If you're scheduled to take the SAT, you already know why shooting for a high score is important. The reading section of the SAT is one of the most challenging parts of the test, especially for students who tend to struggle with reading comprehension.

However, even students who are strong readers can face difficulties when it comes to the reading section of the SAT. Fortunately, there are a number of SAT reading tips that can help you get the score you want.

What Is the SAT Reading Section?

The SAT is a standardized achievement test that's given to all rising high school seniors, or anyone who is considering applying to college or university. Typically, the SAT is given to students at the end of their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year so that their scores will be available to send to colleges during the first semester and the very early part of the second semester of their senior year.

The SAT is divided into a verbal section, a math section and an optional essay section, which may be required depending on what schools you are planning to apply to. The SAT verbal section is wherein the SAT reading section is contained. The goal of the SAT reading section is to test your reading comprehension skills as well as your critical thinking skills. The test involves reading passages and answering questions about them.

The questions are designed to elicit critical reading from the student. The answers you give will demonstrate to the evaluators that you are capable of reading presented material and discerning facts from opinions and the main ideas from the details. Being able to define vocabulary words using contextual clues to get a general idea of the overarching concept of passage is a critical reading skill. Your mastery of these skills can go a long way toward helping you achieve your dream SAT score.

Has Anyone Ever Got a 1,600 on the SAT?

Most students who are serious about preparing for college are aware that the highest score possible to get on the SATs is 1,600. However, even a less than perfect score can be close enough. For example, no one is going to give a hard time to someone who gets a 1,550 or 1,580 out of 1,600. Any school that has a competitive admissions process will consider a student with a score of 1,550 as equal to a student who scores 1,600.

Students with scores above 1,500 have more than crossed the threshold of what would be acceptable to the university admissions boards, and the rest of the comparison will come down to their other application materials. While there is significant pressure to achieve 1,600, it is not required even for admission to the most competitive schools. However, some students do score 1,600 on the SAT. Only about 300 of the 1.6 million students who take the test each year get a perfect score.

If you are preparing to take the SATs, shooting for a perfect score is admirable as long as you give yourself the freedom to score a little lower without beating yourself up. The SAT is competitive and stressful even for the most well-prepared student, so giving yourself the kindness and compassion that comes with doing your best is a critical part of a good study plan.

What Is the Format of the SAT Reading Section?

The SAT reading section consists of five separate passages, each drawn from areas in the social sciences, natural sciences, literature or history. There are then approximately 50 questions to answer about what you have just read. The format for all the questions in the same: multiple choice. The questions themselves will ask you everything from reading comprehension, vocabulary to grammar, and the main ideas and concepts of what you've just read.

The questions on the test are not presented in order of increasing difficulty. Each passage is accompanied by questions related to the contents of the passage. The goal of this section of the test isn't so much for you to read the passages from a literary perspective.

Instead, the questions are designed to test your understanding of what you read and your ability to analyze it. Likewise, this is not a test to make sure you did the reading. Rather the goal is to see that you have read and understood the main ideas and themes that the selected passage has presented to you.

What Are Some SAT Reading Tips?

There are a number of good strategies for taking the SAT reading test. By far, the most important strategy you can employ is to take your time but be efficient. Don't rush. Don't leave questions unanswered and don't race through the reading without looking at the questions beforehand.

Many people have different strategies for reading and retaining information. In the interest of time, it is a good idea to keep in mind that the point of these exercises isn't to see how fast you can read or to see how much of the text you can remember after you've read it. Instead, you want to familiarize yourself with the text enough so that when you arrive at the questions you will know where in the passage to look for the answers.

Some strong SAT reading tips are to approach each passage in the reading section in the same way. Skim the passage first, without getting caught up in the details. Then take a look at the questions that are posed to you. Do you think you know the answers just from that first perusal? Take a look back at the passage again and see if you were correct about any of your guesses.

New SAT Reading Strategies

If you were able to get a number of the questions right after your first perusal of the passage that's great. Once you've given the passage a quick second read, see if you can answer any of the remaining questions. If you can't get an answer right away, skip the question and come back to it once you've answered all the questions that you feel confident about.

Because the test is timed, you don't want to waste any time early on reading the passages over and over again. If you feel confused, bewildered, surprised or otherwise flummoxed by any of the questions on the test, go back and reread the passage. Usually, on the second pass, you'll pick up more detail. You may also notice things you didn't notice the first time around that could help you answer some of these important questions.

It's important to read the questions just as carefully as you read the passage. The questions may seem like they are asking for one thing but may be looking for something else. When you read the question ask yourself, "What is this question asking?" Then and only then should you attempt to look through the passage for the answer. Don't be fooled by things that seem relevant but are actually not answering the question.

More SAT Reading Tips

It's important to remember that this section is not about your opinion on what you're reading. This is a critical thing for students to keep in mind no matter how many times they've taken the test. The reading section is not a place to posit your opinion or your feelings. This is why it is so critical to examine each question and find out exactly what the test is looking for.

If you're compelled to select a response that matches your own opinion about the text, look again. Chances are you've been fooled by the question. The goal of this section is to assess how carefully you read, and how clearly you comprehend what it is written. This is true both of the passage you're being tested on and the language of the questions.

It's very easy to get confused. For that reason, each question will often have more than one answer that seems correct. Take care that you don't fall into that trap by going out of your way to read carefully, think critically and search for the answers when you know what is being asked.

Scoring High on the Reading Section

Getting a high score on the reading section of the SAT means that you have a strong grasp of reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar and syntax. It also means that you know how to use time wisely. While the SAT Reading section definitely favors students who pay careful consideration and attention to the details in the questions and the paragraph, you want to make sure that you use your time well.

You have only 65 minutes to complete the entire reading section. This means that you don't want to spend a ton of time reading the passages, especially early on. If you do, you run the risk of running out of time toward the end, not having enough time to complete the last passages and missing a handful of question. This can take your score from top 90th percentile to something significantly lower.

In all sections, read the passage quickly once, skim the questions, go back and reread the questions again, and see what you find. If you find yourself stumped, move on. In the end, if there is the time you can go back and reread and try the questions again. No matter what, if you're unsure about a question's answer leave a guess. Leaving a question blank means you have no chance to get it right. Guessing gives you at least the possibility of a correct answer.

Final SAT Tips

You can find plenty of test-taking tips on the internet and through test prep services like the Princeton Review, Kaplan and other similar online courses. However, some people simply struggle with standardized tests. This can be for a number of reasons. One of the reasons that certain people struggle with the standardized test format is the time restrictions.

The challenge of a timed test is a very real consideration, especially for people with learning disabilities. For students with special needs or problems with reading or calculations, learning challenges beyond the ones that face the average student, the SAT can be incredibly stressful. Fortunately, many educators and school systems allow students diagnosed with learning disabilities and special needs special dispensations.

For one thing, students may request an untimed test. Students who can take the test without being on the clock may find that with additional time, they are able to answer the questions. Additional time could compensate for struggles with reading or language and may be especially helpful for students with a low initial comprehension level. All students should voice any concerns they have about their ability to successfully approach the test with their school's administration well before test day.

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About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.