SAT Reading section techniques, strategies & approaches

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SAT Reading section techniques and strategies

Note: the College Board launched a new, digital format of the SAT test as of the March 9, 2024 U.S. national testing date. (The International SAT and PSAT were changed to digital formats in 2023.) See here for the changes. This and some other pages on this wiki regarding SAT prep were created for the old, paper version of the test. The skills and strategies remain the same, although the format of the test has changed. The largest change is in the Reading passages, which are paragraph- and not page-length now. Grammar and punctuation questions remain largely the same.

See SAT Digital Reading and Writing Test quick start guide for strategies, skills, and techniques for the new, digital exam, and Category:SAT digital test for related pages.

Reading Practice[edit | edit source]

  • SAT reading section engages students in difficult and unfamiliar text
    • in science, social studies, fiction, and journalism
  • many teachers and prep tutors recommend that students engage in general reading in preparation
    • this is fine advice, but it's too general to be useful
  • instead, we recommend that students become constant readers of fiction and non-fiction across multiple disciplines
  • more specifically, since the SAT Reading section uses excerpts,
    • identify the sources of released and practice tests
    • search titles or text extracts on academic databases (J-STOR, etc.)
    • engage difficult short stories from
      • Sake, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce or Henry James
      • learn the historical context of these stories as well

Overview[edit | edit source]

  • SAT Reading Section Test Directions:
    • Students are to answer questions based upon:
      • what is "stated" in the text or graphs (explicit meanings, textual and direct comprehension)
      • what is "implied" in the text or graphs (implicit meanings, inference, deduction, identification of author purpose and techniques)
  • SAT Reading Test Structure
    • Students have 65 minutes to answer 52 questions
    • Reading test has five readings with 10 or 11 questions each
      • = average 13:00 min per reading passage
      • note: two readings contain 11 questions so may take longer

Quick start guide for Reading Section Strategies & Approaches[edit | edit source]

  • Reading section is EVIDENCE based
    • = stick to the text and don't "over-infer"
    • many wrong possible answers are built upon incorrect assumptions or inferences that go beyond the textual evidence
  • read titles & Introductory information!
    • for academic passages the title usually states the thesis
  • carefully read the final paragraph or final sentences
    • that's where the authors present a thesis, conclusion, summary or statement of purpose/relevancy
    • especially for main point questions, but focusing on final sentences can be useful for other questions, as well
    • first few paragraphs build the article, middle paragraphs develop ideas, and the final paragraph draws a conclusion
  • for paired evidence questions, usually 2 of the possible answers from the evidence source question don't address the prior question itself, so eliminate
  • focus on information in questions
    • every question contains information: identify it!
      • ex. the question, Why is the sky blue? tells us that the "sky" is "blue"
    • identify exactly what the question is asking for
    • pay attention to important question qualifiers such as most often, usually, some times, generally, etc.
    • if there are two parts to a question, possible answers or in comparison questions
      • you only need to eliminate ONE of the parts for the answer to be wrong
  • eliminate for errors instead of jumping on what you think is the correct answer
    • unless you see the correct answer directly in the text!
    • maintain an adversarial relationship w/ the possible answers:
      • three of them are there to fool you -- DON'T TRUST THEM! (i.e. eliminate for errors)
  • while reading passages pay attention to:
    • transition words (especially sentences starting with "But..."
    • parenthetical information or info set aside by dashes or colons
    • pronoun or definite article references (such as "that idea..." or "the scientist..."
  • focus on "perspective shifts":
    • in fiction: what does character A think character B thinks about character A or C?
    • in science or academic: what does observation or experiment B tell us about experiment/observation A and how does that inform experiment/observation C.. etc.
  • in expository / comparison passages:
    • pay attention to rhetorical questions
    • look for straw man arguments (statements that put words in the mouths of opponents

BIG IDEAS[edit | edit source]

  • read "actively"
  • get past "boring"
    • engage the text: think, repeat, go back, verify
    • react to the text: "b.s.!", "oh yea!", that!", "no!!!", "yessss!"
    • identify things you know about each passage
      • "find yourself" in the passage: apply prior knowledge, experiences or agreement/ disagreement with the author
        • if you disagree with the author's perspective, fight back, as it will make you a more active reader
    • try to learn from the passage, it will therefore be more interesting and will increase comprehension
  • the SAT Reading test questions are designed to trick you
    • 3 of the 4 possible answers contain an error
    • the 1 "correct" answer is not the best answer
    • it is the ONLY answer that does not contain an error
  • focus on questions!
    • identify information in them
    • learn about the passage from them
    • recognize them in the passage as you read
      • which means previewing them before reading & flipping back and forth between questions and text while you read
  • read questions carefully, taking in every word, when you answer them

Difficulty level[edit | edit source]

  • difficulty level is based on the passage and not the questions
    • there can be difficult questions on easy passages, but the bulk of "hard" questions will coincide with difficult passages

Elimination & evidence-based test[edit | edit source]

  • SAT Reading is "evidence-based" = the answer is in the text
    • = also that the WRONG answers are also in or not in the text
  • eliminate for errors:
    • don't select for correct answer
    • unless you see the evidence directly in the text, then select the correct answer
  • TRUST your eliminations
    • even if you don't like the correct answer, if you can't eliminate it and you can eliminate the others, it is likely correct
  • multi-part questions or possible answers: you only need to eliminate one part in order to eliminate the possible answer

Error types in wrong answers[edit | edit source]

  • 3 of 4 possible answers contain one or more errors
  • types of errors include:
    • textual evidence that is unrelated to the question
    • an incorrect association with a word in the passage (which is designed to fool you)
    • for "main point" or author purpose questions, the error could be of:
      • generality, i.e., the error goes beyond the main point), or
      • specificity, i.e., the error is that the evidence is too specific, narrow, or a minor and not the main point (this is more common)
    • errors of perspective, i.e., the error is that the perspective is, in fiction, inconsistent with the character, or, in other types, inconsistent with author purpose or other comparison
    • in historical passages, the error could be one of historical context, such as a passage written in 1802 would not be concerned with an issue that was important in 1923 or today
    • particular syntax (word choice) designed to fool students by using a negative construct ("author does not" or "author would be skeptical of") and then presenting possible answer that corresponds to the positive construct
    • errors of precise textual evidence when the answer must be inferred (especially on comparison passages and charts/tables questions)

Perspective shift[edit | edit source]

  • = ability to identify multiple perspectives within a text
  • = a primary skill set the SAT Reading measures
  • = identifying the perspective of character, person, or idea as opposed or in contrast to another
    • the more difficult SAT Reading questions regard "perspective shift"
  • comparison passages measure perspective shift explicitly (passage 1 v passage 2)
    • perspective shift is measured in all types of passages:
      • what character A thinks about character B
      • author use of counter-arguments or quotations from other sources
      • what experiment 2 tells us about experiment 1
      • how the text relates to a table or chart
      • how table 1 compares to table 2

Simplifying text[edit | edit source]

  • replace an unfamiliar word with "something" and read around it
  • simplify instead of summarizing
    • summarizing means understanding everything you read
    • simplifying means isolating the core elements of a sentence or paragraph
  • simplify by eliminating unnecessary sentence parts and modifiers and modifying phrases

>> ex. from Official Practice Test 3, Question 4:

                                  Certain of her
acquaintances were wont to give her plentiful
admonition as to the undesirability of interfering on
behalf of a distressed animal, such interference being
“none of her business.” 
  • "remove the noise" from the text by ignoring words you do not fully comprehend
                           Certain of her
[somebodies] were [something] to give her plentiful
[something] as to the undesirability of interfering on
behalf of a [something] animal, such interference being
“none of her business.” 
  • simplify to:
Certain [people] give her plentiful [something] about 
interfering on behalf of an animal, bc that interference 
is “none of her business.” 

Timed test[edit | edit source]

  • all SAT sections are timed
    • keep time awareness per passage
    • practice for accuracy first (regardless of time), then build efficiency (accuracy + speed)
What effective SAT prep practice looks like

Practice[edit | edit source]

  • practice = mimicking test-day situation
  • practice v enrichment
    • enrichment = getting better at something
      • enrichment may include, online Khan Academy-type exercises, "question of the day" exercises, grammar study and outside reading
  • actual practice = recreating for performance in an actual situation, which includes:
    • paper test in booklet form
      • best to use practice tests provide by the actual test-maker, College Board
    • pencil and bubble sheet
    • full-length practice (for to build endurance & focus and overcome boredom and tiredness)
      • it is unreasonable to practice full SAT tests, so per-section is fine (Reading, Writing, Math w/o calc & Math w/ calc)
    • analog clock (can use an app on a device)
    • distractions avoided or minimized
      • cell phone & computer off (unless displaying analog clock but that only)
      • no music
    • sitting at desk with upright chair
    • juice or snack for energy in between sections as you would on test-day

Strategies & approaches for Reading passages[edit | edit source]

  • SAT Reading test "Directions" instruct students, "After reading each passage or pair, choose the best answer to each question"
  • Other approaches include:
    • read carefully and annotate
      • might include summarizing each paragraph
    • previewing questions, then reading and/or skimming
    • "cherry picking" questions and finding them in the text by skimming

Preview strategy[edit | edit source]

A+ Club Reading Section General Approach – a Suggested Process

Purpose and theory of preview strategy[edit | edit source]


  • The Preview strategy is designed to help students:
  1. to know as much about the passage as possible in advance of reading it;
  2. to identify what is expected of the student to know about the passage


  • all learning of new knowledge is built upon application of prior knowledge
    • therefore the more we know about something new to us, the better we will comprehend it
      • ex., we learn about and see more in a movie that we watch multiple times than we did the first time we say it
        • watching it again, we already know what will happen, so we can focus on details and plot intricacies, as opposed to trying to figure it out
    • see Prior Knowledge
  • similarly, when taking a test, it is helpful to know what we are expected to know about it in advance
    • by previewing questions, we can
    • furthermore, all questions have information in them
      • ex. "Why is the sky blue" tells us that "the sky is blue"

Quick guide / big ideas[edit | edit source]

  • read introductions for context and preview
  • skim topic sentences and key words
  • read concluding sentences for author summary/ main point
  • preview questions and find information in them
  • “keep your thumb” on the questions page while you read the text
    • go back and forth to remind yourself of information in the questions and what you are looking for
    • answer questions as you read (will be out of order)

1. Preview the introduction and apply PRIOR KNOWLEDGE[edit | edit source]

  • read introduction carefully, identifying relevant information in:
  • title:
    • the thesis is often in the title for Social Science or Science passages
    • titles usually contain author purpose in comparison passages
  • author & publisher
    • Elsevier is a common source for academic articles
    • Nature is a common source for scientific articles
    • Harcourt is a common source for fiction and expository writing
  • publication date
  • apply your historical prior knowledge for context and themes
    • see the A+ Club SAT Verbal Historical Timeline & Themes

2. Skim passage[edit | edit source]

  • read first paragraph and identify:
    • place, time, theme, thesis, style
  • skim rest of text and:
    • quickly read topic sentences
    • identify recognizable information, such as proper names, repetitive words, author style, etc.
    • identify parenthetical information (provides explanations)
    • identify transition words and points
  • carefully read the last few sentences or paragraph
    • conclusions identify author purpose, perspective, or big idea
  • skim graphs
    • identify source, purpose and content
    • read captions for information

3. Review questions[edit | edit source]

  • do not look at possible answers, as these are there to confuse you!
  • use questions for information:
    • identify question expectations and information about the passage
    • every question contains some information about the text
  • knowing question expectations in advance of careful reading will focus your reading
    • if helpful, annotate the passage with question expectations, such as vocabulary, line numbers, etc.
  • identify paired questions (i.e., 2nd question is to identify source of evidence for the first)
    • identify location of the source information to get an idea of where in the passage the evidence will be
    • paired questions are often on separate pages, which previewing questions will identify them in advance

4. Read the passage carefully & “keep your thumb” on the questions[edit | edit source]

  • by knowing more about the passage from skimming and preview of questions, you will approach the text more meaningfully and with more direction and awareness of question expectations
  • flip back/forth to questions as you read
  • annotate, mark and otherwise approach the text with “active reading”
  • identifying textual purpose and techniques
  • answer questions while you read
    • otherwise anticipate answers and textual sources for them
    • maintain time-awareness
  • read “out loud” to yourself, even mouthing words if it helps your comprehension

5. Now proceed to answer remaining questions, reading them carefully and fully[edit | edit source]

  • unless you see the evidene directly in the text eliminate for errors not correctness of possible answers
    • each wrong answer contains a specific error(s)
    • the correct answer
  • summary or “main point” questions are often best left until last, as you will learn more about the passage as you answer other questions
    • always refer to the concluding sentences or paragraph when answering main point questions
    • maintain time-awareness

Additional notes[edit | edit source]

  • effective preview of text and questions will yield both more accurate and quicker processing of the text
  • preview strategy will vary according to passage type
  • transitions and chronologies organize a reading: pay attention to them!
  • unlike your typical high school essay, SAT passages DO NOT follow the THESIS - EVIDENCE - CONCLUSION structure
  • instead, these readings more generally follow (fiction sometimes excepted):
  1. background & introduction of the subject, problem, or argument
  2. review origins of the topic
  3. develop the topic and how it was been understood, studied, or interpreted by others
  4. author approach and testing of the topic
  5. draw a conclusion, call to action or summary of topic

Strategies & techniques for answering Reading section questions[edit | edit source]

Question type, purpose & information[edit | edit source]

  • identify if questions are seeking textual (stated) or inferred evidence, or both
  • read every word in the question and identify key words, qualifiers & question expectations
    • ex.: “most completely” “nearly” “best” etc.
    • possible wrong answers may address the question or passage but contain the error that they do not “most” or “best” meet the question’s premise
  • identify question perspective (super important):
    • is it asking to employ the author’s argument, a counterargument (expository), character perspective (fiction), authorities or data (social science/ science)?
    • ex.: this question asks what the author might say about what study participants said: “The authors might explain survey respondents’ most frequent choice as…”
  • comparison questions inherently require consideration of author perspective, but they frequently ask to infer one author’s views about the other
    • identify information contained in the question (every question provides some information)
    • restate questions in your own words and/or break them down into parts
  • anticipate:
    • think of your own answer before reviewing possible answers
    • try to answer question without consulting the text (then verify if needed)

“Command of evidence” “paired” questions[edit | edit source]

  • “paired questions” ask you in a subsequent question to provide evidence for the prior question
    • note that the 2nd question frequently appears on the next page, so when you preview questions mark the 1st question to remind you to look at the 2nd first
  • there are two approaches to paired questions:
  1. Strategy 1: assess and test out the evidence in the second question first
    • start by converting the question in the first question into a statement so as to clarify what evidence to look for
      • as you read through the possible sources of evidence, repeat the statement from the 1st question so as to stay focused on the question:
        • that is, “what am I looking for?"
        • do not look at the possible answers in the first question, which will may confuse you
      • the evidence must be in the identified lines
      • do not use evidence before or after those lines!
        • the only exception is if the evidence source contains a pronoun reference from a prior or subsequent line which may define its accuracy
    • eliminate any evidence lines that DO NOT ADDRESS the prior question itself
      • this way you don't have to waste time testing a wrong answer and risk getting fooled by the wrong answer mis-match that the questions are designed to fool you with
      • the strategy will usually help to eliminate 1-2 (sometimes 3) possible evidence sources, so it saves time
      • it may not work on all paired evidence questions, however
        • especially ones in which the 1st question is open-ended
          • (thus leaving us no information with which to eliminate the evidence).
    • once you find the evidence from the 2nd question, now repeat that evidence to yourself while you eliminate the possible answers from the 1st question
    • if you cannot eliminate down to one source of evidence in the 2nd question, test each possible source directly against the possible answers
  2. Strategy 2 (recommended by College Board): answer the first question first, then test the possible evidence from the second question
    • you must be confident of the answer here (use aggressive elimination)
  • see what works for you: only practice will yield best strategies here
  • we recommend Strategy no. 1

click EXPAND to see an example of Strategy no. 1 applied to College Board Practice Test 10, Reading section, questions 27-27

Q 26) Which conclusion is best supported by the findings of Olausson's 1993 experiment?

Q 27)
A) lines 22-26
B) lines 26-28
C) Lines 28-30
D) Lines 37-38
  1. test if the evidence matches the question itself from 26
    • here we see in the text that Q27 evidence lines A, B, & C do address the 1993 experiment, so we cannot eliminate yet
    • we do see that Q27 evidence D) lines 37-38 do not regard the 1993 experiment (it regards a 1999 experiment), so we eliminate D)
    • now we read the evidence lines 22-30 more closely
      • Q27 A) Lines 22-26 describe the techniques of the experiment but do not offer a "conclusion" to draw from it
        • so we eliminate A) without even testing out the possible answers to Q 26.
    • Now we consider B & C, lines 26-30, and decide which of those two support Q 26 and "a conclusion" from the 1993 experiment.
      • since both do address the 1993 experiment and we might be able to draw a "conclusion" from them, we have to test them against the possible answers to Q26
    • write B) and C) on either side of Q26 and eliminate separately
      • we then see that the Q27 C) does not support any of the possible answers
      • and Q27 B) does not support 3 possible answers, but it does support the correct answer Q26 C).

“Command of evidence” without a paired "evidence" question[edit | edit source]

  • usually to find evidence for an excerpt:
    • these questions will ask you to consider a specific excerpt (ex., lines 32-34) and identify the evidence for it in the possible questions
    • you will not be given possible sources (as in paired questions)
    • try to anticipate the evidence before testing the possible answers
  • draw evidence from graphs:
    • review graph sources and identify if that graph is from the same source as the passage
    • identify how graph evidence supports or is related to passages
    • some passages may be accompanied by graphs that present dissimilar information to the passage itself, and you may be asked to consider how the author would interpret it

Pronouns[edit | edit source]

  • when considering evidence or identifying textual sources, give careful consideration to pronouns, and determiners
  • pronouns refer to a previously or subsequently stated noun or idea (or series of ideas)
  • repeat to yourself the noun or idea instead of the pronoun in order to maintain context
  • determiners define a noun or pronoun or a phrase
  • articles such as, “each”, “the,” “a”, etc., identify if the noun or pronoun has been previously identified in the text; if so, seek that identification; ex:
  • “the professor” or “the idea” imply that the reader has already been introduced to “the professor” or “the idea” has already been stated
  • that and which set up additional information about a previously stated subject or object (usually the object)

Elimination[edit | edit source]

  • eliminate aggressively: there is a definitive error in three answers, make them justify themselves
    • remember that the correct answer may not be the best answer, it is the one without an error
    • when questions contain two qualifiers, or descriptive words, if you can eliminate one then the possible answer is incorrect
    • ex.: “Thoreau indicates that some unjust aspects of government are:”

A) superficial and can be fixed easily

    • if you can eliminate either “superficial” or “fixed easily” then A is incorrect
  • if the question has two parts:
    • if the possible answer does not address both or conflicts with one of the parts of the question it is wrong
  • this elimination strategy helps students get around unfamiliar vocabular words

click EXPAND for an example of this elimination technique from CB practice test 1, question 6:

In the passage, Akira addresses Chie with
A) affection but not genuine love.
B) objectivity but not complete impartiality.
C) amusement but not mocking disparagement.
D) respect but not utter deference.
  • if you do not know what "disparagement means," but the text does not have evidence for "amusement," then C) is wrong
  • if you do not know what "deference" means, but the text shows evidence for "respect" then you cannot eliminate

Skipping[edit | edit source]

  • consider skipping “main point” “passage development” questions until completing others first
  • you may find that going back to long or confusing answers provides a fresh, more clear view
  • reconsider prior answers as you learn from answering subsequent questions, especially “main point” or “development pattern” questions

Answering questions while reading[edit | edit source]

  • with a solid preview of questions and information in them, you can now go back and read the tesxt with the questions in your mind and your thumb on the questions page
  • recognize the questions in the text as you read and go back/forth to the questions
  • you will answer questions out of order

Vocabulary questions approach[edit | edit source]

  • reading section vocabulary possible answers may include antonyms as well as synonyms
  • vocabulary is inherently contextual, so be sure to read 1-2 sentences before and after vocab words
  • test unfamiliar words for connections:
  • identify prefix & root, change/remove suffix and think of similar words or word forms
    • try using the word in a sentence of your own
    • if the vocab word is either a qualifier or itself being qualified, identify the “type” or “kind” of word it must therefore be, ex.:
  • anticipate definitions and then test possible answers (which are designed to be misleading)
  • use surrounding words for context or word-type clues
    • if a noun has two adjectives then whatever the word the adjectives describes has to reflect both characteristics, so you only need to know one of those
    • if two vocab words are contrasted "but not" (ex. by "this but not that"), then you can assume the words have a similar meaning but express a different degree of that meaning.
      • ex.: "the teacher was irritated but not completely mad"
      • thus you only need to know the definition of one of those words to understand both
    • if an unfamiliar noun has a modifier, then its definition must reflect something than can be modified in that way

click EXPAND for an example of these techniques from CB practice test 1, question 6:

In the passage, Akira addresses Chie with
A) affection but not genuine love.
B) objectivity but not complete impartiality.
C) amusement but not mocking disparagement.
D) respect but not utter deference.
  • if you know what objectivity (or objective) means but not "impartiality" (or impartial) you can assume that impartiality' means the same thing as objectivity, so read it as, "objective but not completely objective" (or "unbiased")
  • note how the difficult vocab words impartiality, disparagement and deference each are preceded by modifiers
    • in the case of C) "mocking" is all we need to know to understand "disparagement"
      • whatever the definition of disparagement, it is something that can be characterized as mocking (making fun of), therefore just ignore the word altogether and use mocking for your elimination
  • elimination:
    • if the word appears twice (i.e., line “4 & 57”) test possible answers in both lines
    • select an unfamiliar possible answer only if you can reasonably eliminate other answers
    • don’t assume the possible answer is right simply because you don’t know the word
    • don’t force words into the sentence:
      • if you feel it isn’t quite right it probably is not
    • “high utility” words are still useful (older SAT tests had explicit vocabulary sections)
  • vocabulary knowledge will always yield higher results
  • vocabulary impacts not only question comprehension but for passages themselves

Additional Reading section techniques[edit | edit source]

  • substitute the word “something” for words you do not recognize or understand
  • pay special attention to parentheses & dashes, as parenthetical phrases are used by authors to explain or add important information for the reader
  • pay attention to pronouns, as they refer to specific nouns or ideas
  • pay attention to transition words, as they are used to set up new information or clarify previously stated information
  • use nicknames to remember characters (fiction) or vocabulary (such as scientific terms). Nicknames will provide better retention, clarification, and recall
    • ex.: “Steve the brother” or “chlorophyll the green pigment”

Reading passages types and purpose[edit | edit source]

  • passages are excerpted from larger texts
  • there will always be the following types of readings:
    • Fiction
    • Expository/Persuasive
    • Social Science (academic or journalistic)
    • Scientific (academic or journalistic)
    • Comparison
      • historical primary source
      • journalistic or editorial
      • persuasive

Fiction[edit | edit source]

  • readings may be from 19th to 21st centuries and setting may be an earlier time period
  • students are expected to engage in literary analysis for author purpose, techniques, and overall comprehension of narrative, such as:
    • plot and narrative development
    • narrator voice
    • character analysis and author construction of characters and their interactions
    • literary techniques and rhetorical devices
  • track characters as you read
    • try adding a descriptor to the character in order to process more readily
    • ex.: instead of just reading, “Carolyn,” read to yourself “Carolyn the artist” so that you maintain passage context when reading about different characters
  • focus on character interactions & perspective
    • questions may ask you to interpret what one character would think or say about another
  • 3rd person narrators will "crawl into the head" of characters
    • identify when a narrator is describing the thoughts or ideas of a character

Expository or Persuasive[edit | edit source]

  • expository = descriptive, explanatory or otherwise reasoned but not purely academic
    • may not have the hypothesis/thesis/observation pattern of an academic passage
  • persuasive = argumentative, opinionated, judgmental, or takes a position
  • expository/persuasive essays may come in the form of:
    • editorial, essay, political speech, private letter
    • are often an historical essay, letter or speech, late 18th to 21st centuries
    • may also be journalist in terms of describing some topic or event
    • will not usually state thesis statement in title or opening paragraph
    • usually engages specific literary techniques for persuasion and reinforcement of ideas
  • techniques:
    • identify author purpose and rhetorical techniques, including
      • repetition, alliteration, rhetorical questions (frequent!), imagery, etc.
    • identify how the language and argument are related

Social science[edit | edit source]

  • usually Sociology, Psychology, or Economics
  • = academic
    • = peer reviewed
  • pay attention to passage titles:
    • title often contains a “hook” that reinforces passage purpose or thesis
    • title almost always contains a statement of the thesis
  • Social Sciences attempt to treat human behavior as observable science, which means text will:
    • Present a thesis or argument
    • provide evidence
    • often contain an appeal to authority (an accepted prior work or theory)
    • WILL NOT BE JUDGEMENTAL (frequently wrong possible answers use judgmental words, which Social Scientists avoid)
  • graphs & tables: identify if the question asks for what is stated or what is implied in the graph or table

Physical science[edit | edit source]

  • = academic
    • = peer reviewed
  • won’t require math except for graphs and tables
  • thesis usually stated in the title and/or hook
  • employs Scientific Method:
    • hypothesis, observations
    • test hypothesis, analysis, conclusion
    • may contain an appeal to authority (an accepted prior work or theory)
  • structure will generally follow:
  1. background & review of topic
  2. how topic has been viewed by previous researchers
  3. chronology of experiments and/or theories
  4. author hypothesis
  5. author observations and/or experiments/ testing of hypothesis
  6. conclusions drawn from observations and experiments
  • may discuss contrary theories
  • often contains graphs/ table

Comparison passages[edit | edit source]

  • two readings comparing differing or opposing views on a topic
  • each will present a clear argument for you to identify
  • comparison readings are not necessarily directed at the exact same topic
  • some comparison selections, or one of the two, may respond to one another
  • pay attention to publication dates
  • pay attention to titles and introductions
  • regardless of topic, comparison passages will always present an argument

Passage topics & themes[edit | edit source]

  • SAT reading selections are usually aimed at the following topics:
    • global warming / climate/ environmental sustainability
    • social and political change, especially in historical pieces pertaining to social transitions from aristocratic or elitist to modern societies
    • rise of middle or professional classes
    • democratization & race and gender equality
    • industrialization, urbanization, and impact of technological change
    • DNA, biodiversity, space technology, animal behavior
    • social media and other technological challenges to modern society
    • libraries, academics, and information technology

Vocabulary[edit | edit source]

  • SAT Reading measures contextual vocabulary not strict vocabulary knowledge

Contextual vocabulary approach & strategy[edit | edit source]

  • read the surrounding paragraph/s for context
    • read more than just the immediate sentence
    • frequently, an answer is clarified by prior or subsequent sentences
    • see Practice Test 1, Reading question no. 12
      • to answer this question, the student must read two sentences ahead
      • to identify the contextual meaning of "ambivalent," the student must identify that the "ambivalent feelings" result from both that "Many relish the opportunity" and ... "many dread the thought"
        • notice, also, the transitional phrase, "At the same time":
This frequent experience of gift-giving can engender [ambivalent] feelings in gift-givers. Many relish the opportunity to buy presents because gift-giving offers a powerful means to build stronger bonds with one’s closest peers. At the same time, many dread the thought of buying gifts; they worry that their purchases will disappoint rather than delight the intended recipients.
  • identify the part of speech of the vocabulary word
    • usually it is a noun, adjective, or verb
  • identify how that word interacts grammatically with the surrounding word/s:
If it is a...
noun is it modified by an adjective? is it the subject or object of a verb?

is it the object of a non-finite verb (i.e., is it part of a participle or prepositional phrase)?

verb is it modified by an adverb? what is its subject and object or other complement (i.e. what is the full predicate)?
adjective what is the noun it modifies?
  • if there is a similar word type in the sentence, use it to identify a parallel meaning
    • ex. from Test 9, Reading question no. 10
    • the vocabular term "clean" must be similar in use to "pure"
    • both adjectives describe a "sound" that the narrator heard
"And listen to this.” And I heard a sound as [clean] and pure as a small silver bell. “The high-pitched tone tells you that the soot is very fine, as smooth as the sliding banks of old rivers."

A) complete.
B) skillful.
C) distinct.
D) upright.

A) complete does not match "pure"; also, sounds are not "completed"

B) skillful < sounds may be skillfully created, but the sound itself cannot be skillful

C) distinct > correctly matches "pure"

D) upright < sounds cannot be "upright"

  • next, identify the "type" or characteristic of the word:
  • is it used for...
    • people
    • ideas/ concepts
    • things
    • animals or plants
  • eliminate according to that "type" that it is (noun), does (verb) or is like (adjective)

Useful vocabulary for SAT Reading section comprehension[edit | edit source]

Comprehending difficult text[edit | edit source]

reading skills practice[edit | edit source]

  • break down complex sentences
    • identify main clause (subject- verb)
    • identify modifiers (relative clauses, prepositional phrases, etc.
    • identify parenthetical phrases
    • work on connecting multiple independent clauses and identifying the overall meaning of the sentence
  • identify perspective shifts:
    • when the author speaks for someone oneself
      • to set up an opposing argument for refutation
      • or to characterize an opponent's position
  • identify and practice building context around transition words
    • rhetorical questions
      • author speaking to the audience
      • challenging an opposite perspective/ claim/s
      • supporting author claim/s
  • transition words
    • for contrast
    • for introduction of ideas
    • for drawing conclusion

Comprehending long or complex sentences[edit | edit source]

  • long and complex sentences may intimidate or confuse students
  • key to comprehension of difficult text is to isolate sentence parts
  • once the student recognizes the distinct sentence parts, the difficulty of the sentence is reduced
  • of course, vocabulary may still present a challenge, but we can get around unknown words, as well

identifying & isolating sentence elements[edit | edit source]

    • every sentence has a core of a subject-verb main clause (or clauses)
    • additional information is added to the subject-verb core with
    • modifying elements that add to or qualify the main clause, including:
      • subordinate or dependent clauses:
        • "If I study in the library, I can stay focused"
      • relative or adjective clauses:
        • "I study in the library, which helps me stay focused"
      • prepositional phrases:
        • "I study in the library, which helps me stay focused"
        • "I stay focused by studying in the library"
      • parenthetical phrases
        • "I study in the library (the one near my house), so I can stay focused"
  • see this Video by Michael Bromley on breaking down a complex sentence from College Board

steps for sentence comprehension[edit | edit source]

  1. isolate modifying elements
    • especially prepositional phrases (starting w/ "in, of, about", etc.)
    • and relative clauses (usually being with "that" or "which")
  2. identify main and any dependent clauses
    • clauses contain a subject and verb
    • subordinate clauses begin with a subordinating conjunction such as "if," "because", "since", etc.
  3. identify pronoun references
    • replace unfamiliar words with "something" in order to get past them
  4. re-arrange the sentence by adding the modifying elements
    • and you don't have to add them back in the original order: just make sense of them
  • click EXPAND for an example of this technique from an actual SAT test:

here for a complex sentence from a random College Board practice test on Khan Academy:

The latter shows that while the conglomeration of “Plains culture” may have been a product of merging new ideas with old, combined with cultural interchange between groups, the details of what was accepted, rejected or elaborated in each case reflected pre- existing ideological biases.
  1. . isolate modifying elements:
    • "The latter shows that while the conglomeration of “Plains culture” may have been a product of merging new ideas with old, combined with cultural interchange between groups, the details of what was accepted, rejected or elaborated in each case reflected pre- existing ideological biases."
  2. . which helps to identify the main clause:
    • "The latter shows the details of what was accepted, rejected or elaborated"
  3. identify pronoun references:
    • "The latter = the second of two prior references
      • as opposed to "the former" which is the first of two prior references
    • in thise case, "the latter" = "moccasin decorations"
    • so we have
      • "The latter [moccasin decorations] shows the details of what was accepted, rejected or elaborated"
  4. add back in modifying elements:
    • "while the conglomerate [something] of "Plains culture" may have been a product of new ideas with old"
    • "combined with cultural interchange between groups"
      • and "in each case [the details] reflected pre-existing ideological [something] biases"
    • now simplify and combine:
        1. "while the "Plains culture" may have been a product of new ideas with old"
        2. and "combined with cultural interchange between groups"
        3. then "The [moccasin decorations] shows the details of what was accepted, rejected or elaborated"
        4. and "in each case [the details] reflected pre-existing ideological [something] biases"