Critical Reading Speed

I just received the following email, which I thought I’d share because I hear some variation of this, all the time. It has to do with Critical Reading speed.

Dear Debbie,

My daughter’s taking 45 minutes to complete the 25-minute critical reading sections. She normally gets 2-4 wrong per critical reading section. So I do not think the issue is comprehension; it’s reading speed. (She’s been taking a section a day.)

I came across your website while trying to research ways to improve her reading speed — and listened to your radio interview — priceless.   I like you idea of reading non-fiction articles and reviewing vocabulary she’s missed over the last year. But taking 20 minutes off her time is daunting to me.

Do you have any other suggestions or references for helping to get her reading speed up?

I am wondering if I should postpone the test until she does get her reading speed up and has time to practice full length tests. Her first SAT is only 5 weeks away.

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts?


I do have thoughts. My daughter had the exact same issue.

I’m actually working on a CR program right now — hoping to launch in the next few weeks. One big lesson will be “effective skimming.” Check out my Critical Reading Intensive. Students who have completed it are seeing great improvements in their Critical Reading score.

Kids have so much trouble skimming because they’ve never been taught how to do it.

Basically, you have to know how to find the main point (quickly), read that carefully, then skim the nonessential info. There are textual clues that point to the main point and to information the author thinks is important.

I will go over all of this in the program!

You can sign up here for information about the reading program here:

If you’d like to speak before I launch the program, or have me work with your daughter (or work with you to work with her) privately, let me know. I tutor for the reading and writing sections and consult with families who’d like to do test prep on their own.

I would postpone the test, unless she can iron out the critical reading speed issue quickly, which is definitely possible.

Once I gave my daughter “the keys,” she got it.

Then, she had the issue of “test anxiety” to overcome, which was a much bigger problem than critical reading speed, though completely surmountable. I’ll post something soon about how she overcame paralyzing test anxiety. In the end, a few simple strategies helped her overcome the fear and perform on test day.

Keep in touch: [email protected]


The SAT Yellow Brick Road

You can sign up for a FREE series of tailored emails that will lead you step-by-step through the entire SAT process:

1) Parent Series

2) Student Series

Each series also includes links to SAT resources and articles that I highly recommend.


Amazon Editors’ Favorite Books of the Year

mazon Editors’ Favorite Books of the Year

No Comments

Welcome to My New Website!

Welcome to my new website!

I’ve organized everything you need to know about the SAT and test prep into two different step-by-step pathways — one for parents and one for students.

When you sign up, you will receive a tailored series of emails that will lead you through the entire process of preparing for the SAT. Each series also includes links to SAT resources and articles that I highly recommend.

Think of this as your very own SAT yellow brick road.

You can sign up for either (or both) below:

1) Parent Series

2) Student Series

If you want to know more about the project, check out the About Page, and if you’re interested in learning about the book, The Perfect Score Project, you can click on the Book Page.

I hope you find the site — New and Improved!

No Comments

Keep Your Own Time on the SAT

Here’s why you need to keep your own time during the SAT:

The best proctors are probably the ones you don’t remember. I remember the proctor from my 6th SATvividly.

The problems started when he was reading the directions. He told us he couldn’t find chalk to write the end time on the board in the front of the gym, so we should use the clock on the wall. Then he pointed out the clock: high up behind the basketball net. I crouched down and cocked my head, staring up in the direction the proctor was pointing, and sure enough there was a clock up there, though I could barely see it because it was covered by a protective metal grating.

And, it turned out that the clock was in pacific time. (I was taking the SAT in New York.)

The time-zone switch turned out to be just one of many timing flubs the proctor made that day, the most egregious of which I now refer to as “the big time lop.” Midway through Section 5—for me, a double passage in the Critical Reading section—the proctor stood up at the front of the gym and cleared his throat.

“Uh, excuse me,” he said confidently. “That time on the board is wrong. You have five-minutes less than that.” And with that, he sat back down in his chair and resumed reading his newspaper, leaving us with five minutes to finish the section rather than the twelve minutes I thought I had.

I was hysterical.

Have I convinced you to bring your own (beepless) watch to the SAT?

You must read Stacey Howe-Lott’s “method” for keeping time while not wasting precious brain juice.

Here’s an audio clip about “the incident” from The Perfect Score Project.


The SAT Yellow Brick Road

You can sign up for a  series of tailored emails that will lead you step-by-step through the entire SAT process:

1) Parent Series

2) Student Series

Each series also includes links to SAT resources and articles that I highly recommend.

No Comments

Reading Group Discussion Questions

I’ve had a recent flurry of Reading Group Discussion Question requests. Either it’s SAT season, or my paperback just came out. (Or both.)

Suggested Book Club Questions: 

1) What were the take-aways from The Perfect Score Project, beyond how to improve your SAT score?

2) Is it possible to make the SAT a joyful experience (or at least not a reviled right of passage), and if so, how?

3) What mistakes did Debbie make (both in parenting and test prep) that we should try to avoid?

4) Was Debbie a helicopter parent? What is a helicopter parent? How much involvement and pushing is enough and when does it become too much? What’s the right balance between teaching our children how to navigate and advocate for themselves academically while at the same time ensuring they get what they need?

5) How do academic expectations get set for a teenager?  Who sets the score goals and how high should they be?

6) What are ways to mitigate anxiety and stay connected as a family throughout the stressful years of high school, especially during junior and senior years when students are under so much pressure with standardized tests and applying to college?

7) How can we become involved as parents without becoming overbearing and a nuisance?

8) How can we ensure that our children have strong, academic foundations?

You can download a PDF of the Reading Group Discussion Questions.

And if you’d like to have me join the discussion, shoot me an email: [email protected]

If you’re in the New York area, check out Book the Writer.