Changes to the New SAT’s Reading and Writing Section

October 12, 2022

We have studied the College Boards’ specs for the new SAT and analyzed the first official SAT practice test on their new digital testing app, Blue Book. In addition to the new SAT’s digital adaptive structure, the biggest change to the test is the verbal content. Below are our initial observations of how the Reading and Writing section of the new SAT differs from that of the traditional (current) test.

Here are our key takeaways from the Reading and Writing section of the new digital adaptive SAT practice test:

Shorter Passages

Reading and Writing passages on the new SAT are much shorter (only up to 150 words, whereas the current SAT passages are up to about 750 words). Many of the passages on the official practice test are only about a tenth the length of passages on the traditional SAT. This shift to shorter reading is well suited to the digital format of the exam, as you don’t need to scroll to see the whole passage. Also, each passage is accompanied by only a single question. Anecdotally, we have noticed that the constant switching to new passages may help with short attention spans, but it can also be mentally taxing.

If you remember all the way back to the pre-2016 version of the SAT, these short passages may feel a bit familiar. The texts resemble the short Reading passages and single-sentence Writing questions that appeared in that older version of the test.

More Predictable Structure

On the new SAT, verbal question types will always appear in the same order. For example, the first set of questions will always be vocabulary-based “Words in Context” questions, which will progress in difficulty. The first half of each verbal module will consist of Reading question types, and the second half will be Writing question types, (focusing more on punctuation, grammar, and revision.)

The following table shows the order of question types. Note that Standard English Conventions is the only verbal content area that is not ordered by question type but instead is sorted by difficulty.

Content AreaQuestion TypesQuestion Distribution
Craft and StructureWords in Context, Structure and Purpose,
Cross-Text Connections
13-15 questions
about 28% of section
Information and IdeasDetails, Central Ideas, Command of Evidence, Inferences12-14 questions
about 26% of section
Standard English ConventionsFragments, Run-ons, Punctuation, Pronouns, Subject-Verb Agreement, Parallelism, Modifiers, Verb Tense, Idioms, Diction
(Note: ordered by question difficulty)
11-15 questions
about 26% of section
Expression of IdeasTransitions, Rhetorical Synthesis8-12 questions
about 20% of section

New Strategies

With the changes to SAT verbal content, we have adapted our strategies for taking the test.

Students can take advantage of the consistent ordering of question types. For example, if you know that Words in Context questions appear first, you can read the first passages with a focused goal of defining the words in question. Similarly, since the first half of each module will have Reading questions, students should expect to need to read these passages more thoroughly. On the other hand, the second half of each module has Writing questions, which can often be solved more quickly with a less careful reading of the passages.

Students should look at a question before they read the relevant passage. The question will usually provide a focus to the reading. This way, the task of reading becomes more goal-oriented and strategic. On the traditional SAT, this strategy can often cause issues for students, because the task of remembering nearly a dozen questions while also thoroughly reading a long passage is a lot to mentally juggle. On the New SAT, looking at the questions first before the passage becomes more viable and helpful.

Additionally, students should develop familiarity with the highlighting and annotation tools. It’s important to practice using the digital test’s different functionalities before the official test so students don’t waste time on the big day.

Sample screenshot from College Board’s new SAT testing platform

New Verbal Content

Whereas the question types that appear on the new SAT are the same as the traditional test, some unfamiliar types of passages have been added. Rarely, verbal passages may be poems or plays. If students haven’t prepared for the AP English Literature and Composition exam, these types of passages may be a stumbling block. Practice with poetry and plays will need to be a part of all students’ SAT prep.

Sample question from College Board’s official new SAT practice test #1

The last question type to appear on each verbal module will relate to an unusual passage type: a bulleted list. These passages show a set of notes that were listed as someone researched a topic, and the student is tasked with synthesizing the information in the notes. Students will need enough exposure to this new question type so it feels familiar.

Sample question from College Board’s official new SAT practice test #1

Summit: We Got This

Overall, quite a bit has changed in the new SAT’s Reading and Writing section. Currently, Summit is hard at work, updating our course material to reflect these changes. We’re in the process of overhauling all of our verbal content so we can offer the most accurate and effective SAT prep materials. We are also in contact with College Board officials to ensure we stay informed on all updates to the new SAT. Stay tuned for more details as we continue to study the new test and learn more about its administration.

Remember, the new exam will not affect the current junior class. However, sophomores and other underclassmen will need to prepare for this new exam.

Questions? Please contact us at (800) MY-TUTOR or We’d love to talk to you!

Joshua White – Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Training

In his role as Director of Curriculum, Joshua oversees the development, implementation, and oversight of Summit’s curriculum, instruction, and training. Prior to his role, Joshua spent 3 years as a Summit tutor and classroom teacher, preparing students for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, and essay-writing. With over 10 years of tutoring experience, Joshua has taught students from kindergarteners to senior citizens in everything from cooking to computers.


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