What You Need to Know About the SAT Reading Test

The SAT Reading Test is a challenging, 65-minute-long section containing four long passages of 500-750 words each and one set of paired passages with a total length of 500-750 words. Each passage (or pair) is accompanied by 10-11 questions. There are a total of 52 questions on the test. The total time allotted for the test divided by the number of passages means that you have 13 minutes, on average, to read each passage and answer all questions associated with that passage (or pair). The passages range in difficulty from easy to hard. The questions also range in difficulty from easy to hard, and include analytical, vocabulary, and evidence-based types.

Each SAT Reading Test Passages includes 10-11 questions of four distinct types that may be best remembered by using the acronym VEGA. Here is a detailed description of the question categories:

V = Vocabulary E = Evidence G = Graphics A = Analysis

(V) Vocabulary: There are three types of vocabulary questions on the SAT. The first type asks you to identify the meaning of a word or phrase based on its context in a passage. These words or phrases always have multiple meanings and the correct answer may be far different from their most common uses. The second type asks you to identify how the meaning of a word changes within a passage. The third type asks you to identify how an author’s choice of words shapes the meaning or tone of the text, or identifies the author’s opinion, emotional connection, or state of mind.

(E) Evidence: There are four types of evidence questions found on the SAT. The first type asks you to draw conclusions or inferences based on specific evidence found in a passage. The second type asks you to cite specific portions of a passage that best support assertions made by, or conclusions drawn by, the author. The third type asks you to summarize content or key ideas or concepts found in reading passages, based on specific evidence found in the passage. The fourth type asks you to extrapolate information or evidence found in a passage, and apply it to a different or analogous situation that is either real or hypothetical. Some Command of Evidence questions take the form of “general questions,” which typically come at the beginning of question sets but which should be answered last.

(G) Graphics: Graphics questions ask you to extract and/or interpret data found in one or more graphs, charts, diagrams, or figures, and, sometimes, to integrate that information with relevant information found in a reading passage. They also may ask you to interpolate (apply data to a distinct “middle case” or situation) or extrapolate (apply data to a distinct external or hypothetical situation). The most important skill required to master graphics questions is the ability to comprehend the meaning of the data and interpret how that data changes over time, could change over time, or changes as experimental or environmental factors are altered. If you are not experienced with graphs and charts, you should focus on quickly understanding values found in graphs, charts, and diagrams; understanding axis labels and legends (keys); identifying trends in the data; and being able to extrapolate (predict future outcomes) and interpolate (find interim outcomes such as those between other data points).

(A) Analysis: Analysis questions ask you to examine evidence or draw inferences based on information found in a passage. They may also ask you something about a writer’s style, intention, purpose, or technique. These questions can be either specific or general; general questions are typically found at the beginning of a set of questions, and the remaining specific questions follow in the order of the passage. The difference between these Subject Content Analysis (Type A) questions and Command of Evidence (Type E) questions is in their emphasis on using logical analysis to make inferences and draw logical conclusions. 

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