It's not a surprise that the College Board calls the Reading section of the SAT "Critical Reading." It's funny how the Math and Writing sections don't get an exciting adjective like "critical." The ACT section is just called "Reading' but rest assured, you also need to read critically on the ACT. What does it mean to read critically? Well, I'll tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean skim the passage, fail to underline key words and ideas, or daydream about your future college. It doesn't mean ignore names, key facts, and dates. So how do you read with purpose? It's easier than you think.
To read critically requires attention, skill and most of all, confidence. You need to be confident that you know what the important ideas are. Where are the important ideas? Almost always in the beginning and toward the end of each paragraph and the passage as a whole. Remember, the SAT or ACT is predictable and the main idea is not going to be buried in a footnote or supporting detail. And when you find those ideas, don't forget to underline, circle or mark the passage to remind yourself why it’s important! I like to create little notes for myself next to each paragraph. By the time you get to the questions you're going to forget a lot of what you read, that's why it's important to underline and take some minor notes. You are in charge of the text--don't let the words bully you.