The SAT Reading Test: Basic Approach - How to Crack the Reading Test - Cracking the New SAT with 4 Practice Tests, 2016 Edition

Cracking the New SAT with 4 Practice Tests, 2016 Edition (2015)

Part II. How to Crack the Reading Test

Chapter 3. The SAT Reading Test: Basic Approach

Half of your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score comes from the Reading Test, a 65-minute test that requires you to answer 52 questions spread out over five passages. The questions will ask you to do everything from determining the meaning of words in context to deciding an author’s purpose for a detail to finding the main idea of a whole passage to pinpointing information on a graph. Each passage ranges from 500 to 750 words and has 10 or 11 questions. Time will be tight on this test. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce you to a basic approach that will streamline how you take the test and allow you to focus on only what you need to get your points.


You read every day. From street signs to novels to the back of the cereal box, you spend a good part of your day recognizing written words. So this test should be pretty easy, right?

Unfortunately, “SAT Reading” is different from “real life reading.” In real life, you read passively. Your eyes go over the words, the words go into your brain, and some stick and some don’t. On the SAT, you have to read actively, which means trying to find specific information to answer specific questions. Once you’ve found the information you need, you have to understand what it’s actually saying.

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Another problem is that SAT Reading can be very different from the reading you do in school. Often, in an English class, you are asked to give your own opinion, supported by the text. You might have to explain how Scout Finch and Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird are, metaphorically speaking, mockingbirds. Or explain who is actually responsible for the tragedies in Romeo and Juliet. On the SAT, however, there is no opinion. You don’t have the opportunity to justify why your answer is the right one. That means there is only one right answer, so your job is to find it. It’s the weirdest scavenger hunt ever.

Your Mission:

Read five passages and answer 10 or 11 questions for each passage (or set of passages). Get as many points as you can.

Okay…so how do you get those points? Let’s start with ETS’s instructions for the Reading Test.


Each passage or pair of passages below is followed by a number of questions. After reading each passage or pair, choose the best answer to each question based on what is stated or implied in the passage or passages and in any accompanying graphics (such as a table or graph).

Great news! This is an open-book test. Notice the directions say, “based on what is stated or implied in the passage.” This means ETS is NOT testing to see that you have read, studied, and become an expert on the Constitution, The Great Gatsby, or your biology textbook. All ETS cares about is whether or not you can read a text and understand it well enough to correctly answer some questions about it. Unlike the Math or Writing and Language Tests, there are no formulas to memorize or comma rules to learn in the Reading Test. You just need to know how to approach the text and the questions/answers in order to maximize accuracy and efficiency. It’s all about the text! (No thinking!)

Another awesome thing about an open-book test is that you don’t have to waste time reading every single word of the passage and trying to become an expert on whatever the topic is. You have the passage right there in front of you. So, move back and forth between the passage and the questions, focusing only on what you need instead of getting mired down in all the little details.

Your POOD and Your Reading Test

You will get all five of the reading passages at the same time, so use that to your advantage. Take a quick look through the whole section and figure out the best order for you to do the passages. Depending on your target score, you may be able to skip an entire passage or two, so figure out which passages are likely to get you the most points.


Type of passage: You’ll have one literature passage and two each of science and history/social studies. If you like to read novels and short stories, the literature passage may be a good place to start. If you prefer nonfiction, you might consider doing the science and history/social studies first.

Topic of passage: The blurb will give you some basic information about the passage that may help you decide whether to do the passage or skip it.

Types of questions: Do the questions have a good number of Line References and Lead Words? Will you be able to find what you’re looking for relatively quickly, or will you have to spend more time wading through the passage to find what you want?

Don’t forget: On any questions or passages that you skip, always fill in your LOTD!

Basic Approach for the Reading Test

Follow these steps for every Reading passage. We’ll go over these in greater detail in the next few pages.

1.Read the Blurb. The little italicized bit at the beginning of each passage may not contain a lot of information, but it can be helpful for identifying the type of passage.

2.Select and Understand a Question. For the most part, do the questions in order, saving the general questions for last and using your LOTD on any questions or passages you want to skip.

3.Read What You Need. Don’t read the whole passage! Use Line References and Lead Words to find the reference for the question, and then carefully read a window of about 10–12 lines (usually about 5 or 6 lines above and below the Line Reference/Lead Word) to find the answer to the question.

4.Predict the Correct Answer. Your prediction should come straight from the text. Don’t analyze or paraphrase. Often, you’ll be able to find something in the text that you can actually underline to predict the answer.

5.POE. Eliminate anything that isn’t consistent with your prediction. Don’t necessarily try to find the right answer immediately, because there is a good chance you won’t see anything that you like. If you can eliminate answers that you know are wrong, though, you’ll be closer to the right answer. If you can’t eliminate three answers with your prediction, use the POE criteria (which we’ll talk about in a few pages.)

Let’s see these steps in action!

A sample passage and questions appear on the next few pages. Don’t start working the passage right away. In fact…you can’t! The answer choices are missing. Just go ahead to this page, where we will begin going through the steps of the Basic Approach, using the upcoming passage and questions.

Where the Money Is

A reporter once asked notorious thief Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. Legend has it that his answer was, “Because that’s where the money is.” While reading comprehension is safer and slightly more productive than larceny, the same principle applies: Concentrate on the questions and answer choices because that’s where the points are. The passage is just a place for ETS to stash facts and details. You’ll find them when you need to. What’s the point of memorizing all 67 pesky details about plankton if ETS asks you about only 12?


Here is an example of what a reading comprehension passage and questions look like. We will use this passage to illustrate the reading Basic Approach throughout this chapter. You don’t need to do the questions now, but you might want to bookmark this page so it’s easy to flip back to later.

Questions 11-21 are based on the following passage.

This passage is adapted from Linton Weeks’s “The Windshield-Pitting Mystery of 1954.” © 2015 by NPR History Dept.

These are the questions for the passage. We’ve removed the answer choices because, for now, we just want you to see the different question types the SAT will ask. Don’t worry about answering these here.

11.The central claim of the passage is that

12.The author most likely mentions the Canadian scientist (line 22) and the Utah resident (line 26) in order to

13.The author’s statement that the “country moved on to building backyard fallout shelters” (lines 31-32) implies that Americans

14.As used in line 41, “common” most nearly means

15.The passage indicates that an effect of aggregating events is

16.According to the passage, what percent of cars in Washington suffered damage?

17.Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

18.The author most likely mentions War of the Worlds in line 73 in order to

19.The quotation marks around the word “hysteria” in line 94 most likely indicate

20.Based on the passage, the author most likely agrees that “pitting” is

21.Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

Step 1: The Blurb

You should always begin by reading the blurb (the introductory material above the passage). The blurb gives you the title of the piece, as well as the author and the publication date. Typically the blurb won’t have much more information than that, but it’ll be enough to let you know whether the passage is literature, history/social studies, or science. It will also give you a sense of what the passage will be about and can help you make a POOD (personal order of difficulty) decision about when to do the passage.

Read the blurb at the beginning of the passage on this page. Based on the blurb, is the passage literature, history/social studies, or science? What will the passage be about?

The Strategy

1. Read the Blurb

Step 2: Select and Understand a Question


Notice that the steps of the Basic Approach have you jumping straight from the blurb to the questions. There is no “Read the Passage” step. You get points for answering questions, not for reading the passage, so we’re going to go straight to the questions.

On a test you take in school, you probably do the questions in order. That seems logical and straightforward. However, doing the questions in order on a Reading passage can set you up for a serious time issue. ETS says the order of the questions “is also as natural as possible, with general questions about central ideas, themes, point of view, overall text structure, and the like coming early in the sequence, followed by more localized questions about details, words in context, evidence, and the like.” So to sum it up: The general questions come first, followed by the specific questions.

That question structure works great in an English class, when you have plenty of time to read and digest the text on your own. When you’re trying to get through five passages in just over an hour, you don’t have time for that. Instead of starting with the general questions and then answering the specific questions, we’re going to flip that and do the specific questions first.

The Strategy

1. Read the Blurb

2. Select and Understand
a Question

Look back at the questions on this page.

What does the first question ask you about?

In order to answer that question, you’d have to read what part of the passage?

And what we don’t want to do is read the whole passage! So skip that first question. You’ll come back to it, but not until you’ve done the specific questions. Once you go through and answer all (or most) of the specific questions, you’ll have a really good idea what the test writers think is important. You’ll also have read most of the passage, so answering the general questions will be easy.

Remember we mentioned earlier that the questions are in chronological order? Look at the Line References in the specific questions. What do you notice about them?

Yep! They’re in order through the passage! So work through them as they’re given, and you’ll work through the passage from beginning to end. Do not get stuck on a hard question, though. If you find yourself stumped, use your LOTD and move on to the next question. You can always come back if you have time.

Based on that logic, let’s skip the first question and move on to the second question.

…and Understand

Once you’ve selected a question, you need to make sure you understand what it’s asking. Reading questions are often not in question format. Instead, they will make statements such as, “The author’s primary reason for mentioning the gadfly is to,” and then the answer choices will follow. Make sure that you understand the question by turning it into a question—that is, back into a sentence that ends with a question mark and begins with Who/What/Why.

12.The author most likely mentions the Canadian scientist (line 22) and the Utah resident (line 26) in order to

What is this question asking?

Rephrase the Question…

…so that it asks:




Notice the phrase “in order to” at the end of the question. That phrase lets you know the question can be rephrased as a “why” question. So for this particular question, you want to figure out “Why does the author mention the Canadian scientist and the Utah resident?”

Step 3: Read What You Need

Line Reference and Lead Words

Many questions will refer you to a specific set of lines or to a particular paragraph, so you won’t need to read the entire passage to answer those questions. Those are Line References. Other questions may not give you a Line Reference, but may ask about specific names, quotes, or phrases that are easy to spot in the text. We’ll call those Lead Words. It’s important to remember that the Line Reference or Lead Word shows you where the question is in the passage, but you’ll have to read more than that single line in order to find the answer in the passage.

If you read a window of about five lines above and five lines below each Line Reference or Lead Word, you should find the information you need. It’s important to note that while you do not need to read more than these 10–12 lines of text, you usually cannot get away with reading less. If you read only the lines from the Line Reference, you will very likely not find the information you need to answer the question. Read carefully! You should be able to put your finger on the particular phrase, sentence, or set of lines that answers your question. If you save the general questions that relate to the passage as a whole for last, then by the time you begin those questions, you’ll have a greater understanding of the passage even if you haven’t read it from beginning to end.

The Strategy

1. Read the Blurb

2. Select and Understand

a Question

3. Read What You Need

Read a window of about 5 lines above and 5 lines below your Line Reference to get the context for the question.

5 Above, 5 Below

5 is the magic number

when it comes to Line

Reference questions. Read

5 lines above the Line

Reference and then 5 lines

below it to get all of the

information you need in

order to answer the

question correctly.

12.The author most likely mentions the Canadian scientist (line 22) and the Utah resident (line 26) in order to

What are the Line References in this question?

What lines will you need to read to find the answer?

Once you underline the Line References and find your window, draw a bracket around it so you can find it easily. The more you can get out of your brain and onto the page, the better off you’ll be. Because the Line References are line 22 and line 26, you’ll want to read lines 17–31. In this case, that paragraph would be a good window.

Now it’s time to read. Even though you’re only reading a small chunk of the text, make sure you read it carefully.

Step 4: Predict Your Answer

ETS does its best to distract you by creating tempting but nevertheless wrong answers. However, if you know what you’re looking for in advance, you will be less likely to fall for a trap answer. Before you even glance at the answer choices, take the time to think about what specific, stated information in your window supplies the answer to the question. Be careful not to paraphrase too far from the text or try to analyze what you’re reading. Remember: What might be a good “English class” answer may lead you in the wrong direction on the SAT! Stick with the text.

The Strategy

1. Read the Blurb

2. Select and Understand

a Question

3. Read What You Need

4. Predict Your Answer

As you read the window, look for specific lines or phrases that answer the question. Often what you’re looking for will be in a sentence before or after the Line Reference or Lead Word, so it’s crucial that you read the full window.

Once you’ve found text to answer the question, underline it if you can! Otherwise, jot down a prediction for the answer, sticking as close to the text as possible.

Let’s take a look at question 12 again, this time with the window.

12.The author most likely mentions the Canadian scientist (line 22) and the Utah resident (line 26) in order to

Here’s your window from the passage. See if you can read it and find something that answers the question. Underline your prediction if you can.

In Canton, Ohio, some 1,000 residents notified police that their windshields had been “blemished in a mysterious manner,” the Daily Mail of Hagerstown, MD, reported on April 17. And United Press in New York noted on April 20 that “new reports of mysterious windshield pittings came in today almost as fast as theories about what causes them.” A Canadian scientist posited that the marks were made by the skeletons of minute marine creatures that had been propelled into the air by hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean. In Utah, someone suggested that acid from flying bugs might be the source of the windshield-denting, but a Brigham Young University biologist disproved the theory, the Provo Daily Herald reported on June 27.

Did you underline the phrase new reports of mysterious windshield pittings came in today almost as fast as theories about what causes them? The passage gives you clear evidence that the Canadian scientist and Utah resident are mentioned in order to give examples of some of the theories about the causes of pitting that were zipping in.

Step 5: Process of Elimination

A multiple-choice test is a cool thing because you have all the right answers on the page in front of you. All you have to do is eliminate anything that isn’t right. Sometimes, especially on Reading, it’s easier to find wrong answers that aren’t supported by the passage rather than trying to find the right answer that might not look the way you think it should.

Process of Elimination, or POE, involves two steps. The first step will be the question, “What can I eliminate that doesn’t match––or is inconsistent with––my prediction?” For many of the easy and medium questions, this step will be enough to get down to the right answer.

12.The author most likely mentions the Canadian scientist (line 22) and the Utah resident (line 26) in order to

Remember, on the previous page, you used the text to predict that the Canadian scientist and Utah resident are mentioned in order to give examples of some of the theories about the causes of pitting that were zipping in. Eliminate anything that has nothing to do with that prediction.

Did you eliminate everything except (A)? None of the other answers have anything to do with the prediction you made. Additionally, once you’re down to an answer that seems to support your prediction, use the text to make sure you can prove it. What’s the previous statement? Theories coming in quickly. What’s the support? Examples from Canada and Utah.

The Strategy

1. Read the Blurb
2. Select and Understand a
3. Read What You Need
4. Predict Your Answer
5. Process of Elimination

POE Criteria

On most of the Easy and Medium questions, you’ll be able to eliminate three of the four answers simply by using your prediction. On other questions, usually the Hard questions, your prediction will help you get rid of one or two answers, and then you’ll need to consider the remaining answers a little more carefully. If you’re down to two answers, and they both seem to make sense, you’re probably down to the right answer and the trap answer. Luckily, there are some common traps that ETS will set for you, so knowing them can help you figure out which is the trap answer and which is the right answer. These traps include:

Mostly Right/Slightly Wrong: These answers look just about perfect except for a word or two that doesn’t match what’s in the text.

Could Be True: These answers might initially look good because they make sense or seem logical. You might be able to support these answers in an English class, but they lack the concrete support from the text to make them correct SAT answers.

Deceptive Language: ETS will give you answer choices with words that look exactly like what you saw in the passage, but the words are put together in such a way that they don’t actually say what you need them to say. Make sure you’re reading carefully and not just matching words.

Predictions and POE

Use these criteria after

you have eliminated anything

that doesn’t match

your prediction.


Now that you know the steps of the Basic Approach, let’s practice them on some different question types.


When you see a question that contains the word infer, imply, or suggest, be extra careful. In real life, those words often signify a question asking your opinion. You may think that ETS wants you to do some English-class-level reading between the lines. In actuality, though, they don’t. It’s still just a straight reading comprehension question. There may be a tiny bit of reading between the lines, so far as the answer will not be directly stated in the text as it will with a detail question, but there will still be plenty of evidence in the text to support the correct answer.

13.The author’s statement that the “country moved on to building backyard fallout shelters” (lines 31-32) implies that Americans

A)were aware that the threat from bombs was more imminent than that from windshield pitting.

B)had lost interest in the windshield pitting phenomenon.

C)needed a place to be protected from nuclear fallout.

D)did not yet have fallout shelters in their backyards.

Line Reference


On any Line Reference

question, you need to go

back to the passage and

find the Line Reference,

mark it, and then read

your window.

Here’s How to Crack It

First you need to go back to the text and find the Line Reference. Underline it. Then mark and read your window. Make sure you know what the question is asking. In this case, you want to figure out what the Line Reference tells you about Americans. When you carefully read your window you see that “as summer rolled on, reports of pitting decreased everywhere” and the “country moved on.” They are leaving the mystery of pitting behind. Once you have your prediction, use POE to work through your answers. Choice (A) doesn’t match the idea of Americans moving on, so eliminate it. Choice (B) looks pretty good, so hang on to it. Choice (C) might look good initially because we did see something earlier about nuclear fallout, but it has nothing to do with moving on from the pitting phenomenon, so you can eliminate it. Choice (D) might make sense—if they are building the shelters, they probably don’t have them already—but it has nothing to do with our prediction. That leaves (B), which answers the question and matches the prediction from the text!


Another way that ETS will test your reading comprehension is with Vocabulary-in-Context (VIC) questions. The most important thing to remember is that these are IN CONTEXT! Gone are the days of “SAT Vocabulary” when you had to memorize lists of obscure words like impecunious and perspicacious. Now, ETS wants to see that you can understand what a word means based on the context of the text. You’ll see words that look familiar, but are often used in ways that are a little less familiar. Do not try to answer these questions simply by defining the word in your head and looking for that definition. You have to go back to the text and look at the context for the word.

14.As used in line 41, “common” most nearly means





Here’s How to Crack It

With VIC questions, you don’t need to read a full 10–12 line window. Typically a few lines before and a few lines after will give you what you need. Go to line 41 and find the word common. Underline it. When you read before and after the word, the text talks about a “numbers game” and “more people.” The next sentence says that something “infrequent may start to appear to be a trend…” Use those context clues to predict something that refers to “numbers game,” “more people,” and something that would be the opposite of “infrequent.” Put in something like often and then use POE to eliminate (A), (B), and (D).

Be careful with VIC questions. As with the other questions, you have to rely heavily on the text, not your own opinions. You might be able to rather convincingly talk yourself into the idea that if something is common, it’s popular, because if it’s common, it’s everywhere, and if it’s everywhere, that must mean a lot of people like it…It can be easy to talk yourself into a tangle if you use your brain. Try to avoid that, and instead focus on what the text actually says. In this case, we only have evidence for common having something to do with numbers and frequency, not how the general public feels about something.

Try another question:

15.The passage indicates that an effect of aggregating events is

A)patterns seem to emerge more frequently.

B)the truth about a conspiracy is easier to find.

C)a tiny percent of the events are similar.

D)connections between unrelated events can be reported.

Here’s How to Crack It

This question doesn’t have a Line Reference, but notice that both the question before it and the question after it do. Since question 14 references line 41, and question 18 references line 73, question 17 should fall somewhere between those lines. Look through those lines for the Lead Words aggregating events and use that phrase to find your window. Carefully read the window, looking for the answer to the question, “What is an effect of aggregating events?” Within the window, you find …something that is very infrequent may start to appear to be a trend and [i]f everyone is looking for and reporting it, it would appear to be a conspiracy of some sort. Go through your answers and eliminate anything that has nothing to do with appearing to be a trend or conspiracy.

Choice (A) definitely seems to match an appearing trend, so hang on to it.

Choice (B) mentions finding a conspiracy, which might seem to match.

Choice (C) doesn’t match at all, so eliminate it.

Choice (D) might be true, but doesn’t match our prediction, so eliminate it.

Based on our first pass through the answer choices, we are now down to (A) and (B). Remember the POE criteria? Let’s take a closer look at these two answers.

Choice (A): patterns seem to emerge more frequently is almost an exact paraphrase of something…may start to appear to be a trend, so this one still looks pretty good.

Choice (B): Although we see the word conspiracy in both the text and the answer choice, don’t forget that you need to read carefully. The text says that it would appear to be a conspiracy, which is much different from finding the truth about a conspiracy. Don’t be deceived by deceptive language! Match content, not just words. Choice (B) is out, leaving (A) as the correct answer.

Let’s try one more.

18.The author most likely mentions War of the Worlds in line 73 in order to

A)argue some cases of mass hysteria are legitimate.

B)prove the media was responsible for people’s reactions.

C)point out that most people were not upset by the broadcast.

D)criticize the media for failing to recognize the program was fictional.

Here’s How to Crack It

Find your window and carefully read it, looking for the answer to the question, “Why does the author mention War of the Worlds?” When you read your window, you find that the author says War of the Worlds is a wonderful example of how the media emphasizes the few ‘real cases’ of hysteria without recognizing that the vast majority of people knew that the radio program was fictional and did nothing. We are looking for an answer choice that has something to do with the media overplaying the hysteria and not acknowledging the majority of people who did nothing.

Choice (A): This doesn’t match our prediction. Also, don’t be deceived by Deceptive Language! Noticed that in the text, “real cases” is in quotation marks. This indicates the author doesn’t agree with the phrase, so it’s the opposite of what we’re looking for.

Choice (B): Doesn’t match our prediction.

Choice (C): That almost exactly matches the second part of our prediction, so hang on to it.

Choice (D): Doesn’t match our prediction. It was people who didn’t know the program was fictional, not the media.

That leaves (C) as the correct answer!

So you can see that by following the Basic Approach on every question, you’ll be in good shape to answer a majority of the Reading questions! You’ll use your time more efficiently, focusing on the pieces of the test that will get you points, and your accuracy will be much higher. There are a few other questions types which we’ll look at in the next chapter.


○The Reading Test on the SAT makes up 50 percent of your score on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section.

○Reading questions are not presented in order of difficulty, but they are in chronological order. Don’t be afraid to skip a hard question, and don’t worry if you can’t answer every question.

○Use your POOD to pick up the points you can get, and don’t forget LOTD on the rest!

○Reading is an open-book test! Use that to your advantage by focusing only on the text you need to get each point.

○Translate each question back into a what or why question before you start reading your window.

○Use Line References, Lead Words, and chronology to help you find ETS’s answer in the passage. Always start reading a few lines above the Line Reference or the Lead Words and read until have the answer.

○Use the text to predict your answer to the question before you look at the answer choices.

○Use POE to eliminate answers that don’t match your prediction.

○If you have more than one answer left after you eliminate anything that doesn’t match your prediction, compare your remaining answers and see if any of them:

•Are Mostly Right/Slightly Wrong

•Could Be True

•Contain Deceptive Language