“Go to the author to get at his meaning, not to find yours.” This advice of John Ruskin’s informs the redesigned SAT, which insists that students set aside personal reactions to their reading in favor of logical interpretations. To score high, students must understand challenging texts, arriving at inferences only through precise evidence.
At a disadvantage are students who read mainly digital content and popular novels: they expect reading to be easy, fast, and entertaining. These teens are further handicapped by shallow engagement with their reading. “What do I think this article was about? What was the author saying to me?” Questions like this will not be asked on the SAT. And the weak reading skills they perpetuate present a serious concern.
The remedy is literature. On its list of 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers, the makers of the SAT offer a menu of novels and cultural texts that build serious reading skills. These texts demand close reading and logical analysis. They require students to attend to details, to think critically, to witness an interconnected conversation about panhuman themes, even when the writing style becomes challenging and unfamiliar. Few students will read all 101 of these texts before entering college. But those who do tackle a fair amount before the SAT are well prepared. The test’s reading passages may not appeal to students’ personal tastes and preferences, but students who made good use of the book list are prepared to read them, analyze them logically, and find the author’s true meaning.