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SAT Reading “Great Global Conversation” Passages

One of the more substantial changes to the SAT Reading section is the inclusion of one passage from the “Great Global Conversation.” The Great Global Conversation (GGC) involves U.S. founding documents, such as the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers, and the works of authors responding to these documents and engaging with the issues they raise.


GGC passages can be challenging because they delve into concepts that many students have studied briefly, if at all, during high school. In addition, the majority of the documents that the SAT pulls from are written in borderline-archaic language. While still technically modern English, the language of GGC passages differs greatly from how we speak and write in 21st century America. In this lesson, we’re going to offer some tips for helping you to better understand GGC passages and how to effectively work around what you do not understand.



Getting up to Speed on the Great Global Conversation

Before you get to how the GGC appears on the SAT, you’ll need to make sure that you have a working understanding of the Conversation itself. Below is a list of influential historical figures in the GGC whose works are likely to appear on the SAT. You don’t need to read every single document by each of these figures, but you should be familiar with the basic tenets of their writing. Once you have an idea of where a figure is coming from and what he or she is talking about, you should read one or two representative documents in its entirety to better understand the language he or she is using. If you find the language of a particular document especially challenging, seek out a modern translation and read both versions side by side.


Founding Documents

  • Declaration of Independence
  • Federalist Papers
  • S. Constitution


Founding Fathers

  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Benjamin Franklin



  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Harry Truman
  • Dwight Eisenhower
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Ronald Reagan


Civil Rights and Suffrage (Voting Rights)

  • Frederick Douglass
  • Sojourner Truth
  • Booker T. Washington
  • E.B. DuBois
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Additional Voices (American)

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Henry David Thoreau


Additional Voices (British)

  • Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Edmund Burke
  • The Magna Carta



GGC Passages on SAT Reading

GGC passages, like all SAT Reading passages, are usually adapted from longer works. Therefore, knowing the broader context of the passages can be enormously helpful in understanding them. That having been said, you need to be careful to answer questions based on only the excerpt that has been included. For instance, if a GGC passage omits several lines from a Federalist Paper, do not consider those lines when answering questions.


Obviously, it is neither possible nor practical to read every single GGC document that might appear on the SAT. Thus, there will be times when you are presented with a document you have not read and/or the language of which you find especially challenging. When this happens, I recommend first reading the “main idea” question. (One of these will always be included.) Not only will this give you a starting point for what the passage might be about, but it will also give you an idea of how the rest of the questions might try to mislead you.


Next, read the first and last paragraph of the passage. Try to rephrase any especially dense or difficult parts in your own words, and write a few words in the margins that “cue” you as to what the paragraphs are talking about.  Do the same for the other paragraphs, and keep an eye out for the sorts of things that SAT Reading questions usually asks about, such as shifts in structure, literary devices, and so on.



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