Do you sometimes find yourself overwhelmed when you get to the end of an SAT Critical Reading passage?

A powerful technique for simplifying SAT Critical Reading is the “step ladder strategy.” The point of this strategy is to break long and difficult reading passages down into more manageable pieces that you can work on step by step.

To use this method, pause after reading each paragraph in a passage. Then look for any questions that ask about that paragraph. This can be done rapidly because SAT Reading questions usually ask about a specific line number and are presented in the same order the lines in the passage appear.

Once you’ve finished reading the passage and answering the line-specific questions, then tackle the big picture questions that don’t provide a specific line number, such as primary purpose questions.

SAT Critical Reading Step Ladder Strategy

How can a strategy like this help, you ask?

First, it can save you time. Tackling questions just after having read what they ask about means that the relevant information will be much more fresh in your mind, saving you valuable time.

Second, you’ll often make better sense of the excerpt the question is asking about because you will have just read it in context.

Third, this strategy can make you a more active reader. Stopping after each paragraph and answering relevant questions forces you to take stock of what’s happening, rather than passively reading the passage through to the end.

Fourth, by working through the line-number questions first, you’ll have a better understanding of the passage as a whole when you do get to the big picture questions and you’ll be better prepared to answer them.

As powerful as the step ladder strategy is, it—like any strategy—is not for everyone. Test it out for yourself and see how well it works for you!