In reading my colleague Nikki's excellent post about "Mind-Wandering" during Reading Comprehension, I got to thinking about some of the other Reading Comp concerns that I hear frequently from students, and an oft-repeated question came to mind: how do I approach the final passage when I'm running out of time?
Put another way, what is the best strategy for attacking a Reading passage with only 3-5 minutes remaining in the section? Considering that the typical test taker needs 9-10 minutes (or more) to get through a passage and its questions, this scenario is an unfortunately common one, so I want to take some time to examine two broad-based approaches that should help you maximize the value of your last few minutes:
1. Go Global—Skim the Passage and Answer the Global Questions
In general, I tend to advise against skimming--the passages are designed in a way that easily defeats skimming as an effective strategy, and students who skim the passages are simply unable to answer all of the questions correctly. However, when time is running low, skimming might be able to help you answer at least a few questions without issue. The idea here is to skim the text very quickly, attempting to glean the gist of the passage and the author’s general position. Then, find all of the Global questions (broad questions that don't reference a specific line/element within the passage) and attempt to answer each based on your big-picture understanding of the passage. Hopefully, you will encounter at least one Main Point and Global Purpose question, and you can use your very generalized knowledge of the passage to answer those quickly.
2. Go Local—Read the Questions First and do only the Specific Reference Questions.
With this approach you employ another stratagem I tend to caution students against: you read the questions first and then attempt to find the answer to each by looking back to a specific section of the passage. The key is to select carefully the questions to do. By choosing to do only the Specific Reference questions (questions that refer to a specific line/potion/element within the passage), you can use the line references to return to precise areas of the passage and gain the knowledge needed to hopefully answer the questions. Thus, with this stratagem you do not read or skim the passage at all; you just read small sections very closely in response to the details in the questions.
The choice of strategy is yours, but note that it's somewhat dependent on the nature of the questions. If you know you are low on time, when you arrive at the passage you should glance at the questions and attempt to determine if there are more Specific Reference questions or more Global questions. Then use that information and your personal preferences to decide which strategy to use. You cannot predetermine which strategy to choose; you must make the decision when you reach and review the passage and its questions.