6 Simple SAT Reading Tips

Woman smiling and reading
October 31, 2022
Tips for the SAT Reading SectionFAQs: Simple SAT Reading Tips

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

Are you looking for tips and tricks to help you prepare for the SAT Reading test? Below, we’ll explore SAT Reading tips you can use to help you ace the exam. Keep reading for more! 

Eat. Study. Sleep. Study. Repeat.

When preparing for the SAT, you may think this is all you need to do to tackle the exam. But where do you start? Should you study the same way for each section? 

While there are similarities among them, the SAT sections has its own unique challenges and will require you to follow specific methods to make sure you prepare for them successfully. 

In this article, we’ll give you a list of SAT reading tips to improve your chances of getting a good score. Let’s get started!

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Tips for the SAT Reading Section

Preparing for the SAT Reading section of the SAT is very different from other sections of the exam. The SAT Reading section evaluates your ability to use critical reading and comprehension skills to draw out the main ideas of a passage. 

Ultimately, it would help if you switched your mindset between the different SAT sections because of how different the nature of the questions are between them. While these tips have been tailored with the SAT Reading section in mind, there are a few universal ideas that can be applied to multiple sections. With that in mind, let’s begin.  

Tip 1: Know What To Expect

Just like the Math section, it will be imperative to prepare in advance to have any chance of attaining a high percentile on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT. The Math section, however, has a more precise set of topics that will be covered, and the methods of answering these questions are more straightforward since sets of rules must be followed. 

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section is unique in that it can range from topics on literature, history, social studies, and natural sciences and require more theoretical or reading comprehension-based answers. Tools for solving Evidence-Based Reading and Writing questions in the SAT do not include equations.

So what does an SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test look like? There are three components to consider when preparing for the exam: format, scoring, and strategy.

Format

The SAT Reading Section is the first of all sections in the SAT. It contains 52 questions, five passages, and has a time limit of 65 minutes. 

The passages can vary in subject, some including: literary narrative, history, social science, and natural science (the first of which is always literary narrative). Dual passages, passages that contain two shorter excerpts from different pieces, will never be about literary narrative (always one of the other three subjects). 

Additionally, it is helpful to note that at least one of the passages will be derived from “older” text, like excerpts from 19th or 20th-century novels, 18th or 19th-century speeches, or even a Federation paper or founding document.

Scoring

The SAT Reading score is calculated on a scale of 200-400 via The College Board. This SAT Reading score is then combined with the SAT Writing & Language score for a total Verbal score of 400-800. This Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score will then be combined with your Math score to come up with your overall SAT score.

Strategy

The SAT Reading section is the only part of the exam that does not require any outside content knowledge. There is no need to memorize author names, dates, or texts for this section; instead, it will require strategic and comprehensive thinking. 

This means less reliance on analytical thinking using tools like equations and more understanding of the context that the language of a Reading question poses.

Tip 2: Practice, Practice, Practice

Even though the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT is unique every time it is constructed, it is still important to use practice tests to understand how the questions look and what they feel like. College Board partner Khan Academy provides practice question examples. 

College Board also provides downloadable full-length practice tests on their website. You can also download the Reading portion of the practice tests* here:

Practice Test 1: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

Practice Test 3: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

Practice Test 5: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

Practice Test 6: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

Practice Test 7: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

Practice Test 8: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

Practice Test 9: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

Practice Test 10: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations

*Note: Practice Tests 2 and 4 were removed from the College Board site.

These tests are made by the same people who make the actual SAT. To simulate a real experience, taking these tests with the same time limit that you will be given during the actual SAT is recommended.

Tip 3: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review (SQRRR)

Every Evidence-Based Reading and Writing SAT Exam is different and each question has the potential to throw off a test-taker. Have a consistent strategy you can rely on when tackling each unique question  to have a better chance of staying focused on the correct topic. One strategy you can follow is the SQRRR method: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.

Survey

Instead of reading each passage right away, methodically glance over (survey) it to identify critical points, including the subject matter, point of view, and purpose of the text. Skim the first sentence of each paragraph, identify keywords and use a visual identifier to mark them for future reference (i.e., circling or underlining key terms), and do the same for each question.

Question

Reading a passage right away can get you lost in your thought process and  the flow of your test-taking. After you have surveyed the passage and the questions, come up with a few questions about the passage that get you to think about it more critically. Here are a few questions for critical thinking:

Read

You are ready to read the passage actively when you reach this step. Visually mark keywords that are important to the passage and the questions. Do the same for the “buts” and “ands”–this will keep your brain active while reading and help you identify continuations and changes in arguments or thoughts from the author.

The most important claim in each paragraph, or the main thought , is usually found in the first and last sentences. Knowing where to find these claims can be crucial in collecting the supporting evidence for your answers.

Recite

After you have written your answer, read it to yourself! This may seem simple, but it is a fundamental trick you can use to ensure that you are in control of the thought you are trying to convey. When you read your answer to yourself, you are confirming whether it is understandable and whether it relates to the question being asked.

Review

Reviewing your answer goes hand-in-hand with reciting. Actively listen to your response to see if it would make sense to a complete stranger. Look to see if there are better ways to keep the reading flow of your answer. Without having another pair of eyes look at your answer, it is your responsibility to be as objective as you can when reviewing your response to a question.

Tip 4: Take on Dual Passages One at a Time

As mentioned earlier, there will be a set of dual passages on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT. These passages will be about one of three subjects: history, social studies, or natural sciences. 

To manage your time wisely, do the questions of the first passage first, then do the questions of the second passage, and finally, do the questions that pertain to both passages last. This will also help you avoid mixing up both passages while coming up with your answers.

Tip 5: Know The SAT Reading Question Types

As you practice and become more and more familiar with the SAT Practice Tests shared above, you will gain an acute understanding of the types of questions that SAT examiners use: Words in Context, Command of Evidence, Function/Purpose, Main Ideas, Detail or Line Reference, Inference, and Charts and Graphs. 

The following example excerpts are taken from College Board’s Official SAT Practice Test #1:

Words in Context

This question type asks students to choose a word or idea similar in meaning to a word or idea used in the passage.

As in line 1 and line 65, “directly” most nearly means

A) Frankly.

B) Confidently.

C) Without mediation

D) With precision.

Command of Evidence

Command of Evidence questions ask students to select a line reference in the passage that best supports their answer to a previous question.

Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A) Line 33 (“His voice…refined”)

B) Lines 49-51 (“You…mind”)

C) Lines 63-64 (“Please…proposal”)

D) Lines 71-72 (“Eager…face”)

Function/Purpose

These questions ask students to determine the purpose of a part of the passage (i.e., line, word, idea, etc.) or its entirety.

The main purpose of the passage is to

A) Emphasize the value of tradition.

B) Stress the urgency of an issue.

C) Highlight the severity of social divisions. 

D) Question the feasibility of an undertaking.

Main Ideas

Main Idea questions ask students to determine  the main ideas of passages as a whole, a series of lines, or paragraphs.

The central claim of the passage is that

A) Educated women face a decision about how to engage with existing institutions.

B) Women can have positions of influence in English society only if they give up some of their traditional roles.

C) The male monopoly on power in English society has had grave and continuing effects.

D) The entry of educated women into positions of power traditionally held by men will transform those positions.

Detail or Line Reference

These questions ask for specific details in the passage.

In the second paragraph (lines 12-19), what do the authors claim to be a feature of biological interest?

A) The chemical formula of DNA

B) The common fiber axis

C) The X-ray evidence

D) DNA consisting of two chains

Inference

Inference questions ask test-takers to form a logical conclusion based on specific parts of the passage.

Based on the passage, the authors’ statement “If a pair consisted of two purines, for example, there would not be room for it” (lines 29-30) implies that a pair

A) of purines would be larger than the space between a sugar and a phosphate group.

B) of purines would be larger than a pair consisting of a purine and a pyrimidine. 

C) of pyrimidines would be larger than a pair of purines.

D) consisting of a purine and a pyrimidine would be larger than a pair of pyrimidines.

Charts and Graphs

These questions ask test-takers to analyze a chart, which is usually related to the passages.

The graph following the passage offers evidence that gift-givers base their predictions of how much a gift will be appreciated on

A) the appreciation level of the gift-recipients.

B) the monetary value of the gift.

C) their own desires for the gifts they purchase.

D) their relationship with the gift-recipients.

Becoming acquainted with these question styles can help you better prepare for your SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test.

Tip 6: Gauge Your Time Vs. Skipping Ability

Skipping questions is a normal part of test-taking, but this process can also lead you to lose out on precious time if you rely on it too much. 

If you feel like you may not have enough time left when you circle back to your skipped answers, be sure to leave an educated guess first before moving on. You may get it wrong, but giving yourself a chance is infinitely better than guaranteeing yourself a zero by providing a blank answer.

FAQs: Simple SAT Reading Tips

Still have questions on the SAT Reading section? Take a look at our answers to these frequently asked questions for more information.

1. How Can I Improve My Reading on the SAT?

Use practice tests and practice regularly. Practicing intensely for one day does not equate to practicing consistently over weeks and months of time. It is similar to brushing your teeth - you are much better off making a habit out of your studying.

2. Is 700 a Good Reading SAT Score?

Generally, 700 is a good SAT Reading score. Ultimately, this score will be calculated with the SAT Writing & Language score for a total Verbal score, so keep this in mind when trying to score points on each question.

3. How Do You Pace Yourself on the SAT Reading Test?

Since the test has a time limit of 65 minutes, a student should spend roughly 13 minutes on each section. There are 52 questions in total for the Reading section, so it should take roughly 1.25 minutes to answer each question. To simulate these time limits, use a stop-watch or a digital timer while you are doing your practice tests.

4. How Much Time Should I Spend on the SAT Reading Exam?

SAT passages should take roughly five minutes to read through. Using the SQRRR method will help you survey the passages efficiently to ensure you are actively getting through the text and leaving markings that you can reference later.

5. Is the SAT Reading Section Easy?

The SAT Reading Test is as easy as you make it for yourself. Preparing in advance will help your test-taking experience and give you a better chance of coming out of it with more peace than stress. 

Some people are better in this section than others; everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. You will be just as awesome when you finish as you were before you started, so the only thing left to do is give it your all!

Final Thoughts

The SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test can be a challenging and fun opportunity to score points on your SAT and become one step closer to taking your first steps in college. The best SAT Reading tip  is this: know that your success is in your hands, no matter what other people say. 

Know that your value does not come from your SAT score or what a college might think of it, but from how you move forwards regardless of the outcome. Know that you can do great on the SAT as well as anything you put your mind to. Embrace the journey and good luck!

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