10 Ways to Master the SAT Reading Test

The Reading section of the SAT is a critical thinking minesweeper.

It takes a lot of courage to navigate through the whole thing. However, there is a lot of information compiled together for the new test right here: check them out.

You already know each passage has 10 to 11 multiple choice questions, and the test consists of the following:

  • 1 literature passage
  • 1 or 2 history or social science passages
  • 1 or 2 science passages
  • 1 paired passage (history, social science, or science)

Also, each passage contains questions that address very specific and yet very easily dividable skills. These skills which appear in questions in the SAT Reading test, can be divided into four parts:

1) Vocabulary Skills

Both the Reading as well as Writing test, contain specific vocabulary questions. College Board is known to include words that are very hard to decipher, and include vocabulary that you might never have seen before.

That is not a problem, because these questions are deliberately placed in a manner in which their meaning can be understood if you look at the words in context.

So basically, as though you were solving a puzzle, you must try to find the best possible meaning for the word in order to make it fit with the rest of the sentence, and the rest of the paragraph.

This is an important skill to have, since around 20% of the SAT Reading Section is asking you discern the meaning of words contextually. Let us look at an example:


How to approach this?

Riot is a word with more than a single connotation. From the context, we can tell Sammy is feeling great at the end of the day. Option A) has slightly negative connotations, since it is using the words ‘loud’ and ‘protest’, neither of which seems to fit in perfectly with the context.

B) is a bit too far-fetched, so it leaves us with C) and D). An uproar can be described as something very loud, like a disturbance when things are not going according to plan. So that leaves us with D), which seems like the correct answer anyway, since the meaning is precisely fitting into the rest of the paragraph.

Method 1:
These questions are not asking you to know exactly what each word means. In contrast, it is asking you to pick out the intended meaning of words, depending on the context given to you.

To master this part of the reading test, you can make use of a wide variety of scholarly magazines, articles and journals. With an understanding of how writers structure their arguments, your command of language in relation to word choice will improve greatly.

For handpicked resources and attentive guidance to greatly improve your score, get in touch with us here and speak to our subject matter experts.

2) Textual Analysis Skills

Secondly, comprehension and analysis is one of the main things being tested in SAT Reading. These textual analysis questions take up approximately 50% of all questions in the Reading Test.

There are four types of textual analysis questions you will face. The first one is fairly straightforward and it asks you to:

a) summarize the main text.

For summarizing, the main things to pay close attention to are the author's main points, and the details or explanations given in support of these main points.

Thus, these are mainly the comprehension questions, which are simply testing your ability to grasp the importance of the given content - in other words, the main message conveyed by the text.

Method 2:
When answering summary questions, choose the logical, explicit answer. Do not go for any implied conclusions or indications, since the question is very directly asking you to 'summarize'.

b) deduct something from the main text.

The next three types of questions in this segment are slightly different. They will ask you to accurately address one of the following:

  • make an inference,
  • identify an implication, or
  • determine what an author is suggesting in a passage.

Method 3:
All three of the above types of questions must not be answers without a bit of analysis - because these are not explicit questions. And since they are implicit in nature, you must use a bit of critical thinking to interpret the underlying meaning - and this meaning will contain evidence, which can be found within the text.

c) relate a situation to another

These questions are analogy-based. It will ask you to relate a situation from the passage to another situation in the answer choice.

Although the textual analysis make a lot of appeareances in SAT Reading, this question type is the least common on the four.

However, it will be easy to spot it. The questions will usually look something like these:

  • Which situation is the most similar to the one described in lines xx-xx?
  • The author uses the figurative phrase "________" mainly to emphasise what he/she sees as ________.

Method 4:
These questions seem a bit hard. They are testing your understanding of the implications of a relationship or situation in the passage, and see if you are able to find another situation to compare it to - this is essentially just a critical thinking question.

d) provide a citation

The citation questions are asking you to identify evidence from the text. You will see these kind of paired questions all over the SAT Reading section - and they are known to cause a bit of confusion.

They might look a bit like this:

  • Which choice provides the best evidence to the previous question?

Method 5:
These questions will usually be right after the explicit comprehension questions (a) or the implicit deduction questions (b). When answering, choose the sentence/phrase in the options that has the most substantial and direct relationship to the previous question.

When answering the previous question, you may not have used the information in any of the optional lines given as your choices. This can lead to time being wasted, and a fair bit of confusion. But see it as an opportunity to double-check!

If you would like clarity with analysis questions, all you have to do is click here, and practice during and after guidance hours.

3) Author Analysis Skills

Critical thinking in real life generally involves analysing any given situation from multiple perspectives of course, or it can even be something as simple as 'reading a room', or noticing your friend's face fall and understanding why.

It is this kind of 'subtle' critical thinking which the author analysis questions require. You will have to make inferences about the speaker's intentions based on social cues, as well as the context and content of the conversation.

These tend to be the hardest to master, and takes up approximately 20% of all the questions. However, there are 3 specific types of these in total, which you can watch out for:

a) questions on intent

These questions will directly ask you to decifer the author's purpose, or the function/purpose of a specific line/segment of their argument.

They might look something like this:

  • The main purpose of the passage is to...
  • The discussion of ______ in lines xx-xx primarily serves to...

Method 6:
Keep in mind that although you will be asked for the author's purpose in using a particular word, sentence, idea or structure, it will be connected to the overall intent of the passage, and the argument that it presents.

However, although this remains true, the point of view can change mid-passage, so it is also important to pay attention to the context of the paragraph in which the segment is found.

b) questions on organisation

Each passage is usually worded and structured deliberately in order to further the rhetoric/argument presented by the author. You may be asked to identify the argument-based stategies used by the author, while they wrote the text.

These questions look explicit:

  • Which choice best describes the structure of the paragraph/passage?

Is the author explaining everything in a linear manner? This gets especially tricky in the literature passages, which are not usually well-known for being straight-forward.

Method 7:
The best way to face this question is to note how one piece of information relates to another, and how these relationships are arranged. Check whether the points are contrasting each other, in a chronological manner, or otherwise.

c) questions on tone and attitude

These questions will appear twice or more in each exam, and are one of the hardest types to get right in SAT Reading. They are subtle, although the questions may not always seem to be so:

  • The author's attitude is primarily characterized by...
  • What main effect does ______ have on the overall tone of the passage?

As you can see, these answers will be extremely implicit, with the intent itself being hidden from view.

Method 8:
For these, you can look back at the segments that are mentioned, as well as the overall text, and absorb all the cues - including word choice, sentence structure and content - before coming to your conclusion.

The analysis questions, both textual and authorial, make up around 70% of SAT Reading - and they are testing your critical thinking skills. We can help you with that if you will click here, or else as they say, practice makes perfect!

4) Synthesis Skills

Finally, these remaining questions take up the remaining 15% of SAT Reading, and explore either:

  • The relationship between two paired passages, or
  • The relationship between a passage and it's supplementary material.

Supplementary materials are usually graphics, such as a table, a chart or a graph.

a) questions about graphics

These questions are mostly very straightforward, and require only the knowledge you already have about graphs, tables and such, which you have already learned in math - although you do need to apply your knowledge.

They might look like this:

  • What information presented in paragraph xx is represented by the graph?
  • Which statement about _______ is best supported by the graph?

Method 9:
Although these questions are explicit, ensure you have a very thorough understanding of what is represented in the graphic - and what isn't. Another important thing to do is to understand the relationship between the graphic and the passage, and whether they correspond to each other.

b) questions about paired texts

Now these are more complicated, and are as hard as a question on the Reading test can go. At the crux of it, however, they are just questions regarding comparison and contrast.

They might look like this:

  • How would the author of Passage 1 most likely respond to the claim (lines xx-xx) made in Passage 2?
  • Which choice best states the relationship between the two passages?

Method 10:
The best thing to do is to place yourself in a position of objectivity, and extrapolate on the nature of the relationship between the two passages. Check whether the passages correspond to each other, and check for subtle differences or similarities of opinion between the two authors.

Getting a perfect score for the SAT requires an understanding of the paper itself, and consistency from practice.

Here is an interesting fact: A lot of students score below 580 for their SAT Reading and Writing, and the weird part is, it is almost certain that a student who scores above 400 with no guidance at all, can easily score between a 600 and a perfect score, with guidance from an expert.

Wonder why? Because you already have all the thinking skills you need! You just need an expert to help you shape it in order to reach the critical ability which the College Board requires you to have. Click here to get in touch with one of those experts, and transform your SAT score in just a few weeks.

We have some of the best SAT experts, handpicked from across the globe, who will guide you and provide a tailor-made curriculum for your needs, according to your strengths and weaknesses. Track your grade with us as your score improves and find yourself fully prepared before you enter the exam.

10 Ways to Master the SAT Reading Test
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