All About The SAT® Reading Test

The SAT® Reading Test is one of the three component tests on the SAT, along with the Writing and Language Test. Combined, these two tests form the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) section. The SAT Reading Test assesses your ability to understand and analyze a passage and respond to associated questions. If you're curious to learn about the Reading test format, question types, and skills tested, this guide is your go-to!

For the paper-and-pencil SAT format, you will read five passages, each followed by a set of multiple-choice questions (MCQs). However, if you are taking the digital version of the SAT (DSAT), starting spring 2024, we’ll help you learn the key differences between the two.

SAT Reading Test Format

The paper-and-pencil SAT Reading Test is 65 minutes long and includes 52 questions. That’s an average of 75 seconds per question. You will likely spend more time on some questions than others, but allow yourself about 13 minutes to read a passage and answer its associated questions.

Infographic describing the SAT Reading Test Format - Paper SAT vs Digital SAT.

With the transition to the new digital version, the number of passages and questions per passage on the SAT Reading Test have changed. The DSAT will contain shorter passages that follow the one-question-per-passage format instead of a set. Despite these changes, the question types and the skills assessed remain the same. Each MCQ prompts you to comprehend the evidence, understand the context of words used in the text, or draw inferences.

Check out our comprehensive guide on the SAT test format to learn more about the digital and paper-and-pencil versions.

What type of questions are on SAT Reading?

The paper-and-pencil SAT Reading contains about 10 questions on a long passage, while the new digital SAT has combined the Reading, Writing, and Language tests into one section with multiple passages. You will be asked one question per short passage.

While the question format has changed drastically between the two versions, the intent of the questions has remained the same—understanding a specific line, statement, or part of speech or correcting a given sentence to make it flow more seamlessly. Below, we cover the intent of each of the nine question types in the order from most to least common:

  1. Big Picture

    These questions ask about the main ideas of a passage. You must understand the text in its entirety to answer these questions accurately, as they are designed to evaluate your overall comprehension. Complete these questions last to give yourself plenty of opportunity to examine details, functions, and connections within the passage.

  2. Evidence Support

    These questions assess your aptitude for reasoning. You must evaluate the author's claims and support your claims with evidence. You must also assess how the text's arguments could be improved and determine how the data in an accompanying graphic supports the passage's claims.

  3. Words in Context

    These questions will ask you to define a word or phrase by analyzing it in context. This type of question tests your comprehension of the word's purpose and meaning in relation to mood, tone, style, or the text as a whole.

  4. Little Picture

    These questions focus on details. Expect questions about specific lines or paragraphs. For example, you may be asked to identify the significance of a detail to the text as a whole.

  5. Inference

    These questions rely on your ability to pinpoint suggestions made in the text. This may include filling in missing information, defining a word or phrase based on its context, or evaluating the author's perspective. The answers to these questions are not found directly in the text, so you will have to think independently and make inferences based on what you've read.

  6. Function

    These questions ask you to think about how a word or phrase is used in the text. You will have to pinpoint the impact a specific word or phrase has on the passage as a whole. These questions are not about defining the words or phrases in question but about understanding their function.

  7. Analyzing Data Graphics

    These questions test your ability to analyze data in a passage and its accompanying graphic before drawing comparisons between them. Data may be presented as a chart, graph, or table.

  8. Analogy

    These questions will ask you to make inferences about connections between passages. You may also be asked to make comparisons between two arguments or perspectives.

  9. Author Technique

    These questions ask you to make inferences about the author's motives from specific lines or words. This includes analyzing the feelings of the author from the tone.

You are not tested on your knowledge of a topic, so don't worry about absorbing every bit of information. Instead, focus on the information needed to answer questions. Our expert guide is a great resource if you want to learn how to approach SAT Reading questions.

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What's Tested on SAT Reading?

This section of the SAT tests reading comprehension. On the paper SAT, you will get five passages from four different genres. Below is the list of Reading Test passage types on the SAT:

  • US or World Literature: One passage
  • History and Social Sciences: Two passages or one set of paired passages
  • Science: Two passages or one passage and one set of paired passages

Each of the passages will have about 500 to 750 words, followed by 10–12 multiple-choice questions regarding general topics and specific textual details. One or two passages will include graphs or charts. Some passages come in thematic pairs presented from different perspectives. Check out this SAT syllabus for comprehensive information on topics and concepts tested on the Reading Test.

Skills tested on SAT Reading

Understanding literary terms will help you ace the exam. You won't be tested on their definitions, but you'll need to be familiar with their meaning to understand the prompts and answer choices. The SAT Reading Test evaluates your reading skills in a variety of ways, including your ability to:

Infographic displaying skills tested on SAT Reading

Infographic displaying skills tested on SAT Reading

Is SAT Reading Hard?

A test's difficulty is largely a matter of perspective, preparation, and skill. If you enjoy reading, you've likely developed a knack for analyzing literature and understanding vocabulary. SAT Reading is not limited to period texts or fiction but includes science journals, art periodicals, essays, articles, and literature from a diversity of eras.

The SAT Reading Test can be challenging if you don't read much. The test assesses your vocabulary, comprehension, plus analytical and critical thinking skills. Therefore, reading more often and more intentionally will increase your chances of success.

Do SAT Reading questions get progressively harder?

SAT questions are not arranged in order of progressive difficulty on the paper exam. Check out our SAT Reading study guide for comprehensive information on what to expect and how to prepare.

Is SAT Reading harder than ACT Reading?

It depends on what your skill sets are. And how do you know that? Let’s start by bulleting the major differences between the SAT Reading and the ACT Reading, and learn how each aspect is targeted at a particular skill set. Depending on what your strengths and weaknesses are, you can evaluate whether SAT Reading would be easier for you than the ACT Reading Test.

  1. SAT Reading presents prompts indicating a particular line number from the passage, while the ACT Reading Test usually doesn’t. So, if you’re someone who is good at retaining the overall information provided in a passage and answering questions, ACT Reading would be a better choice. Because SAT Reading requires you to search for a particular line in the passage and answer targeted questions, you’ll need to have a good eye for small details.
  2. SAT Reading Test offers you more time per question than ACT Reading. This could be a factor if time management is something you struggle with.
  3. SAT Reading also contains evidence-based questions that require you to spot specific areas in the passage to support your answers. These set-based questions build off of the previous questions and require strong reasoning skills to tackle them. This question type is not included in the ACT Reading Test, and could be considered tricky if you find it challenging to answer interconnected questions.

How To Calculate SAT Reading Score?

The SAT Reading and Writing Tests are calculated together, with each test being scored on a range of 100–400. Combined, they form the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, which is scored on a range of 200–800. Here's how it works:

How SAT Reading and Writing Test scores calculated together to get EBRW section score

How SAT Reading and Writing Test scores calculated together to get EBRW section score

The Reading Test contains 52 questions, but the College Board converts your total raw score to a test score on a range from 10-40. Your final scaled score is calculated by multiplying this test score by 10.

Flow chart of how to calculate SAT reading score

Flow chart of how to calculate SAT reading score

What is a good SAT Reading score?

A Reading score of 700 and above is considered a competitive score for this section. To learn more, check out our blog on what is considered a good SAT score.

What is the average SAT Reading score?

Per the SAT Annual Report published by the College Board in 2022, the average SAT EBRW score was 529. Check out our SAT scoring guide for a sneak peek into how your SAT Writing and Math Tests are scored.

What is a bad SAT Reading score?

A Reading score, which is below the national average section score (as mentioned on your SAT score report) can be considered a low SAT Reading score.

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Showing a written passage for the SAT along with the correct answer for the question

SAT Reading Review Tips

Here are some important reading tips to help you score higher on the SAT Reading Test:

  • Learn the test format/structure.
  • Be mindful of the time. You have 65 minutes to read five passages and answer 52 questions.
  • You don't need prior knowledge of passage themes, but consistent practice with exam-like material will build confidence.
  • Read only what is necessary to answer the questions.
  • Understand how to approach each passage. Concentrate on the main topics, eliminate incorrect responses, and support your conclusions with evidence.
  • There's no penalty for incorrect answers. If you're not sure, then guess.

The SAT Reading Test is challenging for many. A smart way to approach the SAT Reading questions is to understand exactly what the questions are asking. Avoid common SAT Reading Test mistakes by preparing with a comprehensive study plan, making time to work on each topic and concept, and taking regular SAT Reading practice tests.

UWorld offers thousands of realistic sample questions that simulate the official exam's difficulty and style. Study detailed explanations that help you understand the "why" behind each answer choice.

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