Test Prep

4 Questions You’ll See on SAT Reading

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You may know what to expect from the passages on SAT Reading, and that’s a good start. But you’ll also want to know the types of questions! Becoming familiar with the question types will help you avoid any surprises come test day.

From our experience, there are four main types of questions on the SAT Reading:


- Line Reference/Lead Word

- Vocabulary-In-Context

- General

- Paired

Each of these will present its own level of difficulty, and some types might be easier for you than others.

Line Reference/Lead Word Questions

If a question asks about a specific point in the text, you’re facing a Line Reference question. You’ll see a line number indicating exactly which part of the passage the question is referencing. Here’s an example:

In lines 44-47, the author’s goal of mentioning “several beautiful bookshelves” is to...

However, the reference is only exact with regard to the material being quoted. The answer itself is rarely stated directly in those lines. When you go back to the passage for a line reference question, read about 10 to 12 lines around the quote in order to get the context needed to answer the question correctly.

Lead Word questions are a slightly different variation on a Line Reference question. They still refer to a specific spot in the passage but do not give an exact line number. Instead, you’ll get a proper name or a word that is obviously important. Are these automatically harder? No! You can still find the relevant part of the text. Just quickly run your finger down the passage until you find the name or word. Then, as with Line Reference questions, read about 10 to 12 lines in order to find the answer to the question.

Vocabulary-In-Context Questions

Some questions ask you for the best alternative for a quoted word or phrase. A form of Line Reference question, these will always include a line number, and they’ll look something like this:

In line 37, “practice” most nearly means...

And you’ll choose the best fit from the multiple-choice answers.

Remember, though, that the test makers will quite often choose words with more than one meaning just to trick you. With that in mind, these questions can be answered by reading a couple of sentences around the word in question. (How tricky you find these questions can help you determine your personal order of difficulty, a technique useful on both the SAT and ACT.)

General Questions

Line Reference/Lead Word and Vocabulary-In-Context questions are often specific enough for you to answer without having to read the entire passage. General questions are not so simple!

These may ask you to summarize the main idea of the passage or to choose an answer that best describes its purpose. The SAT will typically put these questions first. However, since these questions require a little more knowledge of the passage, consider saving them for last. Once you’ve covered all the other question types, you’ll have a much better understanding of the overall passage.

Paired Questions

If the SAT Reading wasn’t already complicated enough, the test makers include paired questions to seal the deal.

These are pretty much exactly what you’d expect: a set of questions in which one question follows up on the one that precedes it.

Paired questions are pretty easily spotted. If question eight in your booklet is phrased:

The author includes the character’s favorite book to...

and question nine is phrased:

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

you know you’re facing paired questions.

Sometimes looking at both questions in a set can make the answers clearer. But also remember that if you can’t answer one, chances are good you won’t be able to answer the other. If that’s the case, skip these and move on!

Remember that proper SAT test prep includes familiarizing yourself with the structure and elements of the test, not just the content. That’s often best done by taking practice tests before the real thing.

For more details on the Reading section, check out our Reading & Writing Workout for the SAT. For more on the entire test, use our guide Cracking the SAT for tips and tricks to help you strategize before test day.