The Art of Annotation

Boost your SAT Reading Score by 20%: Learn Effect Annotation Strategies from Top Scorer Sarah

June 3, 2024

Knowing how to read is one thing, but knowing what to look for is another. Delve into the art of active annotation, an essential technique that can significantly enhance your SAT Reading performance in the upcoming 2023 and 2024 exams. Active annotation involves interacting with the text by highlighting key points, underlining important details, and jotting down notes and observations directly on the passage.

SAT active annotation: engaging with the text

Active annotation is the process of interacting with the text as you read. It involves techniques that go beyond mere underlining and highlighting, allowing you to fully engage with the material. By annotating actively, you create a personalized map of the passage that will guide you when answering questions. One effective approach is to use a combination of highlighting, circling, and margin notes.

1. Highlighting and underlining

Highlighting and underlining are two of the most commonly used annotation techniques that can help you pinpoint essential information in a passage. They are useful for identifying key details, central ideas, and supporting evidence. However, it is important to avoid overusing them, as this can make the text confusing and difficult to read. Instead, focus on highlighting or underlining only the most important points that are relevant to the topic at hand. For example, if a passage discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a certain topic, you can highlight or underline phrases that convey these points. This will help you quickly identify and remember the most important information when revisiting the passage for answers or further study. Additionally, you can use different symbols to indicate different types of information, such as main ideas, supporting evidence, or definitions.

2. Circling

Circling specific words or phrases is an effective study strategy that can help improve your reading comprehension. It allows you to draw your attention to crucial vocabulary, transitions, or comparisons that you might have missed otherwise. These circles act as markers for potential questions that might ask about the significance of those elements, giving you a better understanding of the text and making it easier to answer questions about it. In addition, circling important words or phrases can help you retain information better and improve your memory of the passage. By emphasizing these elements, you create a stronger mental image of the text and its key ideas, making it easier to recall later on. For instance, if the passage mentions a particular historical event, circling its name can help you quickly locate it when answering questions about its impact or context. This not only helps you answer questions more accurately, but also deepens your understanding of the historical event and its significance.

3. Margin notes

To further elaborate on the idea of using margins to take notes, it is important to recognize that these notes do not have to be limited to just summarizing the text. In fact, the margins can be used to expand upon the ideas presented in the passage. For instance, if the author discusses the benefits of active annotation, one could use the margins to provide additional examples or real-world applications of this technique. Furthermore, the notes in the margin can also serve as a tool for critical thinking. Instead of simply restating what was written in the passage, one could use the margins to ask questions, offer critiques, or challenge the author's assumptions. By doing so, the reader is able to engage more deeply with the text, and develop a more nuanced understanding of the material. It is also worth noting that margin notes can be particularly useful when reading dense or complex material. By breaking down the text into smaller, more manageable sections, readers can better digest the information and avoid feeling overwhelmed. In addition, margin notes can help readers make connections between different parts of the text. By noting similarities or differences between ideas, readers can gain a more holistic understanding of the material, and develop a more sophisticated perspective.

4. Vocabulary enhancement: a critical component

A strong vocabulary is crucial for comprehending complex texts and responding to vocabulary-related questions. To enhance your vocabulary, you can actively annotate unfamiliar words. This technique can expand your word knowledge and boost your comprehension. Whenever you come across a challenging word, be sure to mark it and write a simple definition in the margin. By doing so, you'll begin to internalize the definition and make it your own. Additionally, try to incorporate the word into your own sentences to reinforce its meaning. This will help you to remember the word and its definition. As you progress and prepare for the SAT, you'll have a more extensive vocabulary arsenal at your disposal, which will enable you to tackle the exam with more confidence and ease.

5. Upcoming digital exam: annotation tools

Starting in 2024, the SAT Reading section will transition to a digital format. But don't worry—annotation tools like highlighters and underlining will still be available on the digital platform. You'll be able to apply the same annotation techniques discussed earlier, ensuring a smooth transition from paper to digital. Familiarize yourself with the digital interface and practice using these tools during your preparation.


1. How do you annotate on the SAT reading?

When it comes to the SAT Reading section, annotation is a crucial part of the process. Active interaction with the text is needed to understand and comprehend what you are reading. You can use a variety of annotation techniques, such as highlighting, underlining, circling, and margin notes to identify key details, important vocabulary, and structural elements of the text. By doing so, you can better understand the passage and all of its elements. With effective annotation, you can enhance your comprehension of the text, allowing you to answer questions accurately and with confidence. So, be sure to take your time and actively engage with the text through annotation!

2. How can I improve my reading comprehension SAT?

Improving SAT reading comprehension requires developing strong annotation skills, enhancing vocabulary, and practicing with various passage types. To do this, students should focus on identifying main ideas, key details, and tone. They can highlight important information and make notes in the margins to remember content and answer questions better. Enhancing vocabulary can be achieved through reading widely, practicing with flashcards, and learning root words and suffixes. Practicing with passages from different genres, such as history, science, and literature, is also necessary to become comfortable with different writing styles and subject matters. In conclusion, active engagement with the text and thorough understanding of its content are key to success in the SAT reading comprehension section. By following these tips, students can significantly improve their scores.

3. Should you annotate on the SAT?

Annotation is an incredibly valuable strategy on the SAT that should not be overlooked. In addition to helping you stay focused while reading, annotation can assist you in identifying crucial details that may be important later on. Furthermore, annotations can help you navigate the passage efficiently, allowing you to get the most out of the time you have. By marking up the text with your own personalized notes and symbols, you are creating a guide that is tailored to your own thought process, which can be incredibly helpful when answering questions. Not only do annotations help you answer questions more effectively, they can also contribute to a deeper understanding of the text as a whole. Rather than just simply reading the words on the page, annotation allows you to engage with the material in a more meaningful way, making connections and drawing conclusions that you may not have been able to otherwise.


In conclusion, mastering the SAT Reading section requires more than just reading—it demands active engagement through annotation. By employing techniques like highlighting, circling, margin notes, and vocabulary enhancement, you can elevate your comprehension and increase your chances of success on the exam. Whether you're preparing for the paper or digital format, consistent practice and effective annotation will be your allies. To enhance your SAT journey, consider signing up for Aha’s AI learning platform. It offers a range of resources, including quality practice questions and personalized insights, helping you learn smarter, not harder.

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