THE SAT READING TEST
1. The Core Analytical Reading Skills
2. The Three Key Questions
3. The Three Secondary Questions
4. Advanced SAT Reading Techniques
The SAT Reading Test
What is the SAT Reading test?
The SAT includes a 65-minute Reading test designed to assess your
proficiency in reading and comprehending a broad range of high-quality, appropriately challenging literary and informational texts in the content areas of U.S. and world literature, history/social studies, and science.
The SAT Reading test consists of four passages, each 500–750 words long. (For an example of the Reading test, look at Section 1 of the Diagnostic Test in Chapter 2.) You are to read the passages and answer multiple-choice questions about
• the purpose and main idea of the passage
• the meaning and purpose of particular words and phrases in context
• the inferences that can be justifiably drawn from the passage
• the tone and attitude conveyed by the author
Additionally, some passages with a common theme are paired and accompanied by questions about
• points of agreement or disagreement between the paired passages
• differences in tone or emphasis between the paired passages
Also, some of the passages will be accompanied by tables or graphs and questions about
• how to interpret the data represented in the table or graph
• how to incorporate these data appropriately into the passage
How is it used?
Colleges use your SAT Reading test score as a measure of your ability to perform demanding college-level reading tasks. The SAT Reading test score represents one-half of your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score. The other half of this score comes from the Writing and Language test.
Sound intimidating? It’s not.
There are only four rules of analytical reading to learn in order to ace the SAT Reading test, and the 12 lessons in this chapter will give you the knowledge and practice you need to master all of them.
The Core Analytical Reading Skills
Lesson 1: Learn to read analytically
Which is correct?
A. The SAT Reading test is primarily a test of your multiple-choice test-taking skill.
B. The SAT Reading test is primarily a test of your analytical reading skill.
C. The SAT Reading test is primarily a test of your literary reading skill.
Although basic test-taking skills are helpful, they won’t get you very far. Acing the SAT Reading test requires solid analytical reading skills, that is, the ability to extract the key information from any passage and to identify its evidence. Specifically, you should be able to read any SAT passage on any topic and determine its
• central idea
• functional elements
It’s important to remember that the SAT Reading test is not a literary skills test. You may spend a lot of time in English class learning to
• explore connections between a text and its cultural context
• evaluate the emotional effect of a literary piece
• explore abstract ideas that are implicit in a work, such as “the concept of utopia”
• find examples of symbolism, foreshadowing, and other subtle and figurative literary elements
But these literary skills, while important for your enjoyment and edification, are not tested by the SAT Reading test.
Although it is helpful to know a few important test-taking skills, just knowing these tricks won’t get you very far. The SAT Reading test is essentially a test of analytical reading skill, not literary reading skills.
According to the College Board, the SAT Reading test is evidence-based. That is, it specifically assesses your ability to justify your responses with literal evidence from the passage and quantitative evidence from associated tables or graphs. Therefore, be ready to supply theevidence for any answers you give.
Lesson 2: Get your mind right
Which is correct?
A. The SAT Reading passages are chosen to be as difficult and boring as possible.
B. The SAT Reading passages are chosen because they represent the kinds of prose students are most likely to encounter in a college liberal arts curriculum.
The answer, despite popular belief, is B. The SAT Reading passages are not chosen by sadists. They are selected to represent the kind of reading you will do in college. Don’t begin the SAT Reading Test with the attitude, “Oh no, not another tedious and pointless SAT reading passage!” This will only sabotage your performance by creating a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
How well you do on the SAT Reading test depends very much on the mindset you bring to the test.
If you expect a passage to be tedious and pointless, it will be, because you will miss its interesting key points. If instead you expect to learn something new and interesting, you will remain more focused and engaged and attack the questions much more confidently and accurately.
Keep an open mind and—we promise—you’ll learn something new from every SAT you take.
How do you avoid “spacing out?”
Many students occasionally “space out” on high-pressure reading tests like the SAT: their eyes scan over the words, but the words don’t go in the brain. The best way to avoid space-outs is to master the skills of active reading. When your brain is active and engaged, it can’t “space out.” The heart of active reading is focusing on the analytical questions that we will discuss in the upcoming lessons.