Posted by Kristen Steinbeck

Apr 28, 2017 4:46:03 PM

On the ACT and SAT reading tests, taking control of the passages is key. One way to own them is by marking up the text with notes and indicators that will not only keep you focused on the reading at hand but also make it easier to flip back from the questions and find what you’re looking for. Think of the markups as breadcrumbs that will help you find the way “home” faster—that is, if “home” is a cabin on the edge of the woods full of all the right answers.

Here’s how to successfully mark up a passage:


  • The first appearance of every proper noun
  • Expressions that keep track of a sequence, such as “initial attempt” or “in earlier periods”
  • Words or expression that define relationships between people or ideas


Summarize the point of each paragraph in 4-5 words in the margin. Having readymade summaries will help you answer both the compare/contrast questions about text within a single passage or between a set of two passages. They'll also help with questions that ask you to identify the main idea.


The text is there to guide you, and while that may not always be obvious, when you learn to identify keywords, you’ll be able to understand how thoughts move within the passage. Do they support each other and lead to a conclusion? Do they make an about-face and contradict the writer’s initial statements? Do they compare and contrast various ideas? Even complicated reading passages become clearer when you use keywords as signposts to uncover the writer’s message.

Reversal Words: on the other hand, however, yet

Supporting Words: additionally, since, moreover

Result Words: because, so, when

For more tips on taking control of the reading section, check out Doorway to College Foundation’s ACT and SAT seminars.

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