General Strategies on Prepping for SAT Reading

Reading one 750 word passage is hard. Reading four 750 word passages in a row and answering 52 questions within 65 minutes seems impossible, but don’t fret! Once you get some key strategies under your belt, you’ll find that the SAT Reading test isn’t so bad.


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One of the best ways to prepare for the SAT Reading test is to organize your preparation into three parts. First, get familiar with how the SAT Reading test is set up so you aren’t surprised on test day. Second, identify the strategies that work best for you. Third, work on timing and endurance.

To get you started, here are some general strategies you can use to prep for the SAT Reading test. To figure out which ones work best for you, try them out individually and see which ones stick!

Part One: Become Familiar With The Test

One of the best ways to prep for the SAT Reading test is to know what to expect. Understanding the test’s structure will make the test more predictable and less stressful. Here is a quick lowdown:

  • The SAT Reading test is the very first section you’ll encounter.
  • You’re given 65 minutes to tackle 52 questions that are distributed among five passages.
    • One of the passages will be from a piece of literature.
    • Another will be related to social science.
    • Two will be about science.
    • The remaining passage will either be a single passage or a pair of passages from a historical document.
    • Some of the passages will contain graphs.
    • There is no specific order when it comes to passage topic, but the first passage tends to be the literature passage.

Besides knowing test structure, it’s also good to know the main challenge that comes with the SAT Reading test: endurance. Sixty-five minutes is a long time and fatigue will be one of your main obstacles. Additionally, since it’s the first section, your brain may still be waking up.

Now that you know what to anticipate, let’s dive into some specific strategies you can apply.

Part Two: Develop Your Favorite Strategies

When it comes to the SAT Reading test, you’ll want to use strategies that fall under one of the following categories: strategies on how to tackle the passages and strategies on how to tackle the questions. Below are a few strategies you can use; try them all out and see which ones are your favorite!

Strategies on How to Tackle the Passage

1. Mark up the passage as you read it.

Annotating while reading will help keep your brain awake and improve your comprehension. While everyone knows to underline main ideas, you can also try circling proper nouns and numbers. By both underlining and circling, you’ll make it easier for yourself to go back into the passage and find the essential information you need.

2. Before reading the passage, scan the questions and underline any lines that are cited.

Try this strategy out if you don’t struggle with timing. Spend 30 seconds previewing the questions and marking up lines that are mentioned. That way, when you come across those lines when you read the passage, you can pay extra close attention to them.

Strategies on How to Tackle the Questions

1. Read the first half of the passage, answer the relevant questions, and then read the second half of the passage.

This strategy seems scary—start answering questions BEFORE reading the whole passage? Here’s what’s great about this strategy: you’re actually taking advantage of how the questions are structured on the SAT Reading test. For the most part, they are in chronological order, meaning that they follow the flow of the passage. The most notable exception is that the main idea question tends to be the first one, but you can just go back to it at the end. By breaking up the passage into two parts, you don’t have to remember every detail of the entire passage. For the paired passages, read Passage 1 first, answer Passage 1 questions, and then switch to Passage 2—don’t read both passages first and then tackle questions.

2. Eliminate answer choices by physically crossing them out.

Physically eliminating answer choices does two things. First, it helps you stay active during the 65 minutes. Second, you are telling your brain that you are no longer considering those options.

It’s common for students to eliminate three answer choices, but because they’re unsure about the last one, they’ll waste time and try to prove it’s correct. If you can definitely eliminate three answer choices, using your pencil to cross them out will mentally reassure you that the remaining answer choices is the correct one.

3. Bonus Strategy A: for main idea questions, revisit the introduction and conclusion.

Although you can re-read the topic sentence of each paragraph to get a big picture understanding of the passage, it’s just as effective to skim the first and last paragraphs. Because these paragraphs are designed to encapsulate the passage’s main ideas, they will provide the most summarized version of these concepts.

It’s also important to note what the difference is between a passage’s main topic and its main idea. Main topic is what the passage is about whereas the main idea is the argument. A common trap answer for this question type is that one of the answer choices will correctly describe the topic. But because the question is asking for the passage’s main idea, you want to identify the key argument.

4. Bonus Strategy B: for questions that ask for the best evidence, answer that question first before the original question.

You may have noticed that you’ll get a question on the SAT Reading test that’s followed by a question asking you for the best evidence to the previous question. The best way to tackle this kind of question is to actually answer the best evidence question first. This method allows you to use direct text to answer the original question. It’s much easier to find direct evidence first than to sift through answers that reword the passage. By finding the correct citation first, you’ll already have thee supporting evidence you need to answer the original question.

Part Three: Get Your Timing Down

Once you know the test inside and out and have identified the best strategies for you, you’ll want to focus on timing.

A lot of students make the mistake of immediately focusing on timing. You should first focus on getting your accuracy up. Once you can consistently get questions right, you can then shift your attention to timing.

To improve timing, first time yourself on an individual passage. You’ll want to give yourself about 13 minutes for one passage. Once you feel comfortable completing a passage in 13 minutes, start adding more passages. For example, try doing two passages in 26 minutes. As you slowly add more passages, you’ll build your endurance for a full-length SAT Reading test.


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