Even if you happen to be one of the lucky ones who typically breezes through most standardized tests, it would be hard not to feel at least somewhat anxious about taking the SAT for college admission. Like most other college-bound students, you probably have your sights set on one or more schools. Improving your odds of a high score on the SAT also improves your chances of getting into the college of your dreams, which is why it’s so important to be as prepared as possible.

With the SAT Reading test accounting for a whopping 50 percent of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the test, performing well on it could give your application the boost it needs to stand out from the crowd.

Get to Know the SAT Reading Section

Knowing is half the battle, which is why the first step to acing the SAT Reading section is to arm yourself with a complete understanding of what will be on it. The SAT Reading section consists of 52 multiple-choice questions that you’ll have 65 minutes to answer. You’ll be presented with a total of five reading passages: four single passages and one set of paired passages.

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One passage and 10 of the 52 questions will draw from U.S. and world literature. The rest of the passages and questions will draw from history/social studies and science. The paired passages will come from either history/social studies or science. Expect that the history/social studies and science passages will include graphical representations like charts, graphs or tables that you’ll have to interpret.

SAT Reading Strategies

Even if reading is not your strength, there are tips and tricks you can use to enhance your performance on the SAT Reading section. These strategies, if implemented properly, can help you maximize your score.

  • The first thing to consider is time. With only 65 minutes to answer 52 questions, time is not on your side. Plan to spend approximately five minutes reading through each passage. Reading more quickly than that can lead to missing key information and making careless mistakes. Reading more slowly than that reduces the time you can spend on thoughtfully answering the questions.

  • Don’t feel confined to the order in which questions are presented. Start with the easiest passages first. If you are better at science passages than the others, then begin with the science passages even if that means skipping around to later passages.

  • While it might seem tempting to tackle the more challenging questions first, doing the opposite will provide the biggest benefit. Look for questions that can be answered quickly and easily and answer those first. Leave the challenges for the end so you master what you know well and ensure accuracy before you waste time wracking your brain on something harder.

  • Answer every single question on the test. If you are running out of time and haven’t answered the challenging questions you skipped, go back and give each one a good guess. There is no penalty for wrong answers on the SAT, so putting any answer will always be an advantage over leaving it blank.

  • Take on the dual passages individually. For best results, answer the questions about each individual passage before tackling the questions about both. Doing each one separately before answering the questions covering both passages can help you avoid confusing information from the two.

  • Answer questions about main ideas last. While main idea questions are often asked first, answering them correctly requires that you have grasped the bigger picture about the passage in question. Answering the other questions before the main idea question will give you a better understanding of the text and a better chance of getting the main idea question right than if you answer it first.

SAT Reading Practice

Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Start by reviewing SAT sample questions and then test yourself using critical reading practice passages that can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Test yourself under timed conditions to identify and tweak the amount of time you are spending on passages and questions. While you practice with sample questions and passages, pay attention to which type of passages feel easiest for you and focus on those first when you take the test.

About the Author

Kristina Barroso earned a B.A. in Psychology from Florida International University and works full-time as a classroom teacher in a public school. She teaches middle school English to a wide range of students from struggling readers to advanced and gifted populations. In her spare time, she loves writing articles about education for TheClassroom.com, WorkingMother and other education sites.