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SAT Reading Tips: All You Need to Know

Updated on 13 April, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

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SAT Overview

Students keen to head to the US and enroll themselves in one of the top-ranked universities are required to take the SAT exam. It’s an exam conducted by College Board to judge the student’s college readiness and competence in math, writing, and critical reading. 

While a student may find any of the three sections more challenging than the others, in this article, we will focus on SAT reading tips. 

The test runs seven times yearly and is generally administered at 8 AM on the first Saturday of each month except August. 

The SAT test offers an optional essay question and runs for 3 hours and 50 minutes. If the exam does not have an essay question, it only takes 3 hours to complete. Only take the optional essay test if the universities you are applying for require it. Otherwise, it's best not to take up the essay exam. 

Students usually take the SAT in their 11th grade or junior year of high school. But, one can also sit for the exam again in their senior year. Check the College Board website for the test dates and testing centers nearby. 

One of the best ways to ensure you ace the test is by taking as many practice exams as possible!

Overview of the SAT Reading Section

One of the sections of SAT includes the reading section. This section tests the student's proficiency in the English language, and the scores are handed between 200-800. A student must have a command over the language and should know the standard English usage to convey complex ideas. 

The test has reading passages that a candidate must read, understand and interpret to present personal and meaningful insights about the same. 

SAT reading section has 52 MCQs based on five different passages, and around 65 minutes are provided to complete it. 

Four of the five passages are standalone, while one has a pair of passages a student needs to read together. The pair of passages also comprises infographics such as charts and tables. The questions following these passages focus on understanding the text clearly and include three distinct kinds: synthetic, rhetoric, or factual. 

The synthetic questions require the student to draw conclusions from the information provided or the additional graphics and build a coherent relationship between the ideas presented in the passage.

The rhetorical questions demand the candidate to debate the meaning and tone of the passage. Finally, the factual questions will determine the direct and indirect references taken from the central concept of the written passage. 

Reading Section in Detail: Syllabus 

Before we move to the Reading section tips, let’s move to understand the syllabus. 

Wondering how many passages in SAT reading section are there? Let’s take a deeper look at the format and syllabus of SAT reading section

It consists of 52 multiple-choice questions based on one pair of passages and four independent passages. These passages will be about 500-750 words each. So, every passage will have an overall of 10-12 questions following it. 

One of these passages, possibly a pair of passages, will also present information via graphics like charts, graphs, and tables. 

As for the syllabus, here are the following documents from which the passage will be extracted:

  • Two passages are obtained from specific scientific works that revolve around foundational concepts from subjects like physics, chemistry, biology, or Earth Science.
  • One or two passages are derived from the US founding document or an inspired text from Great Global Conversation. An example of the same is the US constitution. As for the Great Global Conversation, it points to the work done around the world, focused on topics like human dignity, justice and freedom. Nelson Mandela's speech is an excellent example of the same.
  • There will be one fictional literary passage.
  • Lastly, one passage is drawn out from works of social science, sociology, psychology or economics. 


Getting a good score in all sections of SAT is essential if you want to make it to Ivy League colleges like Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Cornell university, etc. SAT scoring falls on a scale of 200-800.

A student looking to get above-average scores would need an overall 1060 score. For that, one would need to score above 533 in the Reading and Writing sections. 

But, to get a good score that would look good on the competitive applications for college entrances, a student must score overall of 1470-1560. In other terms, the candidate must attain 710-770 in the Reading and Writing section.


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Question types 

The SAT reading questions can be divided into three distinct categories:

Evidence-based questions

Some passage questions will require the students to show their understanding of how the author used factual evidence to support their claims. These questions will ask the candidate to:

  • Establish a relationship between the passage and the informational graphic supplemented with it. 
  • Spot appropriate evidence in the passage to support the answer to the question asked.
  • Identify a section of the passage that reinforces the point made by the author.

Contextual questions

Several questions in the passage will require the candidate to pinpoint the meaning of a particular word used in a specific context. This 'in-context' part is essential. The questions will demand the usage of contextual clues from the passage to explain the meaning behind one particular phrase or word. 

Other questions will ask the student to elucidate the author's tone, style and meaning behind the passage based on the words used. 

Analysis-based questions

The reading section has passages extracted from subjects like science, social science, history, etc. The questions posed will require the student to analyze the passage, examine the hypotheses, interpret the data and consider all the implications. 

The content of these questions is solely based on the textual passage shared and does not need one to have prior knowledge of any subject. 

SAT Reading Tips

Wondering how to improve your SAT reading score? Well, with a bunch of good SAT reading strategies and practice tests from a good SAT reading book on the side, any student can do excellently well! 

So, here are some SAT Reading tips to help attain a fantastic score in the reading section:

  • It's important to know that the reading questions are never put in a particular order based on the difficulty quotient. They are presented chronologically. So, don't worry if you come across a tricky question. You can skip the order, move to the next, and finish with the basic, easy ones to gain better confidence. 
  • Reading every word of the passage is of no use. Scan the passage back and forth based on whatever question you are answering at the moment. Focus on what you need, and don't hang onto every little detail. That would save you some time!
  • Unlike regular English classes, SAT does not require you to share your opinion. If a question comprises words like suggest, imply or infer, you may not find the answer obviously stated in the passage. Find the supporting evidence to aid your explanation.
  • The first question of the passage generally asks the purpose or central idea of the passage or the author's point of view, which keeps shifting throughout. Attempt these general questions after the rest since you will now have a better idea of the overall theme of the passage.
  • In the case of dual passages, attempt the questions one at a time—questions about the first passage should be answered first and the second passage second. Then try the questions about both texts at the end. It will keep the confusion at bay when you are evaluating your answers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it hard to score high in SAT reading section?

Yes, SAT reading comprehension requires excellent concentration, effort, and understanding since the passages are complicated and full of unfamiliar words. So maintaining focus is hard, hence scoring well is difficult, too.

What are the categories in the reading section?

There are five passages in the reading section, which belong to four broad categories: science, literary narrative, social science and history. 

Is it essential to read the entire passage before attempting the questions?

Not really. You can skim the passage, get the important details, read the questions and then look for the specific answers in the passage. You don’t need to mire the entire content or become an expert at it.

What reading score is required to get into Harvard University?

A student aiming for Harvard University needs to score 720-780 in the SAT reading section

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Mrinal Mandal

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The above tips are the Author's experiences. upGrad does not guarantee scores or admissions.