The SAT Reading section has 52 questions in 65 minutes. The 52 questions are divided among five passages: three with 10 questions and two with 11 questions. A good way to manage your time in this section is to make sure you have about 25-26 minutes left after you finish the third passage.
Next, here are 10 expert tips to help you master the SAT reading section.
TIP 1: Light your fire
The SAT Reading section happens first – so you need to be ready to be super focused the moment you start. As I like to say, this is the time to light your fire! When you sit down for the Reading section, you need to feel ready to go. You are sharp; you are focused; you are going to find those answers; and you are ready to go quickly. Remember, doing well in the Reading section comes down to pacing. You must be mentally prepared to sit down and do it.
TIP 2: Read for the main idea
Approach the section by first getting through a passage in about 3.5 minutes. On this initial read, your goal should be to know where information is, not to memorize perfectly what every sentence says. You’ll refer back to the passage to answer the questions, so you just need to know where to find content when you know what the questions are asking for.
TIP 3: Answer the question
Yes, this advice seems odd, but the SAT Reading questions can be very sneaky. Sometimes, the answer choices will be accurate; they will be real things from the passage, but they won’t answer the question being asked. You must understand: just because something is accurate from the passage doesn’t mean it’s the right answer to that question. So read carefully!
TIP 4: Understand your task
The goal is not for you to call me after the SAT and tell me every detail about the beautiful reading passage. I want you to call me and tell me how you found every answer. Your job is not to read and then remember for hours or for days; your job is to read so that you are finding answers to questions. For example, if you had an open book science test, you wouldn’t go to your desk and read the chapter from start to finish. You would identify what a question is asking and then go find the answer. Your job is to play hide and go seek; all the information is there; you just have to find it.
TIP 5: Eliminate extremes
If you ever see a question with answers that say “always, never, the best, or the worst,” those answers are not correct. The passages will not describe offensive or extreme situations or beliefs, so those types of extreme answers won’t be correct.
TIP 6: Find the answer
Remember your job is to find the answers. Don’t rely on your memory. Look back in the passage and find the answer that you are looking for. And remember from tip number 3, make sure you’re answering the question that’s being asked.
TIP 7: Read actively
If you find yourself reading and nothing is sinking in, then you must refocus yourself and go back. Take a moment; adjust your posture; close your eyes; take a deep breath. Return to the passage when you can read actively and stay sharp as you read. When you get to a question and it asks about a bug’s mating call, you must be able to go, “oh yeah, that mating call sentence was right here,” and then find that precise line in the passage. You will constantly be going back and forth between the passage and the questions.
TIP 8: Know your order
Just because a question is the first one asked, doesn’t mean you have to answer it first. It’s ok to skip around the questions to first answer ones about specific content. Then save questions that ask about general idea, structure, and tone for last. Answering line references and vocab in context questions first will help you better understand the overall goal of the passage to then better answer big picture questions.
TIP 9: Underline key information
I say key information because sometimes students will underline everything in the passage. Only underline key information like names or numbers or when the tone or the events shift. If something unexpected or surprising happens, underline that.
TIP 10: Never assume
This is not your English class at school and your teacher is not asking you to come up with your own ideas. Your job is to find what is given to you.
As a final note, you should know that the five passages are often in the same order: U.S. or world literature, history or social science, science, history or social science, and science. The questions for each passage are ordered largely chronologically alongside the passage (so if question 10 is answered in line 20 and question 12 is answered in line 40, then question 11 would be between lines 20 and 40). Students often find that answering questions as they read maximizes their score.
I hope this overview is helpful so you know more of what to expect on the SAT Reading section. Happy studying and good luck! If you’re looking for help in other SAT sections, then check out these top tips for SAT Math.
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