On passage-based sections such as SAT Reading, ACT Reading, and even ACT Science, time is of the essence. The following five-step guide to skimming will help you manage your time more effectively during these fast-paced sections!

Step 1: Read the Blurb

At the beginning of each passage is a brief “blurb” that details the context (author, publishing date, etc.) On the SAT, the blurb will often include a brief description of the content of the passage. Knowing this context will help you frame your mind for the information that will follow, but don’t try to answer any questions based only on the information from the blurb!

Step 2: Read the First Paragraph (Quickly)

Think about essays you write in school—your first paragraph is an introduction in which you explain what you’re talking about and what your main point is. Many passages on the SAT and ACT follow this structure as well (with the exception of prose/literature passages), and the first paragraph is a great place to find a thesis statement (which you should then underline).

Step 3: Read the Middle Paragraphs (Even More Quickly)

And just like essays for school, body paragraphs should contain main points and details that support the argument. Notice the topic sentence of each body paragraph, and avoid getting lost in all the small details. Do, however, pay attention to turning points in the passage structure (e.g. transitions from examples to counterexamples).

Step 4: Read the Final Paragraph (Quickly)

The final paragraph can contain important information such as summaries or future directions for research. Take note of any of these you see, then move on to the final step.

Step 5: Go Through the MIST

Once you’ve finished skimming the passage, make sure you can identify the MIST: main idea, structure, and tone. You should be able to explain (in one sentence) what the passage is about, how it’s put together, and how the author feels about the topic. You don’t need a perfectly clear understanding—even if it’s a little hazy, you’ll fill in the important details later as you answer each question.

Student with papers

Skimming Graphs and Figures

For ACT Science and SAT Reading passages with graphs, take time to quickly interpret the graphs or figures. Be able to answer the question, “What is the graph showing?” (but don’t worry about individual data points). Notice the title of the graph as well as any variables and units.

Skimming Fiction

Skimming fictional passages may present a significant challenge to many. Interestingly, fictional passages occur first in both the SAT and ACT Reading. If you struggle with time management on literature passages, consider skipping these passages and returning to them at the end of the section, when you have more time to slow down and read a little more carefully.

When NOT to Skim

Questions and Answers: Never skim the questions or answer choices. It’s crucial that you pay close attention to the wording of the question and each answer choice to avoid traps and understand exactly what is being asked.

SAT Writing/ACT English: Although both the SAT and ACT have passage-based Writing/English sections, there is no need to apply the skimming technique here, as these passages are of a lower complexity than those on the Reading tests, and almost all the questions are based on specific words and phrases underlined in the passage.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these SAT and ACT Reading tips! To learn even more strategies for your SAT and ACT Reading practice, schedule a free call with a Student Success Advisor and get started with your prep today!