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The SAT Reading Test: Overview

An overview of what to expect on the SAT Reading Test
The SAT Reading Test assesses your ability to read and interpret a variety of texts similar to the reading you will find in college and your career.
All of the questions on the reading test are linked to a passage, a pair of passages, or a passage with an informational graphic or two, such as tables, charts, and graphs. Each reading test consists of five passages with 10 to 11 questions each, for a total of 52 questions. One of the five sets of questions will be about two "paired" shorter passages. You will have 65 minutes to complete the reading test.


Passages on the reading test cover a range of topics under two main text types:
  • Literary, which includes works of fiction from the United States and around the world
  • Informational, which includes science, social science, founding documents, and the great global conversations they inspire
Image of a Reading passage excerpt. It says:
Questions 4-8 are based on the following passage.
The passage is adapted from a speech delivered by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas on July 25, 1974. She was a member of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives. In the passage, Jordan discusses how and when a United States president may be impeached, or charged with serious offenses while in office. Jordan's speech was delivered in the context of impeachment hearings against then President Richard M. Nixon.
Today, I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And Ia m not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.
"Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves?" "The subjects of its jurisdictions are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men." And that's what we're talking about. In other words, [the jurisdiction comes] from the abuse or violation of some public trust.
If it is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office.

What the questions are asking

The questions on the reading test fall into three main categories:
  • Information and Ideas: Questions that focus on what the passage says, directly or indirectly
  • Rhetoric: Questions that ask about how the author conveys meaning
  • Synthesis: Questions that ask you to draw conclusions and make connections between two related passages or between passages and informational graphics
Image of a pair of circular graphics that accompany a Reading passage: "Orientation of Hatchling Loggerheads Tested in Magnetic Fields".
Want to get started? No better time than the present - Practice now!


This article was adapted from the following sources:
“SAT Practice Tests” from The College Board.

Want to join the conversation?

  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Hannah
    My lowest score is always in the reading section. Sometimes I read through the passages but I don't fully comprehend the main idea and details, so I have to reread once or twice, which takes up a lot of time. Are there any tips to help with focus, comprehension, or answering the questions?
    (47 votes)
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    • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user adesi.i.419
      There is an order rule that states that most of the time the question go in order of the passage so you can read parts of the passage pertaining to different questions, so if the question doesn't give you certain lines from the passage to look into, you can still tell what area of the passage the answer will be in
      (27 votes)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user patel04krish
    I just wanna show my appreciation to khan academy due to the fact that i got a perfect score on sat. Your studying materials for so good.
    (44 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user 😊
    On SAT what I find difficult is Reading.So how can I overcome my difficulties? I am practising alot but also Reading section is killing me.. please help!!
    (15 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Danny Augustin
    do we get penalized for wrong answers?
    (0 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Hannah He
      No you do not get penalized for wrong answers. On the SAT Subject tests, for example, you get a 1/4 point deduction for each wrong answer. This penalty leads to the decision of when it's test day of whether you should guess or totally skip the question. Because there is no penalty, you should most definitely guess if you do not know.
      (7 votes)
  • leafers seedling style avatar for user Eveline
    Hi how can I really concentrate on a passage while reading it because sometimes I get confused and can't really find the main idea? Also how to improve reading speed?
    (8 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user eeveetroop
      I would recommend skipping the main idea question (which is normally first) and go through the other questions first. That way, you'll know what the College Board cares most about in the passage and you will have read through a good deal of the passage. In terms of reading speed, what I do to take time off is by answering the questions as I read the passage so that I don't have to find where to go and re-read the passage to remember the context again. Hope this helps!
      (17 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Taylor  Alford
    If we make a lower score than what we wanted are we able to back and take the test again or do we just have to keep that score? I want to get my score higher than what it is now.
    (2 votes)
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  • piceratops seedling style avatar for user Paul Campbell III
    About how much time should I spend on each question?
    (5 votes)
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  • mr pink red style avatar for user Diana Franks
    Do we have to have an extensive vocabulary for the SAT or do we need to know certain vocabulary?
    (5 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user rosefriedland89
      There's not a specific set of vocab you need to memorize. The new SAT aims to test your knowledge of words in context -- rather than memorizing obscure words, you will be asked to interpret words within the context of a passage. These words are more in line with the type of vocab you will see in college-level texts.
      (7 votes)
  • mr pink red style avatar for user fritz fleury
    The reading is what I need, because I haven't pass my fact or the act. What the exact passing score to get to pass, need more details please.
    (3 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user doctorfoxphd
      The score you need is based on the college you are hoping to attend. Different schools have different expectations for SAT scores for prospective students. Some schools have very high expectations for scores and are so competitive that they always have many applicants with high scores. Many colleges take a wide range of scores and consider many aspects of your school records (grades, activities, awards, essays, portfolios, etc.). Some colleges admit people with lower scores and some colleges don't care about SAT scores. The best way to find out what your desired colleges require is to check their websites or to look up the information on line to see what colleges across the country require.

      There is no such thing as failing, except if you cheat, I guess, and your test is disqualified.

      The reading score is part of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score on the new SAT. The possible scores reported to colleges range from 200 to 800 for this part of the test. There is also a Math test score, also ranging from 200 to 800. The reading part of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score is scored from 10 to 40 and that is combined with the Writing and Language test score, and the result is then scaled to produce that final score of 200 to 800.

      There is also an optional essay, which now has a separate score that is reported to colleges that want an essay score.

      Since this SAT score is new, colleges probably will be a bit more flexible about their scoring preferences until they see the scores that hundreds of thousands of students earn on the new SAT tests.

      Best of luck. The best way to get better in anything is to practice.
      (11 votes)
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Noah
    Is it okay to look at the question and just read the portion of the passage, that it applies to, or is it better to take the time to read the whole passage altogether?
    (6 votes)
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