Students often complain that the reading section of the SAT appears so simple and easily solvable when experts tackle the problems but that it feels enormously difficult when students solve it on their own. In other words, when students listen to experts’ lectures about the SAT, they understand everything, and yet, when they try to tackle the SAT problems on their own, they cannot find the answers. So, understandably, many students quickly decide that (1) only experts are smart enough to use the “skills” that they teach, (2) the “skills” are too difficult to use, or (3) the “skills” don’t work at all. Admittedly, in some cases, students are correct in making such conclusions.
Some “skills,” indeed, do not work consistently because those “skills” are often not much more than gimmicks developed by frauds who wear the masks of experts. Many such tricks (such as reading just the first and/or last sentences of each paragraph, selecting what appears to be the “better” answer when left with two answer choices, etc.) only work in special cases and most often fail to help students attain high SAT scores. Congratulations to those students who can discern those gimmicks from the real academic skills that the SAT requires.
To do well on the SAT, student must master real skills, not tricks, that work consistently in efficiently extracting correct information from not only the SAT passages but for all passages, whether they are from passages in nobles, textbooks, newspapers, magazines, etc., and in properly comprehending and avoiding misinterpretation of the information. To do this, students pay attention to the fundamental building blocks of the English language (grammatical mechanisms of sentences) and English composition (structural and logical flows of the passages). Thoroughly understanding these will allow students to efficiently extract information from passages even when students do not know all the difficult words in the passages.
Regarding solving problems, many students make the mistake of believing that thoroughly comprehending the passages will increase their chances of selecting the correct answers and read every word of the passage. To their surprise, many students find that selecting the answers to some of the questions is difficult even when they fully understand the passages! To complicate the matter more, students find themselves selecting the wrong answers because they read everything! Why?
The answers are simple! (1) When students read everything, they often pay attention to the less important aspects of the passage and lose focus on the important ones. (2) They often interpret the passage in their own way as they reflect upon their knowledge, experience, and upbringings. This is because it is how they read for English classes and their personal enjoyment. Since the SAT requires that students extract simply the facts from the passages, these students do not read the way that the College Board would like them to read. (3) Most importantly, in solving problems on the SAT, it is often not enough to extract information but must also process the information as prescribed in the question and eliminate the wrong answers with the correct logic. (Remember that the SAT is a logic test as much as it is a skill test.)
Now, the reason that it is vital that students study engage in “self-study” when preparing for the SAT is that learning and mastering the skills to extract information from passages, processing the information as prescribed by the questions, and eliminating the wrong answers using the correct logic take effort.
So, by self-study, it does not mean that SAT should be self-taught. Rather, it means that students should invest time and effort so that they can adeptly apply the skills and the logics. It is not enough to watch experts do it. Also, when reviewing, students should try to understand exactly how the mechanisms of the skills and the designs of the problems interplay, figure out exactly which skills and/or logic they misapplied, and learn to avoid the similar mistake in the next practice test. It is only when students can identify their faults and make efforts to improve that their scores improve. The best way to do this is through self-study.