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A Look Inside the SAT – Part 1: The SAT Reading Test

 In Articles, SAT

Welcome to our new series–A Look Inside the SAT. Over the next several weeks, we will share some helpful details and tips about the SAT. We’ll start our series with The SAT Reading Test.

That SAT Reading Test is about more than reading comprehension. Students need to not only understand what is stated in a passage but also determine what is implied, how parts of the text function and work together, and why the author decided to develop the passage as it is. These are more advanced insights that require careful consideration of the passage. To reach your highest potential on the SAT Reading Test, you may need to practice making inferences and determining the main ideas of whole passages and paragraphs.

Logistics of the SAT Reading Test

Test Length Students have 65 minutes to complete the SAT Reading Test.
Number of Passages There are 5 passages:

  • 1 passage from U.S. and world literature
  • 2 passages from science
  • 2 passages from history/social studies, including one from either the United States Founding Documents or the Great Global Conversation
Length of Passages The passages are 500-750 words long and range in complexity from grades 9-10 to early college.
Time per Passage Students have around 13 minutes to spend on each passage—about 5 minutes to read the passage and 45 seconds to answer each question.
Number of Questions There are 9-11 questions for each passage, for a total of 52 questions.

The SAT Reading Test challenges students to:

  • derive meanings of Tier 2 vocabulary (common words with multiple meanings) from the context of a passage rather than in isolation.
  • cite evidence to support their answers to multiple choice questions.
  • analyze, reconcile, and extrapolate information from charts, graphs, and tables that are connected to the passage.

 Helpful Tips When Taking the SAT Reading Test

Read actively.

Do not read passively, and never expect a passage to interest or entertain you. Instead, interact directly with the passage. Think about what the author is trying to convey, and ask questions: Why is the author writing the passage? What is the author’s attitude toward the subject? What is the main point and purpose of each paragraph?
 
Write all over your test booklet.

Don’t try to do this test in your head. You can and should mark up your test booklet. Cross out wrong answer choices, underline key words and phrases, and make notes in the margins.
 
Easy and hard questions have equal value.

Reading questions do not progress from easy to difficult. Easy ones may appear at the end and hard ones at the beginning, but each question is worth the same—one raw point. Don’t sink too much time into difficult questions at the expense of answering easier questions. If you feel yourself starting to stall on a particular problem, move along. Work on other questions within the same passage. As you answer the other questions, you’ll gather information that will likely help you answer the difficult questions you’ve skipped.

Don’t read the questions before you read the passage.

On other tests, you may be able to skip to the questions and then skim the reading passage for easy answers, but the SAT is a very challenging and tricky test, so that method will not work. On the SAT Reading Test, questions require a deep level of insight. You will only be able to solve these questions with speed and confidence if you have already actively read the passage. On the SAT, the fastest way to work through the Reading Test is to thoroughly read the passages first, because then you will be able to answer the questions much more quickly, which will save you more time overall. Resist the urge to rush ahead, because the time you spend carefully reading the passage will pay off in the end!

As always, we are happy to answer any questions you might have!

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