Test Prep

Strategies for the SAT Reading Test

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The Reading Test on the SAT comprises half of your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score. It consists of 52 questions divided between five different passages, each of which ranges from 500-750 words long. There will be one literature passage, two science passages and two history/social studies passages. Each passage will be followed by 10-11 questions, which will begin with general ideas and become more specific.

You only have 65 minutes to read all the passages and answer all the questions, so it's essential to have a plan! Consider these eight steps to help you conquer the exam.

How to Approach SAT Reading Questions

1. Tackle any passages with line numbers first.

2. Read the short blurb that introduces the passage.

3. Don't read the passage -- skip straight to the questions. Work the questions for each passage from last to first. It will be easier to answer the more specific questions without reading the whole passage, and after answering the specific questions, you'll have a good sense of the passage topic and themes for the general questions.

4. Read the last question about the passage. Reading questions are often presented as incomplete statements such as “The Earl Grey tea (line 23) represents the character's..." with answer choices that complete the statement. Rephrase the statement as a who, what or why question, like “What does the Earl Grey tea represent to the character?"

5. Read what you need. If there are line references in the question, read five lines above the referenced line and 5 lines below to get the full context. If there are not line references, look for specific names, quotes or phrases that are easy to find in the passage.

6. When you find the answer in the text, underline it or jot down a quick note.

7. Go back to the question. Cross out any answer choices that stand out as incorrect or don't match the answer you found.

8. Bubble in your answer choice. If you were only able to cross out two wrong answers and still have two maybe-right answer choices, it's okay to guess. You've already improved your odds of guessing correctly by eliminating two choices.

Eight steps might sound like a lot, but you'll be surprised how quickly these strategies will help you get through the Reading Test! Practice working these steps on real SAT Reading passages to get comfortable with the process and timing, and to assess your performance.