SAT Reading Section: 10 Tips for Top Scores

A student reading

Mastering the SAT Reading section doesn’t have to be a daunting task. But you do need to implement some great strategies and take a few practice tests to do well on this section of the SAT exam! Before we go any further, it’s important to note that the official SAT exam will be going digital starting March 2024. You can read more about the digital version and how to study for this new format in our digital SAT guide post.

So, now that we know, let’s get into the Reading section. This section assesses your ability to read, interpret, and analyze texts from different fields, such as social studies, science, fiction, and humanities. Do you want some tips for excelling? You’re in the right place!

10 tips for the SAT Reading section

1. Understand the structure of the SAT Reading section

The main gist:

  • 5 passages with 52 questions in total
  • 65 minutes
  • Approximately 12 minutes for each passage and 75 seconds for each question

More about the passages

They range in length from 500 to 750 words. According to the College Board, these passages include one United States or World Literature text, one Social Science piece, one or two US national documents, and two Science documents. They cover a range of literary genres, such as fiction, non-fiction, scientific texts, and historical records. The tone is kept casual.

2. The different types of questions

The SAT Reading section has various question types.

It’s broken down into three categories: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, and Analysis in History/Social Studies and Science. Each of these categories has its own set of questions.

  • Command of Evidence questions whether a student can identify evidence from the passage.
  • Words in Context questions look at how well a student can understand the meaning of words or phrases within the context.
  • Analysis in History/Social Studies and Science questions test students’ ability to analyze data, charts, and graphs and correctly interpret historical and scientific documents.

These questions assess a student’s ability to identify important information and understand the meanings of words and phrases. Students should also be able to evaluate the author’s tone and intended message. Out of four answer choices, your job is to pick which one is correct!

3. Practice reading for comprehension

The best tip to improve your Reading score is to practice reading comprehension. The more you practice, the better you will get at solving comprehension questions. Plus, you save time by being able to read quickly while understanding the passage.

There are a ton of other interesting tricks you can implement to improve your reading speed and comprehension. Jim Kwik is the speed reading master and explains some excellent methods in this video.

4. Identify keywords and phrases

During the SAT Reading section, use keywords and phrases to identify the main points and arguments made in the text. Finding the correct information is much easier with this tip.

Highlighting these words and phrases can significantly improve your passage navigation, allowing you to find what you need in the reading test quickly.

5. Read the passage multiple times

Reading the passage multiple times is beneficial if you can read quickly and not lose a lot of time. By re-reading, you better understand the author’s intention, mood, and ideas.

Key tip: The questions normally go in order of the passage. For example, question 1 corresponds to the earliest part of the passage.

You can read the first time to grasp the main concepts and themes. Then read a second time for better comprehension.

6. Learn how to make inferences

Making inferences lets you conclude from the passage and your existing knowledge. Inferencing comes to the rescue when you find yourself stuck on a difficult question.

Here are some tips for the SAT Reading section using inferences:

  • First, read the passage thoroughly and take some notes to grasp the main idea and argument.
  • Look for crucial transition words, repeated ideas, or causal relationships that may give clues to the author’s purpose and tone. Doing so will help you understand the passage’s key characters, ideas, and settings and allow you to make more accurate inferences.
  • Make logical connections. Here’s a tip: analyze the facts in the passage, recognize the themes, and connect the information to comprehend its meaning better.
  • Draw upon your prior knowledge and experience, such as the tone of voice in speech, to interpret the passage.
  • Pay attention to the text’s tone and any transitional words, keywords, and phrases suggesting implicit meanings or connections between ideas.
  • Reading various materials and learning from mistakes will improve your ability to make inferences. Different sources allow you to become more adept at making accurate conclusions, from newspapers to novels to scientific papers.

These tips for the SAT Reading section will surely make tricky questions easier to answer.

7. Develop a strategy for tackling the questions

Having a strategy is a good idea if you want to answer the questions accurately and efficiently. This could involve reading the questions before reading the passage, checking for specific details, and noting keywords.

Before reading, skim through the questions to get a basic idea of what to expect from the passage. Then, read the course carefully to understand the author’s message, tone, and purpose. Active reading is critical to focusing on the main ideas. Focus on vital information instead of wasting time on irrelevant details.

Then, re-visit the questions and read them carefully. Pay attention to the details, context, and language used in the questions. Highlighting important information, key sentences, and words in the passage lets you find the information more quickly for the answers.

Here is an example of part of a passage and one of the questions.

An SAT reading section question
Image credit:

8. Utilize the process of elimination

Using the process of elimination assists you in figuring out the correct answer. Begin by crossing out the choices you know are wrong, which increases your chances of picking the correct one!

9. Take notes as you read

Making notes can be a great way to pinpoint critical concepts, organize your ideas, and ensure you don’t forget any necessary information. Taking notes keeps you focused to better comprehend what you’re reading.

10. Take practice tests to build confidence

Practice tests show how far you’ve come, identify where you could use more work, and boost your self-assurance. They provide a better sense of managing your time, developing effective test-taking strategies, and overall, doing better.

Luckily, many free SAT sample practice tests and hidden gem resources are available online. Keep in mind that starting March 2024, the SAT will be entirely digital. So, taking practice tests in the College Board’s Bluebook system is in your best interest! You can access them here.

Many students feel disappointed by their low marks on mock tests. SATs are fast-paced, and catching up needs practice. Do not let that deter you. Keep at it, and indeed your score will rise.

The big picture

To master the SAT Reading section, practice and develop critical reading skills. Study the structure and format of the test to stay prepared for the unseen. Using the tips for the SAT Reading section outlined in this post, you can boost your self-assurance and become accustomed to the test’s layout. Plus, if you get an SAT Prep tutor or an SAT tutor specifically for the Reading section, you’ll be even more prepared for the exam. Eventually, you will successfully hit your target score. Good luck!

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