SAT Reading Study Guide

SAT Critical Reading Study Guide

SAT Reading Review

Big changes were made to the SAT in 2016, including the paring down of the SAT’s sections. You’ll perhaps be relieved to find it’s only two sections long now. Reading and Writing have been combined into one big section. However, while the new SAT is certainly designed to come easier to today’s high school students, the newly-joined section is just as complex as it was in the past. It’s simply been written in a new way, meant to appeal to what and how modern high schoolers are learning. If you want to ace this important exam, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of the new Writing and Reading section. To help, we’ll go over both components separately. This overview will cover the Reading portion of the Reading and Writing section, while you’ll be able to find out more about Writing on a separate page.

Let’s get started!

What’s New About the Reading Section?

In addition to being combined with Writing, the Reading section’s formatting has changed majorly. Before we get into that, we’ll first cover what’s the same. For starters, the new format is very similar to what you’re used to. You will still be expected to read a passage and answer corresponding questions about its content and meaning. All the information you’ll need will still come only from the passages presented to you.

What’s different? The complexity of the passages you’ll read has increased. While they will stay relatively short, they will be much denser reads in terms of diction and composition. You will have to flex your critical thinking muscles in order to do well on this portion of the exam—something you are undoubtedly familiar with thanks to your current and past English courses.

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SAT Reading: The Essence of the Matter

As stated above, the format of the SAT Reading section has changed very little on a fundamental level. It still features multiple choice questions, though the number of answer options you can choose from has reduced. Rather than five answers, you will have to pick from four. Regardless, you can still rely on the information presented to you to answer any and every question you’re given. You will never be expected to have or utilize any outside knowledge you may possess about any subject you’ll see on the Reading section. Similarly, you should not let what you know about a specific subject influence your answers in any way. While the passages you encounter may not always be 100 percent accurate or match your value system to a tee, the only and most important information you should rely on is what’s written in your exam passages.

The passages you’ll find on this section of the SAT exam span a wide array of subjects because you can expect to be exposed to such upon entering college and/or the workforce. Specifically, from here on out the SAT Reading section will permanently have passages relating to science, literature (from either an international or domestic author), social science (such as psychology), and history. The history text will typically be a relevant primary document. None of the passages featured on the exam will be any more complex than what you typically encounter during your classes.

It’s worth noting that you’ll also run into graphical data on this section as well, though you won’t be expected to interact with it on a mathematical basis. Rather, any and all graphics will relate to a passage on the exam. It will be your job to know how to read and interpret this information and apply it to the passage.

The SAT exam’s Reading portion spans will be about 52 questions long and span just over an hour—or 65 minutes. The exam’s questions all tie to at least one of five passages in all. Keep in mind that some passages (specifically the science selections you’ll have to read) come in pairs.

The main point of the exam is to evaluate your ability to not only read but to comprehend what you’ve read on a deeper level. You will be expected to consider and identify the intentions of the author through various means, all of which are covered by the question categories (and subscore sections) we will discuss below. Remember that since Reading and Writing are now bundled into one large section, their question categories will align and serve similar purposes. However, we will distinguish what each category is looking for under each subject to help you learn how to approach the differences in questions under both subjects.

Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science

The Analysis in History category will utilize the majority of the passages with alternative subjects you’ll find on the exam. The purpose of this particular category is to assess your ability to comprehend materials in an assortment of subjects, as you will frequently have to do this outside of your high school classroom in order to get by in the world. The basic format of this subject will involve being presented with questions on how you would approach reading the passage itself—or, more specifically, what skill sets you will need to draw on in order to fully understand the work.

Words in Context

This knowledge category centers around the usage of words, but its format is nothing like the fill in the blank “word completion” questions you’ve heard about in the past. Rather, context is the key element for this category. All words you’ll be expected to recognize and define for this category should ring familiar to you, at least on an academic level, as they span across a wide array of subjects and situations. Words in Context questions will frequently seek to assess your capabilities with analyzing how an author’s diction affects the mood and significance of their work, as well as the word’s definition based on how it appears in the passage.

Command of Evidence

The Command of Evidence category deals with your ability to recognize how evidence within a specific passage augments the author’s point of view. Questions may involve figuring out how a passage and accompanying image or other graphic interact with one another; and choosing which bits of evidence suit a particular objective the most adequately.

How to Prepare

One of the best ways you can get ready for the Reading section, as well as every other section of the SAT exam, is to familiarize yourself with the materials as soon and as thoroughly as possible. The purpose of this SAT study guide is to help you do just that by giving you an extensive explanation of each exam section. You can also do this by taking our SAT Reading practice test. Doing so will give you an up close and personal glimpse of the exam, as well as knowledge of how each question is framed and a better idea of how to respond.

As you take the practice test (and, later, the official SAT exam), be sure not to rush. While this may be easier said than done thanks to the time limit, it’s important you don’t speed through questions for the sake of understanding everything thoroughly and not missing and relevant information. The key is to know how to work efficiently, which taking the practice test can help you to learn how to do.

Feel free to skip any questions that stump you right off the bat and come back to them later if you have time. One of the greatest benefits of the new SAT is that there’s no penalty for guessing your answers. This means if you come back to a question and still can’t figure out the best way to answer, you can simply guess for the answer and have a worry-free shot at gaining more points. However, there’s a way to guess efficiently—by using elimination methods to figure out what isn’t the correct answer and narrowing your choices down between two of the most likely possibilities.

We hope this SAT study guide will be of help to you as you prepare to tackle the full SAT exam. We at Mometrix Test Preparation strive to help you toward success, which is why we’ve composed this thorough SAT study guide for your reference. Elsewhere on our site, you’ll find other resources to help you ace the SAT exam, such as our SAT practice test, SAT flashcards, and much more. We want to give you every possible resource so you can earn the best score you can.

Good luck, and happy studying!

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: August 4, 2022