1. Thinking that if you underline it, you’ll remember it. Annotating passages works very well for many people, and I usually encourage it, or at least that people try it. But I like to suggest alternative annotation methods to underlining for two reasons: (1) underlines (particularly in pencil) are harder than circles and squares and scribbles to spot later on, when you need to return to the passage to re-read a portion of it, and (2) underliners have the liberty of being less choosy about what they underline. If you are a circler, you have to choose which words to circle. If you are an underliner, you could–and many people do–underline a whole paragraph if you wanted. Since the purposes of annotating are (1) to help you understand the passage better as you read it, and (2) to make yourself a “map” to use later when you have to return to it, don’t fall for the trap of believing that if you underline, you’re safe. You probably aren’t optimizing your annotation practice.
2. Believing that if you don’t look at the time, it’s not passing. How many times have you thought, “If I just had thirteen minutes on this passage, I could get them all right!” Sometimes, we can become so determined to “get them all right” that we turn off our sense of time passing. It’s a form of stubbornness: I’m not moving on until I get this one, because I know I can! This attitude is an asset to a certain extent; it keeps you motivated to push forward on the hard ones, and it indicates a healthy confidence. But there’s a time to cut bait, and you won’t know it if you’re determined not to look at the clock. If it’s been two minutes and you’re not making progress (or maybe not even that long, depending on how the section is going for you), bid the doozie adieu and take a guess, wild or educated (or infuriated). There are more, faster points to be had.
3. Mistakenly focus on what you don’t know on hard passages. You’ve reached the third paragraph of “the hard” passage, and all you can think about is how little of it you’ve understood so far. You’re so focused on what you haven’t understood, you’re not at all thinking about what you have understood. In my experience, this is where many students become their own worst enemies in reading comp; they don’t realize that they actually understand more than they think, and that if they focus on what they do get, they’ll not only be more likely to answer some questions correctly, they’ll be less anxious, which will make their overall mental state stronger for the rest of the passage, the section, and the test overall. Sure, hard passages stink, and knowing all that you don’t know is terrifying. But there is some that you can get: what is the general subject matter, and what does the author think about it–is she pro, con, or neutral? Who disagrees? What are a few key terms, and are they defined? Ask yourself these questions, arm yourself with the basic answers, and move forward.