Passing the Reading Comprehension Portion of a Standardized Test

Passing the Reading Comprehension Portion of a Standardized Test

For many students, it’s the most dreaded part of a standardized test: the reading comprehension section.  After all, you can study the basic facts of math or of history.  But how do you study the art of reading better?

Reading Skills are a perennial topic for standardized tests.   Nursing Entrance Test generally have a reading comprehension component as do most College Entrance Exams.  Some tests, like the Nelson Denny, is primarily reading comprehension.  Before entering University or Nursing School, the institution wants to make sure that you will be able to handle reading technical material and textbooks.   Most High School Tests have reading comprehension components as this is a critical skill required for graduation.

When facing the reading comprehension section of a standardized test, you must develop an informed strategy in order to be successful. You want to keep several steps in mind:

  • First, make a note of the time you’ve been allotted and the number of sections you must complete. Time your work accordingly. Typically, four to five minutes per section is sufficient. Second, read the directions for each selection thoroughly before beginning (and listen well to any additional verbal instructions, as they will often clarify obscure or confusing written guidelines). You must know exactly how to do what you’re about to do! Next, carefully read both the questions and answers for the selection, mentally noting the basic idea of each question. This way, you will already know what you’re looking for, and you’ll read with confidence and intelligence.  See more on Working with Time Limits.
  • Now you’re ready to begin reading the selection. Read the article carefully, noting significant characters or events on a scratch sheet of paper. Many students find making a basic list helpful. They quickly jot down one-word summaries of characters, notable happenings, numbers, or key ideas. This practice helps them to better retain information, helps to focus tired or wandering thoughts, and (surprisingly!) many even find that it helps them to read more quickly. Remember, however, that your main goal in doing this is to find the information that answers the questions. In other words:  while you may find a selection’s plot twist fascinating, if the question only asks the role of the villain’s accomplice, focusing on the plot twist is wasting precious time that should be spent on more difficult questions.
  • As you read, keep the questions and answers in mind. When you come across a keyword, immediately review the question so that you can maximize your effectiveness in reading that section of the passage. Read with the question in mind! As soon as you have determined the answer, mark it down immediately and continue reading. Don’t try to rely on memory. You’ll cover far too much material in this type of test to remember clearly. If you come across a word you don’t understand, note the context and don’t stress about it; if it’s not in the questions, it’s probably not that important. Instead, reread the section and you’ll probably guess the basic meaning from the context.
  • You may find it helpful to know the basic format of standardized reading comprehension tests. Typically, there will be several questions dealing with facts from the selection, a couple more inference questions dealing with logical consequences of those facts, and periodically an application-oriented question surfaces to force you to make connections with what you already know. Answer fact questions first; they’re easily found within the passage. Tackle inference problems next, after re-reading the question(s) as many times as you need to. Application or ‘best guess’ questions usually take the longest, so save them for last.

This strategy, when adopted religiously, will make the reading-comprehension questions a little less scary.

See our post on Answering Different Types of Test Questions, and The Ultimate Guide to Test Preparation Strategy

Article Name
How to Answer Reading Comprehension Exam Questions
Taking a standardized test? Tips and information on passing the reading comprehension portion


  1. tim

    i recommend that you read the questions before reading the passage. this way you can identify answers as you read along

  2. Anon

    Not bad but you might want to re-do this one and provide more ‘real’ info

    • Brian

      We are working on an “ultimate guide” to reading comprehension – coming soon

      • Anonymous

        boy what ur idea

  3. Leonardo

    I love reading comprehension. I think it is easy if you take the time to read the portion carefully

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