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Top SAT Reading Tips

Success on the SAT requires a lot of hard work. You’ll have to dedicate a lot of time to studying not only the material being tested, but the format of the test and how to maximize your score. Each section has its own format and the more familiar you are with it, the better you’ll do. In this article, we’ll offer some tips for the reading section on the SAT. 

Familiarize yourself with the format

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the format of the SAT reading section as a first step. This will help you learn what to expect, and get an idea of how to pace yourself during the exam. The best way to do this is to take some practice tests beforehand. You should also learn what the outline of the test is so you know what you’re getting into. Here’s a rundown of the SAT reading section format:

The SAT reading test consists of five passages and 52 corresponding multiple-choice questions. Four of the passages are single-passages and the fifth is a set of “paired passages.” Each passage will contain between 500-750 words, and the paired passages should equal 500-750 words in total. So, each passage is roughly the same length. Each multiple choice question has four answer choices. Each passage will fall under the category of U.S. and World Literature, History/Social Studies, or Science. You’ll have 65 minutes to complete the entire section. 

With 5 passages of equal length, you’ll want to spend about the same amount of time on each. You’ll also want to leave time at the end to check your answers. So, it can be a good idea to shoot for a first run-through which allocates 5 minutes to reading each passage and 6 minutes for answering its corresponding questions. That leaves you with 10 minutes to spare. Use those minutes to go back and answer any questions that you skipped or were unsure about.

Also see: How to reduce test anxiety

Don’t be afraid to skip questions on the first go

Remember – the SAT reading section is a race against the clock. Your challenge is to answer as many questions as well as you can during the time provided to you. So, if you find yourself stuck on a question, don’t be afraid to move on. You can always come back to it, and your time will be best spent if you manage to work your way all the way through the test before coming back for the stumpers.

Learn how to skim sections

The SAT reading section is all about reading comprehension under a time limit. They want to know how quickly and effectively you can extract key information from a passage. So, you probably shouldn’t give these passages the same close read that you might for a homework assignment. You’ll perform best if you get the information you need, and minimize the time spent on any other parts of the passage.

Also see: Everything you need to know about SAT testing accommodations

Consider whether to read questions first or passages first

This tip has some overlap with the previous one. On the SAT reading section’s multiple choice format, there is key information that you are looking for. The questions will ask for specific information that is contained in the text. As a result, some students prefer to read the questions before the passage, so they know what to look out for as they read it. They might even skim the questions just to look for specific key-words to keep an eye out for.

It should be noted, however, that this strategy might not work for everyone. Reading the questions before you read the passage might be disorienting and cause you to “zone out.” Your best bet is to take SAT reading section practice tests using each strategy to find out which works best for you. Whichever leads to a better score and a more confident test experience should be the strategy you follow.

Also see: Top SAT math tips

Look for clear answers, don’t add your own opinion

Throughout the SAT reading section, you’ll read a lot of different passages, some of which you may agree with, and some of which you may disagree with. It may be tempting to factor your own personal opinion into your answers. But remember, they are grading your reading comprehension, not your judgment. The questions will address your analysis of the text, not your feelings on the subject matter.

Make sure that every answer has a passage in the text to back it up. If you haven’t found the corresponding passage in the text, you have not found the answer yet. Don’t use your own best judgment about the topic at hand; although we’re sure you have great judgment, it’s not what they’re asking for.

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Don’t get tripped up by the hard questions

On every SAT, there are some easier questions, and some harder questions. It’s inevitable that there will be a few questions that you are unsure about the answer to. But remember – getting a question wrong is far preferable to spending an exorbitant amount of time pondering one question. Make sure that you’ve given all of the easier questions a thorough look-through before you buckle down on a harder one.

Remember – each question on the reading section is worth the same number of points. So, it is far preferable to skip through a hard question and answer ten easy ones than it is to get tripped up on the difficult one and not finish your test. Don’t let one hard question make you miss points elsewhere!

Answer every question

There is no penalty for guessing on the SAT – if you answer a question wrong, it will be as if you didn’t answer it at all. As a result, you should be sure to answer every question, even the ones you have no idea about. Since there are only four answers per question, you have a 25% chance of getting it right each time. If it gets to the final minutes of your test and there are still questions you haven’t filled in, you should drop everything and fill in a random answer on each one. It may seem silly, but there is no sense in giving up free points!

Additional SAT resources

In this article, we’ve gone over the basic outline of the SAT reading exam and offered some tips on how to maximize your score. These are all great tips to know, but remember, you can only get so far with tips. The best thing you can do to improve your score is to study early and often. Check out our guide on free SAT study resources, and on how to find the best test prep tutor.

Remember, we are here to help you through every step of the college application and admissions process. That includes deciding how many colleges to apply to, how to make your application the best it can be, and how to answer the Common App essay prompts. Good luck!

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