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Introduction to the SAT Reading Test

Learn basic principles and tips behind the reading section of the SAT.

In this article, you will find:

Page 1

Introduction to the SAT Reading Test

What Does the SAT Reading Test Measure?
The SAT Reading Test consists of three sections—two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section—containing 19 sentence completion questions and 48 reading comprehension questions for a total of 67 questions. In no particular order, you'll encounter the following:
  • 25-minute section: 8 sentence completions and 16 reading questions
  • 25-minute section: 5 sentence completions and 19 reading questions
  • 20-minute section: 6 sentence completions and 13 reading questions
There may be some slight variation from test to test, but you can expect this general layout.

Although this is officially called the SAT Critical Reading Test, over one-third of the questions measure your vocabulary. Other than vocabulary, no other specific knowledge is required. Everything you need to answer the reading questions is contained in the passages.

The SAT Reading Test is difficult for two reasons: time pressure and vocabulary. Let's consider time pressure first. You have an average of one minute per question. That's more than enough time for the sentence completions but you'll find yourself pressed for time on the reading passages. We'll talk about how to manage your time later, but for now I'll just leave you with the thought that you'll probably need to leave some reading questions blank.

If you must, sacrifice reading questions, not sentence completions. Sentence completions can be solved more quickly than reading questions, so you buy yourself more time leaving a reading question blank than a sentence completion blank. What's more, as you'll learn, on sentence completions you can always make a good guess if you find yourself in trouble (because these questions are in order of difficulty and the answers are short). It's more difficult to make a good guess on the reading questions (because they're not in order of difficulty, and the answers are relatively long).

In short, the SAT Reading Test measures your vocabulary, and how well you read under pressure.

The More Words You Know, the Better
I'm giving you fair warning: it's highly unlikely to near impossible that you're going to know every vocabulary word that appears on the SAT Reading Test. In fact, many college graduates would have trouble defining every word on a typical SAT. If you know a lot of words, you'll do very well. If you don't know a lot of words, you're facing a struggle.

The sentence completions directly test your vocabulary, and at least three of the reading questions will also ask you to determine the meaning of a word in context. But that's not to mention the difficult words that can appear in other reading questions. Here are some tough words I selected from reading questions and their choices:

  • allude
  • benevolence
  • configuration
  • dissipation
  • exalted
  • incongruous
  • juxtapose
  • laudatory
  • premonition
  • rapacious
  • refute
  • scorn
  • subordinate
  • urbanity

The more words you know, the higher your SAT reading score. If you're serious about doing well on the SAT Reading Test, you'll make a point of learning as many words as you reasonably can.

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