Reading Skills and Strategies That You Need to Ace the SAT® Reading Test

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The SAT® Reading test requires your ability to improve the use of evidence and word choice. It also requires skills in scientific and historical analysis. You can learn techniques for answering these questions in this article.
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As you prepare for the SAT® Reading test, there are specific skills that you should be ready to utilize while reading the passages and answering the questions that follow. Use the reading skills and techniques outlined in this article to ace the SAT Reading test.

Here is a breakdown of some of the SAT reading skills you will need to help you through this section.


The SAT Reading test examines your performance in a variety of skills. You should know that throughout this portion of the SAT exam, you will read passages, examine graphics, and answer multiple-choice questions about the text and visual information. Some passages on the Reading test come in pairs. 

Because the SAT test is focused on your high school curricula, you should be well prepared for the concepts and skills that are necessary to succeed. Still, there are some specific skills and practice techniques that can make a difference in your performance. 

To start, you should know that there are three types of questions that are included throughout the Reading exam: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, and Analysis in History and Science. Here’s a breakdown of the SAT Reading skills tested by each of these question types.

Command of Evidence

The first type of question to note is the Command of Evidence question. These questions may ask you to improve the author’s argument through evidence. They will likely also ask you to read and translate information given in a graphic. 

Expect some of the Command of Evidence questions to ask you to select the most effective introductory evidence from the options given in a multiple-choice format. The evidence you choose should be relevant to the main ideas. This is crucial for effectively setting up the information that follows. 

Some of the Command of Evidence questions will also ask you to make decisions about how data in a particular graphic can be presented in the text. You will have to pinpoint relationships between the data in the graphic and the evidence in the text. This means that you should know how to read and interpret the graphic in order to translate it into effective use of evidence in the passage.

Lastly, expect to examine potential additions to the text. For these questions, you will be offered a sentence that is being considered as an addition to the passage. If you think the author should add the sentence to the text, you will need to answer why you believe it would positively impact the author’s goals. 

If you do not think the sentence in question would positively impact the goals of the passage, then you will need to select the choice that best explains why. When answering Command of Evidence questions, be sure that you are aware of the important information, flow of ideas, and cohesiveness of the surrounding sentences or paragraphs. 

For your evidence to be strong, it should effectively reinforce the author’s claims. You may consider spending some time in your practice work studying how the author introduces evidence or supports his claims. By studying the writing style and argumentative techniques, you can better evaluate circumstances where improvements may be necessary.

Words in Context

These questions focus on your ability to use surrounding contexts to decipher the meaning of a word. You will need to have a strong understanding of how the author’s word choice impacts the tone of an idea or claim. You should also be able to judge how specific word choices impact meaning. 

Most Words in Context questions focus on common words that have multiple meanings. You will also find that some questions appear to have multiple correct answers. When narrowing down the answer choices, keep in mind that definitions can vary based on the context at hand.

You can expect some questions that ask you to match the tone of the passage by selecting the best synonym for a word and some others that ask you why the author used a specific word. To answer why a word was used, you should have a strong understanding of the impact of the author’s word choice on the passage.

Analysis in History and Science

Passages throughout the Reading section of the SAT test will focus on topics in history, science, and literature. Questions that focus on history and science passages may require a more specific type of analysis than the type of reading you are used to in literary writings. 

When reading passages that focus on topics in history or science, pay special attention to details like the hypothesis of the experiment or study, the presentation of data, and the implications of the conclusions. Do not worry about studying outside information (like historical facts or scientific findings). 

To answer questions within this category, you should know that any information that you need will be available within the passage. Still, skills like interpreting data in a graphics, drawing conclusions, or pinpointing the hypothesis will be necessary to do well on this question type. 

To prepare for this question type, be sure that you are familiar with the types of tables, graphs, or charts that you will be expected to read and analyze. You should also be prepared for passages that come in pairs. A pair of passages will always focus on topics in either history or science. Paired passages are used to examine your skills by comparing two authors or two opinions. Questions that follow paired passages will also examine your ability to find contrasts within the two texts. 

Some questions that follow the pair of passages only focus on passage number one, and others only focus on passage number two. Be sure that you have experience answering questions that focus on both passages. 

When reading a pair of passages, make note of opposing ideas. You can also note any claims one author has made that may support the arguments made in the paired text. As you read, do your best to assess any relationships occurring between the two passages.


Whether you are preparing to take the SAT exam for the first time or looking to improve your scores with a retake of the test, you should know that your test-taking techniques can play a huge role in your performance. If you find that your current strategy is not working for you, consider reworking your techniques for time management or reading the text and answering the questions. 

Every test taker is different. There is no right or wrong way to strategize with your time management skills or your reading strategy. To find out what works for you, it is important that you dedicate time for practice work where trial and error can occur. 

Here is a breakdown of a few ways to develop an SAT reading strategy to improve your time effectiveness and reading comprehension. 


One important test-taking technique to perfect before you sit to take the SAT exam is your strategy for time management. It is important to monitor your time even while prepping for the test. When you sit to take practice tests, adhere to the timing restrictions that you will face on the official test day. 

You should know that the SAT Reading test lasts a total of 65 minutes. To improve your time management strategies, it is crucial to understand your baseline performance. You must also understand that your level of stress, external distractions, and variations in the environment that you will have to deal with during the official SAT test may impact your ability to work efficiently. 

With this in mind, it is a good idea to have as many tools as possible when it comes to finding an efficient test-taking strategy. Some students find that they are able to save time on the Reading test by reading the questions before they read the passages. This strategy allows you to look for answers as you read. It may also minimize the need to go back-and-forth between the text, looking for the specific location of the detail in question. 

Another strategy for improving your time effectiveness is answering questions that are easy before working through the more difficult questions. Each question on the SAT test is worth the same amount of points. You can focus first on working through as many questions as possible before going back to the more complicated questions. If you find that a particular question is taking up too much of your time, move on and come back to it later.

Practice work is going to be key when it comes to working on your time management techniques. Since the SAT test is quite long, many students experience testing fatigue. If your test-taking endurance is low because you have not sat for such a long test before, you may work substantially slower than expected. Take full-length practice tests to build up your testing endurance.

Reading Strategy

Another technique that is important to perfect before sitting to take the official SAT test is your reading strategy. There are a couple of different approaches you should try out. Find the one that works best for you by monitoring your time effectiveness and performance in your practice work.

For questions that ask about a specific line in the passage, you may consider marking the page so that you know when to pay special attention. It is also a good idea to mark any pieces of the text that explicitly discuss the main idea. Once you have read the questions, marked the passage for areas to focus on, and read the passage, then you can answer the questions. 

Another strategy to try is reading the passage first, then reading and answering the questions. If you have strong reading comprehension skills and you are able to recall details easily, this might be the strategy for you. If you choose to read the passage before reading the questions, be sure that you pay attention to the main idea, supporting details, writing technique, and word choice. You can also pay attention to transition words like “meanwhile” or “however.” These words flag distinct separations between ideas and can help when tracking key points and comparisons. 

One more strategy to consider is skimming through the passage, then reading and answering questions. You may reserve this strategy for situations where you are running out of time. As you skim through the passage, pay attention to transition words and flag any lines or pieces of text that stick out to you. 

You should know that by using this strategy, you will likely need to go back and forth between the text and the answers. If you choose to skim through the passage instead of reading it thoroughly, be sure that you at least understand the passage’s main idea before moving on to the questions.

Pay Attention to Introductory Information

One more technique to keep in mind for the Reading test is paying attention to the italicized introductory information that precedes each passage. You may choose to read this information before reading the questions to contextualize the passage you just read. The context provided in this italicized information can contribute valuable background details to eliminate any guesswork about who wrote the passage. 

It can also provide information about the circumstances the author was writing in, when the author wrote the passage, or why the author wrote the passage. This information may be particularly helpful for science and history passages. Take some time to learn about why the experiment was taking place or who is writing the historic document.

As you prepare for the test, consider how you can improve your SAT Reading skills with the Command of Evidence, Words in Context, and Analysis in History and Science questions. It is important to set a baseline for your performance by taking a full-length practice test. Taking a full-length practice test allows you to understand your weak performance areas, which you can focus on to improve your score. 

Try UWorld’s SAT Prep Course, which offers thousands of practice questions, performance tracking tools, and detailed answer explanations. You can use the prep course to assess the various techniques we have outlined in this article. Test each SAT reading strategy out to be sure that you use the one that works best for you. 

Even if you find that you are consistently able to finish the Reading test on time, you may consider how time management strategies will allow you the opportunity to go back and check your work. Improving your time management skills is a good idea for any student! 

Use our prep course’s performance tracking tools to pinpoint the question types that you can improve the most. By focusing on your weak points, practicing the skills we have outlined, and testing the various strategies above, you may find a substantial improvement in your performance on the SAT Reading test.

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