Home / Blog / A Quick Reference Guide for SAT Reading

A Quick Reference Guide for SAT Reading

In a previous lesson, we provided a quick reference guide to understanding ACT Reading passages. This week, we’re going to provide a similar “cheat sheet” for the SAT Reading section. This guide collects essential strategies for the SAT Reading in one convenient place. Print this guide out and keep it handy as you practice the SAT Reading section.

Reading Section Rules

These rules apply to every part of the SAT Reading section, regardless of the type of passage or the type of question:

  • SAT Reading contains a simplified version of “real world” critical reading.
  • To answer questions correctly, students must read closely and precisely.
  • The correct answer must be directly supported by the passage.
  • The correct answer cannot require outside knowledge or experiences.
  • There is only one correct answer per question.
  • There is no additional penalty for wrong answers (you simply don’t earn the point).

Approaches to the Passages

There are a variety of successful approaches to completing the Reading section. The “best” approach is the one that works best for each student. For example, some students do better reading the passage first and others do better reading the questions first. When deciding on the best approach, keep the following in mind:

  • If you read the questions first, do not read the answer choices as well. The wrong answers are often “trap answers” that can lead you to draw incorrect conclusions about a passage as you read it.
  • If you are having trouble getting “grounded” in a passage, try reading just the first question. This question is usually a main idea or other “big picture” question.
  • A “best evidence” question is usually connected to the previous question. Treat both of these questions as a single “two part” question.
  • To answer questions involving charts and graphs, make sure you are looking at just the information the question is asking about. Watch out for “trap answers” that misrepresent the data in the chart/graph or go beyond what the chart/graph and passage can tell you.
  • Answer “words in context” questions by looking around the word for synonyms and other context clues. Work around words that you don’t know by eliminating incorrect choices that you do recognize and breaking unfamiliar words down into their prefixes, roots, and suffixes.
  • Work on each passage in a pair of passages one at a time. Read the first passage and answer its questions. Do the same for the second. Save questions that ask about both passages for last.

Time Management

Compared to other sections of the SAT, Reading has a fairly generous time limit. With practice, students are typically able to finish the section in the allotted time without having to skim read. However, if you do find yourself running out of time, use the following skim-reading techniques. They will help you get a basic understanding of both passage content and structure so that you know where to read in depth to answer the questions.
Narrative Passages (usually the first passage)

Characters – Identify the characters in the story
Attitudes – How does the story portray each character?
Problems – What is the central conflict?
Solutions – Does the story provide a (possible) resolution to the conflict?

Essay Passages (usually all other passages, with occasional exceptions)

  • Find the main idea/thesis
  • Read the first paragraph and last paragraph
  • Read the first sentence and last sentence
  • Focus on key words: names, dates, etc.
  • Note words that are bolded, italicized, quoted, etc.
  • Identify the author’s purpose: to analyze, to entertain, to inform, to persuade
  • Create a mental “map” of the passage

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,