The Reading Test is the first section on the SAT. This section consists of four single passages and one pair of passages. You will have 65 minutes to answer 52 multiple-choice questions. This will allow you 13 minutes per passage, or about 1 minute and 15 seconds per question, but some of that time will be used reading the passages.
|SAT Reading Test|
|65 minutes||52 questions across 5 passages||13 minutes per passage|
The passages in the SAT Reading section are about a variety of subjects. There will be one U.S. and world literature passage, two history/social studies passages, and two science passages.
|Types of Passages on the SAT Reading Test|
U.S. and World Literature
|An excerpt from a contemporary or classic work of literature.|
|History/Social Studies||History: A passage or a pair of passages from a historical primary source, relating either to the founding of the U.S. or a speech or written work dealing with global freedom or human rights.
Social Studies: A passage or a pair of passages on a topic such as anthropology, economics, geography, psychology, or sociology.
|Science||A passage or a pair of passages about a scientific topic such as biology, geology, physics, or chemistry.|
The passages will vary in difficulty; some may be straightforward and easy to read while others may be more complex or deal with challenging concepts. You may encounter passages from the 19th century or earlier, which may contain unfamiliar or antiquated language. Additionally, the history/social studies passages or the science passages may contain informational graphics such as charts or graphs, which you will be expected to understand and relate to the passage.
The paired passages will be on the same topic, either history/social studies or science. The passages may provide differing opinions on a similar topic, or may focus on different elements of the same topic. You will be expected to relate the paired passages to each other and compare and contrast their content and purpose.
The SAT categorizes their reading questions into three subsections:
1. Information and Ideas
“The description in the first paragraph indicates that what Ethan values most about Mattie is her...” (Understanding Relationships)
“As used in line 38, ‘intense’ most nearly means...” (Interpreting Words or Phrases in Context)
“What choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?” (Citing Textual Evidence)
“In the context of the passage, the author’s use of the phrase “her light step flying to keep time with his long stride” (line 3) is primarily meant to convey the idea that…” (Analyzing Word Choice)
“The passage most strongly suggests that researchers at the Martin Prosperity Institute share which assumption?” (Analyzing Point of View)
“The main rhetorical effect of the series of three phrases beginning in line 3 (“the diminution, the subversion, the destruction”) is to…” (Analyzing Text Structure)
“It can reasonably be inferred from the passage and graphic that if scientists adjusted the coils to reverse the magnetic field simulating that in the East Atlantic (Cape Verde Islands), the hatchlings would most likely swim in which direction?” (Analyzing Quantitative Information)
"Which claim about traffic congestion is supported by the graph?" (Analyzing Quantitative Information)
We will break these subsections down even further to focus on the specific skills necessary to be successful on the SAT Reading Section.
1) Read the whole passage first.
While it is tempting to immediately begin searching for the answers to the questions, this approach may prevent you from gaining a full understanding of the passage. By reading the entire passage before beginning to answer any questions, you will have a clearer understanding of the main idea of the passage, as well as other generalities such as the point of view, purpose, and structure. This will allow you to answer questions quickly.
2) Check in with yourself.
Sometimes our brains can go on autopilot and read over an entire passage without actually comprehending what we read. To prevent this, check in with yourself every paragraph or even every few sentences. Would you be able to describe to someone what you just read? It may be helpful to make notes in the margin as well to remind yourself of what you have read, or the purpose of the paragraph.
3) Note where each question points you to in the passage.
Some questions will point you to a specific word, line, or paragraph. Marking these places will allow your eyes to search for the answer more quickly.
4) Try to predict the answer before looking at the answer choices.
Sometimes our understanding of the passage can be swayed by the answer choices, especially if you look at the questions and answers before reading the passage. To prevent this from happening, try to create your own answer to the question before looking at the answer choices. Then see which answer choice most closely matches the answer you came up with.
5) Eliminate any answer choices that you can.
Some answer choices may overgeneralize and not respond to the specific question being asked. Answer choices that answer something other than the question being asked can be eliminated.
Let’s go through an example passage using the strategies above.
In the example passage above, key words that appear in the questions are circled, and their respective question numbers are written next to them. The summary of each paragraph is meant to represent how the reader should check in with themselves after each paragraph, to ensure that they understand what they just read. Now we can go on to the questions.
22. The authors use the word “backbone” in lines 3 and 39 to indicate that:
Before looking at the answer choices, let’s go to the passage and see if we can come up with our own answer. In line 3, the word “backbone” is used to describe the regular alternation of sugar and phosphate groups. The word “backbone” is often used figuratively to describe something that is essential to the structure of something else (i.e. “volunteers are the backbone of charitable organizations”). The word is used again in line 39, referring to the main structure of DNA. Looking at the answer choices:
a) only very long chains of DNA can be taken from an organism with a spinal column
b) the main structure of a chain in a DNA molecule is composed of repeating units.
c) a chain in a DNA molecule consists entirely of phosphate groups or of sugars
d) nitrogenous bases form the main structural unit of DNA.
We determined that the word “backbone” refers to an essential structural component, and that the “backbone” of DNA is repeating sequences of sugars and phosphates. Therefore, the answer is B.
Let’s look at one more question.
24. In the second paragraph (lines 12-19), what do the authors claim to be a feature of biological interest?
In the second paragraph, the authors state that the feature of DNA “which is of biological interest is that it consists not of one chain, but of two” (lines 12-14). Now let’s look at the answer choices.
a) The chemical formula of DNA
b) The common fiber axis
c) The X-ray evidence
d) DNA consisting of two chains
Based on the information provided by the authors, the answer is D.
Slower readers may feel overwhelmed with a timed reading test, and may be especially worried about running out of time reading the passages. While it is important to read through the passage in its entirety, it is not essential to remember every detail upon first reading. It is much more important to have a general understanding of the passage. If you find yourself getting bogged down in the vocabulary, don’t be afraid to skim the passage to establish a basic idea of what it is about.
Readers will often make assumptions, or inferences, while reading a passage. While some questions will require you to make inferences, your inferences should always be based on evidence that can be found in the passage. Make sure you are able to find proof for each of your answers in the passage.
“Interpreting Words or Phrases in Context” questions may ask you the meaning of a word found in the passage. In order to have the best understanding of the word or phrase in context, don’t just read the sentence that it is in, but rather read for a couple sentences before and after the given word. Often these surrounding sentences will give clues about the meaning of the given word.