After reading each passage in the Reading section of the SAT® test, you will answer 10 to 12 questions. Here are some details about the question types to help guide your expectations for test day.
Reading Question Types
The list below is in order from most common to least common.
Big picture questions assess your reading comprehension skills across the entire text. These questions rely on a broad understanding of the passage and often involve reading the whole passage. If you do not have time to read the entire passage in detail, skim the passage and answer the other question types first. You can use the evidence that supported your answers for detail-oriented questions to answer these main idea questions. Questions that discuss the big picture will ask about the affect of the author’s perspective, the purpose of the passage, or rhetorical strategies and their effects.
Evidence support questions ask you to display an understanding of how the author constructs an argument. You should be prepared to provide evidence for previous answer choices as well. Some evidence support questions will ask you to improve the presentation of main ideas or determine if the data in a table, chart, or graph supports the information in the passage.
Words in Context
Words in context questions examine your ability to decipher the meaning of common words in various circumstances. Some words in context questions will ask you to find the best synonym for the word in question. Other questions will ask you to pinpoint why the author chose a word. This question type targets your understanding of the surrounding context, and your ability to decipher how word choice affects the overall style, tone, or meaning in the passage.
Little picture questions rely on your understanding of small but significant details. You will be asked to find details to answer questions. Sometimes these details are in a specified line or location, and sometimes the location of the details is not specified. You will also be asked to look at a detail and pinpoint what it is referencing.
Inference questions evaluate your ability to take what you have read in the passage and draw conclusions. Understanding what the text suggests is essential for these questions. You can expect to fill in missing information, assess the meaning of descriptions, opinions, and phrases, or make claims about what an author may think.
Function questions ask you to look at the effect a word or phrase has on the text. These questions are about how the word or phrase operates, rather than deciphering its meaning. To answer these questions, pay attention to the role a word or phrase has for the author’s motivations or writing style.
Analyzing Data Graphics
Some questions will ask you to evaluate a graph, table, or chart alongside the passage. These questions test your skills interpreting the data in the graphic in relation to the text. Some of these questions ask you to display an understanding of the information in the graphic. Others will ask you to draw a conclusion based on the information presented or decipher whether the graph supports the passage.
These questions assess your ability to make comparisons through inferences. Analogy questions will ask you to recognize relationships and similarities within specified claims in one passage. Some analogy questions are about connections between paired passages or passages and graphics.
This question type will ask you to look at the tone or mood to make inferences about the author’s motivations or feelings towards the subject. You may be asked to look at specific words or phrases and decipher how they portray the author’s emotions. You may also be asked to consider how a particular word or phrase affects you as the reader.
The Number of Each Question Type
The above descriptions of each question type are organized from most to least common. Big picture questions are the most common question type, at an average of eleven questions. The next most common type is evidence support, with an average of ten questions, followed by words in context questions at an average of eight questions per test. Little picture has an average of seven questions. Inference, function, and data reasoning each have an average of five questions per test.
Viewing the question types in the order of their popularity can be a valuable way to assess what to prepare for, and improve your score in the Reading Test. Each point matters, and if there is a specific question type that you are unprepared for, you could lose points, especially if it is also common. Because so many questions are focused on the big picture, you need to have an understanding of the entire text. The next most common questions are words in context: these questions don’t necessarily mean you need to memorize definitions, but you should be able to pinpoint meanings in various contexts. The next most common, little details, are known to be easier, because of how direct they are. You will often be directed to a specific line, word, or phrase in the text, which makes finding evidence for your answer a bit simpler.
Knowing the ranking of the questions, you can prepare for the distribution of points. For example: if you take the exam once and miss the big picture for the passages, room for improvement is massive if you are able to resolve your errors.
How the SAT Reading Test is Scored
The Reading Test score contributes to half of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score. Your results start from a raw score, which is sourced from the number of questions answered correctly. If you answered each of the 52 Reading questions correctly, then your Reading raw score would be 52. The raw score is scaled to 200 to 800 points. This Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score is combined with the 200 to 800 points you receive on the SAT Math test.
What to Expect from Your Score Report
Once you receive your Reading score, you may have some more questions about the next steps. Many students wonder if their initial score is sufficient for college acceptances, or how their score compares to other students. The score report offers some information on your rankings, but individual research is necessary to decipher where you stand as an applicant. You should look into the scores that resulted in acceptances for each school you have sent an application to. This is a substantial way to guide how much improvement is necessary for your scores.
If you decide that your scores need improvement, look into retaking the exam. Guide your process for retaking the exam by focusing on the question styles and skills you can improve the most. If you struggle to finish the Reading test, there are some great tactics to improve your efficiency. Don’t let your time management hold you back from scoring well on the Reading Test.
How Long is SAT Reading?
The SAT Reading Test is made up of 52 questions and 5 passages. 10 to 12 questions follow each passage. You will have 65 minutes to complete the readings and answer the multiple-choice questions in this section of the exam. The Reading Test is the first section of the SAT test, followed by the Writing Test, the Math Test, and the optional Essay Test.
Why is SAT Reading So Hard?
Many students anticipate a battle with the Reading Test, but this does not have to be the case. If you know what to expect, practice each question type, and find a reading strategy that works well for you, then you should be confident walking into this section of the SAT test.
Remember that big picture questions are the most common, which means that you will need to have an understanding of the entire passage. This level of comprehension is somewhat difficult.
The Reading Test is also the first section of the SAT you will face. The nerves that you feel walking into the room may take some time to settle. Consider this in your practice, and try to minimize test day stress by practicing in a realistic setting.
What you Should Read to Prepare for SAT Reading
We offer a complete list of reading material that can help you prepare for the exam. With such a wide range of topics covered, it is a good idea to get some experience with the levels of difficulty within the passages.
To navigate the amount of reading necessary during the exam itself, skills with time management are going to be your best friend. The more time you have to read, the better. Your goal should be to read each passage in its entirety. If time is not your strong suit for reading, then skimming the text is your next best option. You should know that reading strategies vary from person to person (and yours may vary for the different passage topics). It is important to find one that works for you.