OAT Test Prep: Reading Comprehension

Welcome to my new OAT series, where I will be covering all six subjects on the OAT in separate articles.  Today I will be covering the Reading Comprehension section of the exam.  As always, check back for more articles in the future! Please keep in mind that you can comment at the bottom of the article when you are done reading.

What should you be expecting from this section?
Well, you will have three short, science-based articles to read and answer questions on.  There are a few different question types, but, as with all OAT questions, they are all multiple choice.  The entire section should last about 50 minutes and will contain, in addition to the three articles, roughly 40 total questions.  The precise figures for any OAT section can always vary a bit, but don’t worry, this will give you a solid estimate on what to expect on test day!  For each article, you will first be displayed the article without any questions to read through it.  Then, when you move on to the questions, a box underneath each question will allow you to refer back to the article without having to switch screens (a useful feature that saves time).  Once you complete all questions in an article, you will move on to the next.  As with all OAT sections, you may use the “mark question” feature to skip any question so that you can return to them at the end.  However, due to the fact that there are three separate articles on entirely different subjects, it is VERY difficult to try and review questions marked way back during the first passage after you’ve just finished with the third!  So, my advice is to make sure EVERY question for each article is answered, as best as you can given the time you have available (guess if you must) BEFORE moving on to the next article.  Some articles do take longer than others so it can be difficult to pace yourself effectively, but I will give the following guidelines: Try and have at least 30-35 minutes left after completing the first article, and try and have over 15 minutes left after completing the second article.

This section, along with the Quantitative Reasoning section, seem to give test-takers the most stress with regards to time, so pace yourself as well as you can!  The best way to learn how to do this is to practice, practice, practice.  Refer to the end of my second OAT article here for some great links to popular and proven study resources!  In addition to practice tests, the best way to study for Reading Comprehension, especially if your reading speed is slow, is to look for science-based articles to read on your own.  Articles you find interesting are usually much easier to ‘digest’ but you must be prepared for anything.  So don’t only pick interesting ones, because you need to make sure you can effectively read ANY article the OAT test-makers might throw at you!

So, now that you know the basics, what’s next?
Well, what are the most effective strategies for tackling this section?  I’ll go over them now.  The first, most common strategy seems to be to read the passage first, and to take light notes on each paragraph.  Then when answering questions, students can refer to their notes to quickly see what specific paragraphs pertain to each question, and can then quickly review the relevant paragraph/s to help answering any question.  This works well because the paragraphs are all numbered in the article, which makes it very easy to refer back to specific paragraphs at any time during the section.  Here are some guidelines for taking good notes.  For each paragraph, write down the number, and jot down briefly the main topics covered in the paragraph.  In addition, many students write down ‘keywords’ here as well, so that if they see that ‘keyword’ in a later question they can immediately scan through their notes to find which paragraph discusses it.  While taking notes, incomplete sentences are ideal for the sake of saving time!  Try to keep the notes both as short and relevant as possible; the only way to get good at this is to practice as much as you can!  This is the strategy I used on the OAT, so I can say with personal experience that it works.  There are, however, other strategies that some students have successfully employed on their tests.

One strategy that seems quite direct in its approach is what I’ll call ‘question hunting’.  Right off the bat, without even reading the article, some students skip directly to the questions to save time on not having to read/outline each passage, and then quickly hunt through the passage to quickly find the answers to each question.  A number of students have performed extremely well with this strategy; I’d never advise it for a student more like myself, however, as it would take me far longer to hunt through the passage for each question than to simply read the passage beforehand.  Another strategy is, instead of taking notes while reading the passage, to construct an entirely mental outline of the passage.  I’ve heard from at least one person who used this quite successfully (pm me on SDN with your name if you want credit, I’ll know who you are), however I don’t think it would work for the majority of test-takers.  Still an interesting thing to try though, if you are up to it!  Another strategy that could be tried would be to quickly read every question before looking at the article, and then going back to read the article with the idea of what specifically to focus in on.  I’m sure someone has used this strategy before, although I have not heard of it; I am merely suggesting it as a possible alternative that I see may work.

The important thing though, when selecting a strategy, is to find what works for YOU!  Everyone is different, so different approaches will work better for different people.  Trust me I know; I have several years of tutoring experience at both the high school and college level, and I have learned how important it is to individually tailor test-taking strategies!
Good luck tackling the Reading Comprehension section of the Optometry Admission Test, check back in the near future for articles on the other subjects!  And if you have ANY questions or comments on the OAT, please use the comment feature, we will get back to you!

Dale Paynter

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