Mastering the SAT Reading Section

The SAT Reading Section consists of 52 questions that you must answer in 65 minutes–that’s one minute and 15 seconds per question. This section tests several reading skills: how well you determine words in context, how you analyze evidence, and how you interpret data and hypotheses.


But what types of passages will you see on the test? The good news is the SAT will always give you the same types of passages. You can expect a fiction passage, a paired passage, a social science, and two natural science passages. Here’s what you’ll need to know to take on the SAT reading section.


SAT Reading Section


  1.  Read, read, read

    What’s the best way to get better at actively reading and analyzing SAT passages? Actively reading articles and books. However, don’t just read what you’re assigned in school. Read on your own: magazines, books, newspapers, online articles. If you don’t like reading, find a topic that interests you and search for books on that topic. Use that topic as a gateway into different books, essays, and articles.

  2. Manage your time

    This is the primary issue most students have with the SAT reading section. When reading a passage, some students read the whole thing, whereas other students only skim the passage. But what works for everyone else may not work for you. If you’re able to read all of a passage and still finish the section on time, that’s great. However, like most people, if you struggle to finish on time, try a different strategy. Instead of reading everything, only read the most important parts of the passage–the introduction, conclusion, and topic sentences. This way you’ll still grasp the main idea and important points without losing too much time

  3. Annotate the passages 

    Jot down short-hand notes, and do it often. The main idea, purpose, and strong word choices are all things you should annotate. If you don’t write these things down, you’re likely to forget them, then waste time trying to find them in the passage again.

  4. Understand the question

    Read carefully. If you misread the question or don’t understand what you’re being asked, you’re gonna miss the question. Just like the passages themselves, underline the most important parts of the question. Watch out for negative questions too–those that have the words “EXCEPT” or “NOT.”

  5. Choose your own Adventure 

    Skip questions, skip passages. Don’t feel like you have to follow the test in chronological order. In fact, take on the easier passages first. This way, in case you run out of time, you maximize the number of questions you answer correctly.

  6. Guess the answer before looking at the answer choices 

    After you read the question, cover the answer choices and come up with your own answer.  The test is meant to trip you up–the test makers want you to question your answer choice. This strategy keeps you from second guessing yourself. When in doubt, go with your gut.

  7. Pay attention to the introduction and conclusion 

    You’ll find the most important parts of the passage here. This is where the big picture will be–what the passage is all about. When you encounter big picture questions, the introduction and conclusion are the first places you should look at.

  8. Take a different approach with paired passages 

    Instead of reading both passages back-to-back, read them one at a time. Read passage one first, then answer questions on passage one. Read passage two next, then answer the remaining questions. With this strategy, the important points from both passages are fresh in your head when you get to the questions. Also, take short notes on the passages. Jot down the position and tone of each passage as well as the relationship between the two passages.

  9. Eliminate answer choices

    If you don’t know the correct answer to a question, you have to work backward. Eliminate answer choices that are extreme (“never” or always”), unrelated, too broad, or too specific. Also, remember to eliminate any answer choices that aren’t supported by the passage.

  10. Practice, practice, practice

    What’s the most important thing you can do to improve your score? Learning the test inside and out. Take practice tests, understand your mistakes, and target your weaknesses.


Ready to improve your score? Or still deciding between the ACT and SAT? Check out the differences between the two.