SAT® Reading Prep: Practice Tips for Reading

How to Practice for the SAT Reading Test Section

Preparing for the SAT Reading Test is all about timing! The right practice tips can help you better understand and move through reading passages in less time. Learn more about what to expect from the SAT reading section, then check out Sylvan’s SAT reading tips below!

All questions on the Reading Test are multiple choice and based on a passage or a paired passage. Some passages have informational graphics, such as tables, graphs and charts. The SAT Reading Test requires you to read the passage (or paired passage/informational graphics) and answer questions about what is stated or implied in the passage. The content is based on passages which are selected from previously published works in the areas of classic and contemporary U.S. and world literature, history/social studies and science.

There are 52 multiple-choice reading questions,<.strong> and you’ll have 65 minutes to answer them. Here’s what the evidence-based reading questions will ask you to do:

Words in Context

  • Use context clues to figure out which meaning of a word or phrase is being used
  • Decide how the author’s word choice shapes meaning, style and tone

Command of Evidence

  • Find evidence in a passage (or paired passages) that best supports the answer to the previous question or supports a conclusion
  • Identify how authors use evidence to support claims
  • Find a relationship between an informational graphic and passage

Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science

  • Examine hypotheses
  • Interpret data
  • Consider implications

5 SAT Reading Tips to Help You Practice

Tip 1: Pace Yourself!

  • Loss of concentration is the enemy. Maintain your focus.
  • During the 65-minute Reading Test, you will read 4 single passages and 1 paired passage. The passages are 500–750 words each. It’s important to pace yourself so you don’t run out of time.
  • If you realize you are taking too long with one question, take your best guess and move on or mark the question for later. Remember that you will not lose points for wrong answers!

Tip 2: Create a “Table of Contents”

  • Mark up the passage as you read so you can quickly find the answers to specific questions.
  • Underline the main ideas of a passage.
  • Underline statements that tell the author’s option.
  • Circle names, dates, titles, etc.
  • Circle “shifters” that highlight a change.
  • Label or underline relationships between characters and the narrator.
  • At the end of each passage, state the main idea in 3-4 words.

Create a Table of Contents on the Reading Section of the SAT
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Tip 3: Spot Incorrect Answer Choices

The following is a list of the most common types of incorrect answers found in the Reading Test. If you can learn to recognize these “trick” answers, you will be able to eliminate some wrong answers on almost any reading question.


  • It’s a safe bet that you can avoid answers that are too positive, too negative, or too extreme in tone.
  • If you’re stuck between two choices go with the more moderate choice unless the passage clearly supports a more extreme choice.

Broad Generalizations:

  • You should be suspicious of any answer choice that makes a sweeping generalization about a topic or group of people. For instance, an answer choice stating, “Only professional artists are truly creative people,” is a broad generalization and therefore should be eliminated.
  • Avoid answer choices containing words such as “all,” “always,” “solely,” “never,” “only,” “impossible,“ etc. These are almost always wrong.

Bait and Switch:

  • The test makers may take a word or phrase directly from the passage, and then distort the meaning by twisting or adding to it.
  • Make sure everything in the answer choice is supported by the passage. If even one word is wrong in an answer choice, that can make the whole answer wrong.

Not Mentioned (But Sounds Good):

  • This is an answer that sounds logical or true, but contains information never mentioned or supported in the passage.
  • Remember, the correct answers to evidence-based reading questions are always either paraphrases of information found directly in the passage or logical conclusions drawn from pieces of information found in the passage.
  • No matter how good an answer choice sounds, it can’t be correct unless it is mentioned in, or supported by, the passage

Tip 4: Interpreting Words in Context

One mark of college/university and career readiness is the possession of vocabulary that allows you to read and comprehend advanced and professional texts. Rather than test you on a list of random words from such texts, the SAT assesses your ability to determine the meaning of a word by noting its context, or the words and phrases around the word in question.

To score well on word-in-context questions, always look up the word in the passage to remind yourself of the context. Choose the answer that best fits the context.

  • Treat word-in-context questions as though they were fill-in-the-blank questions. Replace the word in quotation marks with a blank. Then find clues in the passage that help you come up with your own word or group of words to fill in the blank. Finally, match the meaning of your substituted word with the answer choices to find the correct answer.
  • Read two sentences before and after the word to best understand the context in which the word is used.

Tip 5: Attacking Pair Passages

On every SAT, one or more of the reading selections relates to paired passages, followed by a single set of questions. The passages are about a related topic or offer opposing points of view about a similar issue. There will be questions about each individual passage as well as questions about both passages that ask you to synthesize the information and ideas from both passages.

Attack paired passages in this order:

STEP 1: Read and mark the first passage. Answer all the questions that relate only to that passage. (They’ll usually come first). Within each question the SAT refers to Passage 1 or Passage 2, so it will always be clear which passage you need to look at to answer the question.

STEP 2: Read and mark the second passage and answer all of the questions that relate only to that passage.

STEP 3: Then answer the questions that relate to both passages. These SAT questions clearly refer to both Passage 1 and Passage 2.

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