The SAT Reading Section consists of 5 passage sets that ask 52 multiple choice questions in totality. Of these 5 sets of passages, you’d notice that one pair is a set of paired and related passages, while two passage sets will be accompanied by informational graphics such as tables, charts, or graphs. The duration of the section is 65 minutes.
The content of the passages can be wide ranging – passages picked up from classics from world literature or fields such as economics, sociology, psychology, social sciences, and sciences are frequently observed on the SAT.
The official website of the SAT states that the Reading Section tests you on a wide variety of reading skills. These include:
● Command of evidence, whereby you are asked to find evidence in the passage that would support an idea, or identify how the author uses evidence to support his claims.
● Words in context, whereby you are required to utilize context clues to understand meanings of words or phrases in a passage.
● Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Sciences, through which you are asked to interpret data, analyze information, examine hypotheses, and understand implications of the given information.
The best part about SAT Reading is that prior topic-specific knowledge is never tested. All that is tested is your ability to comprehend the language effectively and make logical inferences. However, there are a few strategies that will certainly help you improve your score on the reading section, and consequently, your overall SAT score.
In this article, I will discuss a few tips that will help you maximize your SAT Reading score.
1. Learn to manage time effectively
Because you have 65 minutes to answer all the questions from 5 passages, you have an average of a mere 13 minutes to read a passage and answer the questions. So, it is imperative that you learn to manage your time effectively and play upon your strengths.
And how do you do so?
a. Solve passages that you are comfortable with first
You know that the content of the passages is collated from a wide variety of genres. It would be a great idea to start your Reading section with those passages that are high on your list of comfort; you do not have to solve passages in the order in which they appear. For instance, if you are comfortable with science-based passages, you might want to start with them. This will not only help you gain some momentum but will also help you build the much required confidence to solve all the other passages.
b. Solve dual passages at the end
To optimize time, you might want to solve the dual or paired passage at the end. Obviously, reading two passages rather than one will take double the time. But, the returns that you get are the same – the number of questions asked in a dual passage is not more than that of a regular passage.
Also, when solving paired passages, take one passage at a time – read the first passage and answer all questions pertaining to it. Then, read the second one and answer all the relevant questions. The questions that test you on information from both the passages can be answered last.
c. Solve simpler questions first
When answering questions, do not hesitate to skip or make an educated guess about a particularly difficult question. If time permits, you can always work on it later. However, you might miss out on easier questions that might follow if you spend too much time working on the difficult or tricky ones.
2. Improve your reading strategies
On the SAT, there is no one reading technique that will work for all students. However, at Jamboree we recommend that you spend the first 3 to 5 minutes reading the passage. Remember to only skim through the passage first and not worry about the details. Get a fair understanding of the main idea of the passage and the tone of the author. Then, move to solving the questions. When doing so, you can keep referring to specific locations in the passage to answer questions.
Imagine what would happen if you spend 10 minutes only reading the passage carefully, paying attention to minute details. You will not be left with any time to answer the questions! You must bear in mind that you are, after all, scoring marks for answering questions and not for reading the passage.
3. Identify question categories
I believe that doing well on the reading section has much to do with being prepared. Prepare yourself for all the question types that you might encounter, and that will bring a huge confidence when answering questions in the exam. Often, it is the surprises that unnerve us during the exam, isn’t it?
Once you are well aware of and prepared for the question categories and the strategies to tackle them, you are well on your path to acing the reading section.
Let me discuss a few question types that appear on the SAT Reading section and the strategies to solving them.
● Primary Purpose questions
Such questions require you to understand the overall purpose or the central idea of the passage. It is highly recommended that you answer such questions at the end – answering all the other questions by referring to the passage multiple times will give you a better understanding of the overall purpose of the passage.
You will notice one question of this kind in each passage.
Strategies to solve primary purpose questions:
a. Often, the primary purpose of the passage is stated in the introduction and the conclusion. So ensure that you read these locations carefully.
b. Also, all reading passages will contain a blurb – an introductory line or paragraph before the passage in bold – which gives more information about the author, title, and some background about the passage. Reading the blurb gives you a good idea of the main purpose of the passage.
c. Do note that the answer to this question must encapsulate the essence or the theme of the entire passage. So, information discussed in a majority of the passage must be the answer.
● Factual questions
Words such as ‘according to the passage,’ ‘as defined in the passage,’ or ‘as described in the passage,’ are clear indications of factual questions. Such questions require you to, simply, understand the facts stated in the passage and answer accordingly. I wouldn’t be wrong when I say that such questions are the low hanging fruits and you cannot afford to get them wrong.
Strategies to solve factual questions:
a. The answers to factual questions are highly location based. So, you must go back to specific locations in the passage to answer these questions. The right answer will certainly be present in the location where the fact is discussed.
b. The answers to such questions follow the ‘word-match technique.’ You’d notice that the right answer uses, often, the exact words used in the passage. Synonyms for the words used in the passage might also be used in the correct answer.
● Inferential questions
When you have words such as ‘suggest,’ ‘infer,’ ‘imply,’ ‘most likely’ in the questions, remember that you are being asked to make an inference, which is a hidden conclusion. Such questions are tricky, because they ask you to draw logical conclusions rather than pick answers directly from the passage.
Strategies to solve inferential questions:
a. Try to anticipate answers for inferential questions and only then look at options.
b. Try to make logical inferences based on the information stated in the passage.
● Command of evidence (paired) questions
These questions involve a set of two questions, in which the first is a regular question. The second, on the other hand, would ask for the best evidence for the answer to the previous question.
These are your high-stake questions because if you are able to answer the first question correctly, the second will most likely be correct. However, on the flip side, if you answer the first incorrectly, there is a high probability that the second will also be incorrect.
On an average, you will notice 4 such questions in one passage.
Strategies to solve command of evidence paired questions:
a. If you find the answer to the first question easily, the answer to the second should not be difficult to pick. However, if you are not able to answer the first question, work on both the questions simultaneously. This means, pick keywords from the answers of question 1, and check whether the locations mentioned in question 2 match with the keywords of 1.
● Informational graph questions
Such questions involve deriving information from the data given in the graph, chart, or table that accompany the passage. While some of these questions could just ask you to obtain information from the graphs alone, others could ask you to connect information in the passage to the graph and then pick the right answer.
These questions are the easy ones that might now require much effort or time to work on.
2 passages of the given 5 will have informational graphics and such passages will have a maximum to 2 questions related to the graphics.
Strategies to solve informational graph questions:
a. Use information from the passage only for those questions that specifically ask you to do so.
b. If the question uses the words “based on the data in the table…,” limit your answers to data given in the table only. Do not use any information from the passage in such cases.
● Words in context questions
Such questions ask you to pick a word from the options that accurately demonstrates the meaning of a word or phrase being used in a specific instance. Sometimes, these questions may also ask you to determine the purpose or intent of an author in choosing to use a certain word or phrase.
You will notice one or two questions of this type in each passage.
In an earlier post on 5 strategies to solve word in context questions we have discussed in detail the strategies to solve such questions.
Now, that you are aware of most question types, you must work on these questions in such a way that you maximize your scores.
4. Work on your ability to eliminate answer options
In the reading section, the best way to solve questions is to eliminate answer options rather than pick the right one. Remember that if you are looking for the right answer, you must ensure that every word in the right answer option is correct. On the other hand, if you apply the strategy of elimination, just one incorrect word in an answer option can help you eliminate it. Doesn’t this seem easier?
I have noticed, often, that students are able to eliminate three answer options. And then, they are left with the last two answer options. At this point, unfortunately, they become defensive and begin to believe that both options can be correct.
You must remember, though, that there is only one correct and unambiguous answer. Rather than going into the defensive mode, now is the time to get into the attacking mode. Instead of believing that both the answers could be right, you must ask yourself – how can I eliminate one of these two answers? What is incorrect with one of these two choices?
And once you are able to solve these questions, you will certainly be able to select the correct answer unambiguously.
Having said that, how do you eliminate options? Typically, options can be eliminated based on these few pointers:
● They contradict the information given in the passage
● They are irrelevant to the information stated in the passage
● They are too broad or narrow to be the correct answers
5. Practice and evaluate your errors
They don’t say practice makes a man perfect for nothing. It is only more practice that can help you ace the SAT Reading section. I would highly recommend that you solve all the passages and SAT practice tests from the comprehensive Jamboree SAT material to feel more confident and comfortable in solving passages from all fields.
However, only practice will not suffice. You must also review your performance and analyze factors that are causing you to make errors and hindering your performance. Only when you know what is going wrong will you be able to correct it. Isn’t it?
Often, I notice that students work on many mock tests but, sadly, their scores do not improve. When is this likely to happen? I strongly believe this happens when students do not know and understand why they are making mistakes. This causes them to repeat the same mistakes in the next test.
So, just working on tests without analyzing your performance is futile. I would highly recommend that you maintain an error log for yourself, in which you meticulously evaluate your weaknesses. Be specific in understanding where you are faltering. Ask yourself why you are making those errors: Are you not reading the answer options carefully? Are you not able to eliminate answer options effectively? Are you not able to manage your time better?
Once you understand your areas of improvement, chalk out a course of action to get better. And then work on weakening your weaknesses and strengthening your strengths! Only then will you be on the path to success.
All the best!