SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The Ultimate Study Guide for SAT Reading: Strategies, Tips, and Practice


We've created the best guide to the SAT Reading section out there.

This is not just us tooting our own horns. By reading many SAT prep books as well as studying the CollegeBoard’s own resources, we've been able to take the best aspects of each and combine them into a magnificent Frankenstein’s monster of a guide.

We cover each SAT Reading question type in detail, organized not by how the questions are asked, but by the essential underlying skills the questions are testing. You'll get the best SAT Reading tips and strategies available, as well as information about how to get the most out of your SAT Reading practice and prep.

If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to SAT Reading and how to improve your SAT Reading score, the information provided herein is invaluable. Master all these concepts, use realistic practice questions, and learn how to learn from your mistakes, and you'll be able to increase your SAT Reading score drastically.


This article is organized into three sections. We'll start with understanding SAT Reading section at a high level, followed by going into SAT Reading questions in depth and delineating the skills tested by each question type. Finally, we'll end with study plans and how to maximize your study time for score improvement.

I suggest that you read the articles in order (as listed) on your first time through. In the future, you can use this guide as a reference page to come back to as you progress in your test prep.

feature image credit: Enquire Within Upon Everything by Jeremy Keith, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.




High Level Guidance for SAT Reading

These guides lay the groundwork for your SAT Reading practice and preparation. Read on to find out how to approach SAT Reading, and what high level strategies to always keep in mind.


What's Actually Tested On SAT Reading?

Make sure you understand the format of the SAT Reading section—it might be different from what you expect. Get a detailed overview of what types of questions are on SAT Reading, and what people think is tested but really isn't.


The Fundamental Rule Of SAT Reading (Must Read)

There are many skills you need to excel on SAT Reading, but ultimately there is one rule that should guide your SAT Reading practice and prep. Using this rule, you will be able to understand the SAT Reading section and eliminate answer choices like never before. This should underlie all of your SAT Reading prep from this point on.


The Best Ways To Read The Passage On SAT Reading

There is no one right way to read the passages on SAT Reading. This doesn’t mean, however, that some ways aren’t more effective than others. We show you three ways to read the Reading passages and teach you to decide for yourself which way will work best for you.


How To Get An 800 On SAT Reading: 10 Strategies From A Perfect Scorer

Our ultimate SAT Reading guide covers motivation, study strategies, and more, based on the experience of our resident perfect scorer (and PrepScholar co-founder) Allen Cheng. Use these strategies in your studying to aim for a top score.


How To Improve Your Low SAT Reading Score

The strategies you’ll need to use if you’re aiming for a 30/40 on the SAT Reading section are not the same as those needed by perfect scorers. If you have a low SAT Reading score and need help getting up to a 30/40 on Reading (or a 600/800 on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing), this article can help.




SAT Reading Skills

These guides go into detail about major question types on the SAT Reading test. Learn about the skills each question type is testing, get strategies for dealing with these questions, read our walkthroughs of actual SAT Reading questions, and try out some practice questions.


Reading Comprehension Skills and Strategies

Big Picture Questions

You need to be able to separate details from what’s important to find main point or primary purpose of a paragraph, series of paragraphs, or a passage. This involves being able to read a sizeable amount of text and glean from it what’s important.


Inference Questions

Being able to draw (supported) inferences is the most important skill to have on SAT Reading. You must be able to make logical deductions, based on information in the passage. This means that you’ll need to be able to separate out what “could be possible, depending on a few things” from what “is likely true, given the information stated in the passage.”


Words in Context: Key SAT Reading and Writing Strategies

The most direct way you'll be tested on vocabulary in the SAT Reading section is through questions that ask you to explain the meaning of words in context in the passage. Often, all the answer choices will be correct for a certain definition of the word—it's up to you to figure out which meaning is being used in that particular context.


Evidence Support Questions

One of the most common types of questions on SAT Reading, Evidence Support questions test your ability to find the answer that best backs up your answer to the previous question. We go over the different ways you'll be tested on your command of evidence, walk you through sample questions, and give you essential tips for mastering this skill.


How to Analyze Data Graphics on SAT Reading

On the new SAT Reading section, you need be able to interpret graphics and tables as well as passages. Discover what analytical skills you'll need to successfully answer these quantitative questions and how to train for the three to six data analysis questions that appear on every SAT Reading section.


Little Picture/Detail Questions

Just as important as being able to understand the big picture in SAT Reading passages is being able to locate specific details. For little picture questions on SAT Reading, you'll need to be able hunt down specific information in a passage, whether you're given a line number or not. The examples in this article are not updated for the new SAT, but you can still skim it for general reading tips that are applicable to the new SAT Reading section.


Function Questions

Other questions on SAT Reading ask you to define not just what a phrase, line, or series of lines says, but what it does, or what effect something like italics or extra quotation marks has on a sentence. These function questions may seem as if they're asking you to read the author's mind, which is a futile endeavor. Find out how to translate questions that seem to require psychic abilities into ones that you can actually answer! The examples in this article are not updated for the new SAT, but the tips are still applicable to the new SAT Reading section.


Author Technique Questions

Everyone should take a look at author technique questions, even if it’s just to get a look at how these questions are asked. For the completionist SAT Reading studier, we’ve included strategies focused on questions that ask about tone and mood. The examples in this article are not updated for the new SAT,but the tips are still applicable to the new SAT Reading section.


Analogy Questions

You may have thought that analogy question disappeared entirely from SAT Reading, but au contraire! They are still there, just sneaky (and rare). If you want to make sure you've covered absolutely everything you need to know about SAT Reading, you'll need to learn how to deal with analogy questions in their current form. The examples in this article are not updated for the new SAT, but the tips are still applicable to the new SAT Reading section.


Max can be stealthy by Tomi Tapio K, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.
Felinopomorphic representation of the stealth analogy questions on SAT Reading.


Special Guides

The Vocabulary You Must Know For SAT Reading

The skills you need for SAT Reading are pretty different from those developed in your standard high school English literature class, but there is sometimes a little bit of overlap in terminology. If you aren’t fluent in what words like "metaphor," "anecdote," and "irony" mean, you’ll need to learn a few terms.


How to Attack Paired Passages on SAT Reading

This is the passage type on the SAT Reading section with some of the trickiest questions (because it includes questions that ask about multiple passages). You’ll need to make sure you have the right tools to get the job (of doing well on paired passage questions) done. The examples in this article are not updated for the new SAT, but you can still skim it for general reading tips that are applicable to the new SAT Reading section.


How Science/Math People Can Do Well On SAT Reading

Do you consistently struggle with your SAT Reading score, even though you do really well on the more concrete Math and Writing sections? Read this article for guidance on how to apply the analytical skills you already have to SAT Reading.


Which Question Types Show Up The Most Often On SAT Reading?

Not all question types show up on the SAT Reading section with the same frequency. Find out which are the questions you need to invest the most time in preparing for and which you might be able to skip preparing for altogether.





SAT Reading Strategies and Tips

Now that you understand the SAT Reading section at a deeper level, the next step is to actually apply your knowledge and work on improving your skills. The guides I've linked to below will help you structure your SAT Reading practice and make sure you're prepping in a way that will be reflected on test day.


The Best SAT Reading Practice Tests

If you're not going to use high quality materials for your SAT Reading practice, you're basically just throwing away your time. We've gathered for you a comprehensive list of all the SAT Reading practice tests out there (including links to free resources) and advice on which are the best and which you should avoid at all costs.


Stop Running Out Of Time On SAT Reading

Ever run out of time on SAT Reading? You're definitely not alone. Your ability to read quickly and thoroughly under time pressure is one of those skills that is informally tested by SAT Reading. This article has tips for those whose reading pace does not match the frenetic pace necessitated by the SAT Reading section.


How to Master SAT Reading Questions: A 5-Step Process

Sometimes it's hard to know where exactly to begin with finding the answers to SAT Reading questions—unlike with SAT Math or Writing and Language, there are no equations you can plug numbers into or grammatical rules to refer to. Use the five-step framework outlined in this article as a way to systematize your approach to every SAT Reading question.


The Best Way To Practice SAT Reading

Hey, you're a busy person. You probably have limited time for test prep (unless you can control time, in which case I have some other questions for you), which means you need to make sure you're going about preparing for the SAT Reading section in as efficient a manner as possible. Create your own SAT Reading action plan using the advice in this article.


PrepScholar's Top 4 SAT Reading Strategies

It's all very well and good to attack SAT Reading head on, but there is also value in strategy. Use this compilation of our best SAT Reading strategies as a reference during your SAT Reading prep. Find the strategies that work best for you and apply them as needed.


10 Essential SAT Reading Tips

In need of some quick fixes you can use to improve your SAT Reading score? This is the article for you. Read through these tips if you're running short on study time and could use a quick score boost.


The Best Books To Use For SAT Reading Practice

When online resources aren’t always enough, students often turn to books to help with their SAT prep. But which books are the best for SAT Reading? How can you be sure? Be certain you're using the best resources available with our list in hand.


Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Overview and Tips

On the new SAT,  your performance on the Reading and Writing sections is combined into one out-of-800 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score. Learn what skills are tested across both the Reading and Writing sections and the most effective ways to boost your overall Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score.


Vocabulary-Specific Strategies

How to Study Vocabulary for the New 2016 SAT Reading

The new SAT doesn't have sentence completion questions, but that doesn't mean that you don't need to know advanced vocabulary to answer certain question types. Learn about the ways you'll be tested on vocab meaning and usage on the new SAT with this article.


The Best Way To Study Vocabulary for SAT Reading

Do you do okay with most Reading question skills, but struggle with words-in-context questions or more complicated passages? This article covers the best way to learn new vocabulary for the SAT Reading test and gives you lists of the most commonly tested words you'll need to know. Using the method laid out in this article, you'll learn more words in less time by focusing on the words that are hard for you.


The 262 SAT Vocab Words You Need To Know

If you're going to make the time to study vocab for the SAT, you should absolutely study the most frequently-seen words. Use this free resource to guide your SAT Reading practice.


Best SAT Reading Vocab Lists On The Web 

Already powered through our list of 200+ vocab words and looking for more? Go through this guide to get more sources for more SAT Reading vocabulary lists.


The Best SAT Vocabulary Practice: Tips and Resources

Do you struggle to learn new vocabulary just through brute-force memorization? Explore other ways to get comfortable with unfamiliar words and learn how to apply your increased vocab knowledge successfully on the SAT.



What’s Next?

Whew. That is a lot of information, but then again, there is a lot of information to process about SAT Reading if you want to do well. And of course, it's not enough to just read all these articles—even for SAT Reading, merely reading does not automatically boost your score. After reading these articles, you have to take the next steps:

If all of this seems daunting, it’s worth checking out our SAT test prep platform.



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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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