College PrepSATSAT Reading

Best Ways to Read a Passage on SAT® Reading

Topics Covered in the Passages 

As you go through the Reading section of the SAT® exam, you will encounter four single passages and one set of paired passages. In the six total passages, you will face these topics: one passage on U.S. Literature or World Literature; two passages or one paired set about history and social sciences; two passages or one passage and one set of paired passages about science. 

You will not need previous knowledge on the passage topics in order to answer the questions in the Reading section of the SAT exam. If you are concerned about one subject more than the rest, don’t worry. Specific skills in sciences, history, or literature will not be required for the passage about that topic. Instead, think of the passages and their accompanying questions as an evaluation of your critical reading and comprehension skills.

Read more about what’s tested on the SAT reading section here

Where do SAT Reading Passages Come From?

Many of the passages include a brief italicized paragraph introducing them and providing contextual information. You can find out information like who the author is, when they wrote the text, and other significant background information in these briefs.

You should know that history passages may include texts written by historical figures or even international correspondences that occurred during U.S. history. U.S. literature passages include texts from classic American literature that you would have likely encountered or discussed in your high school curriculum. Science passages come from journals and research papers.

Purpose of the Passages:

The provided passages are meant to test your preparedness for college-level work. Some passages may seem particularly dense, or you may feel like there is minimal context for their subject matter, but remember that the purpose of these passages is to test your skills and reasoning, not your knowledge.

It is easy to feel flustered while tackling a passage with subject matter that you aren’t familiar with. You should know that the questions that follow the passages fall into these categories: 

You can practice each question type as you prepare for the Reading section of the SAT test.

Best Way to Read the Passages Efficiently:

1. Read the questions first.

You want to develop an understanding of what you need to look for as you read the passage. Create your own context for the text by reading the questions first. Some examples of this work include underlining the lines mentioned in the questions or circling the questions about main details to save them for the end. Saving the big picture questions for the end is a strategy to ensure you have time to go back and evaluate the text for small detail questions. Once you have read the text once and answered the questions about little details, big picture questions should be easy. 

2. Pay attention to the introductory text.

Once you have read the questions, it is a good idea to pause and read the introductory paragraph before diving into the passage. The context provided in the italicized text is very valuable in removing the guesswork that comes up while reading a passage with subject matter you are unfamiliar with.

3. Read the passage.

Once you have read the questions, underline the areas of the text specified in the questions, and read the italicized introductory text, it is time to read the passage. You should pay special attention to introductions, conclusions, and thesis statements when they come up. You can highlight transition words as well. Try to pay attention to words like “however,” “meanwhile,” or “consequently.” Underlining these transition words can help track key points or pinpoint comparisons that occur within the text. 

As you prepare for the Reading section of the SAT exam, consider implementing these reading techniques to ensure your speed and reading comprehension. You can practice these approaches for reading the passages in the Reading section using UWorld’s SAT Prep course, where you will find sample passages and practice questions.