All of us read to some degree. Some high school students plow through books every other week while still finding time to complete their schoolwork, play sports, and occasionally work jobs and attend to other responsibilities.
Many of us mere mortals, however, find that we don’t have the time or energy to read multiple books outside of school every month, because once we’ve gotten home from a long day, done homework and eaten dinner, we want to spend those remaining 30 minutes before falling asleep on Facebook or in front of the TV. I’m not here to advocate against that at all. Relaxing and socializing are both necessary. However, I’d like to share how I started reading a little bit more every day and how it came to help me on the SAT.
The summer before my junior year of high school I worked a summer landscaping job, and I was up early and out the door every day by 6 a.m. This meant flying out the door every morning trying to make it on time to work. On the weekends, sleeping in was the best feeling in the world. I would stumble downstairs around 11 a.m. and eat some breakfast, and typically scan the Sports section of the Washington Post. Mainly, I would look at the baseball standings, stats from the Orioles and Blue Jays’ games from the previous day or two, and check the league leaders in various categories.
My dad, also a baseball fan, encouraged me to start reading the analysis articles. At the time, the Post employed two of the best sports writers in a generation, Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser (now famous for their ESPN show “Pardon the Interruption”). So I took his advice, and instead of just looking at the standings and the stats, I’d pick one or two articles to read.
At first it was time consuming: I wasn’t used to reading the longer articles, and I’d get through maybe one article while eating breakfast. They were also written at a much higher level than the one paragraph game recaps I was used to reading. However, these guys could write, and had a way of presenting the local (and national) sports issues with such insight that I got a whole new understanding of the games and players. It didn’t take long before I looked forward to reading their articles throughout the week, and made a point to bring the Sports section to work to read during our lunch break.
Sitting outside reading sports articles turned out to be a much more enjoyable way to spend the lunch break than watching Jerry Springer with some of the other guys. And yes, grown men really spent their lunch breaks watching Jerry Springer, and before I started regularly reading the paper, I did, too.
Once I was regularly reading multiple articles in the Sports section, my dad encouraged me to tackle the Op-Ed page. This is the Opinion and Editorial page found at the back of the main news section; it contains a handful of house editorials along with several opinion pieces written by various pundits about current issues and events. Needless to say, I was not immediately as interested in these articles as I was in the sports stories.
On my first attempt, I got so bored I gave up without finishing. My dad pushed me to stick with it, to pick a topic and find an article about it every few days. This helped a lot: I read articles on immigration issues, and I eventually became much more informed and followed the issue over the course of a few weeks. Building comfort with these articles did take time, as they are usually well written and use a wide range of vocabulary. However, after a couple of weeks, I’d read at least a few sports and opinion articles daily, and I actually looked forward to reading them all.
All along, my dad, who had tutored some students for the SAT as a side job just a few years earlier, was sneakily preparing me for the SAT. The passages in the SAT (and ACT) are roughly the same length and often use a lot of the same vocabulary as these opinion articles. I credit the ease with which I tackled the SAT reading passages to the regular opinion article reading I did that summer and into junior year.
I strongly encourage those high school students who don’t particularly enjoy spending all of their free time with a book, to start casually reading some articles in their area of interest, whether that is Sports, Style, Science and Technology, Local Issues, or anything else. With easy access to the Internet, the excuse of not having a newspaper no longer holds water. Once you gain comfort reading a couple of articles in the areas that you really enjoy, branch out and try to tackle some of the more challenging opinion and editorial articles in a major newspaper. This improved my vocabulary, reading speed, and ability to understand the main ideas presented in an article, which are the key things tested on the SAT and ACT Reading sections. Plus, you just might find an issue that interests you.