuring out the poem's meaning. In a case like that, since the poems tend to be among the shorter passages, there could be time for even the least rapid reader to do this pre-reading of the questions.

HOWEVER -- AND THIS IS THE BIG HOWEVER -- no one who reads the questions beforehand should ever read the multiple choice list of possible answers. No one should ever let their eye glance down there. Studies have shown that that lowers almost everyone's correct responses

Why? Well, I believe there are three reasons, but the most influential of the three is also the most interesting. By way of an off-topic example, here's the idea:

If you and I are in the midst of speaking and you say you must leave because you are off to see a new movie, and you mention a current movie that is known for its share of violence, torture and explosions, and I say 'Oh yes, that one, there's something wonderfully beautiful and important in the film that almost everyone seems to miss.'

And when I see that you are curious, I tell you: the background metaphor of the birds migrating. I tell you to watch those flocks and how they time their every movement to communicate some part of an overall message to the audience....

You nod, head out the door, and see the film. And the next time we meet you proudly and honestly say you did indeed notice that bird situation.

And you did. The only odd part is that I had not seen the movie or even read about it and had no idea what its story was. The flock of birds as a metaphor? I made it up on the spot.

Why?

Because I'm a psycho who gets a kick out of doing worthless exercises?

Yes. That's why.

But also as an experiment. I may have been fibbing (for the good of science), but You were not. You truly saw what you felt you saw.

Why? How?

It's called 'power of suggestion'. Ideas were put in your head that were not based on anything in reality, and they sprung to life when just a vague hint of something with a similar look was presented. Most likely, you saw a bird. And your mind filled in blanks to create a story.

Same thing with the wrong answer choices. DO NOT LET THEM SHAPE YOUR READING. Without adding that, the test has plenty of obstacles on its own. Do not make it worse for yourself with unnecessary possibilities that are not there to explore.

Hope this helps.

-- Mitch