The Scholastic Aptitude Test Reading is the first part of the SAT and primarily tests you ability to analyze and interpret information in the context of text passages and draw conclusions based on what you read. While it is a fairly straightforward part of the test, some test-takers can struggle with reading comprehension skills. If you’re still deciding between taking the SAT or ACT, this guide will tell you what to expect from the SAT Reading test, how to approach it and give you sample passages and questions to work with.

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SAT Reading: What’s On It? SAT Reading Study Strategies SAT Reading Sample Passages, Questions and Answers FAQs

Scholastic Aptitude Test Reading Section: What’s On It?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Reading Test is the first section you will encounter. While it may seem like a straightforward reading comprehension test, it will also test your critical thinking skills, ability to analyze and interpret data and draw conclusions based on text passages. The SAT Reading questions may also include charts, graphs and other visuals or images you need to examine alongside the text passages to correctly answer questions.

The SAT Reading test uses a high level of vocabulary, so it’s also important to know the commonly used SAT words and review the type of vocabulary used on test. This way, you won’t be stumped when reading a passage or question.

How many questions are on the SAT?

There are 52 questions total in the SAT Reading section. You will be given 5 text passages—four standalone passages and one pair of passages—each with several multiple-choice questions for you to answer. Each passage is between 500-750 words.

The passages do not require you to have extensive background knowledge of the subject areas, but will cover the following topics:

  • 1 literary passage from a classic work of fiction.
  • 1 or 2 passages from a U.S. founding document or a text in the Great Global Conversation they inspired. For example, the U.S. Constitution. The Great Global Conversation refers to works from around the world that focus on topics such as freedom, justice, or human dignity. For example, a speech from Martin Luther King.
  • 1 passage from a work of economics, psychology, sociology, or some other social science. 
  • 2 passages from scientific works that examine foundational concepts in Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics. 

How long is the SAT?

You are given 65 minutes to complete the SAT Reading section, which is longer than the other two sections. You have an average of 1 minute and 25 seconds for each question, plus to read the passage.

This may be plenty of time for you if you are a fast reader, but remember that the questions can vary in difficulty, and it’s vital to read each question and passage carefully. If you’re a slower reader, this section of the SAT may be most difficult for you, so it’s important to practice your timing ahead of your test so you can get a good SAT score!

Types of SAT Reading Questions

There are 3 main different types of SAT Reading questions. These questions primarily focus on your reading comprehension and analysis skills. All of the questions rely on your ability to use and interpret information in the content of the passages, and do not ask you to recall or rely on outside knowledge of the subject areas.

Digital SAT: Reading Test

The Digital SAT combines both the Scholastic Aptitude Test Reading and the Scholastic Aptitude Test Writing & Language test into one section.

This new section includes text passages, or pairs of passages, that are much shorter, and only include 1 multiple-choice question per passage instead of several.

For example, the Digital SAT will have multiple text passages between 25-150 words, each with only 1 question associated with it. Questions that test similar skills and knowledge are grouped together and arranged from easiest to hardest. The subject areas covered in the passages include history, social studies, humanities, science and literature.

The digital version is split into 2 modules with questions from all 4 different question types tested on the SAT Reading and SAT Writing tests, according to the College Board:

  1. Information and Ideas -- This question type evaluates your reading comprehension, analysis of the text, reasoning skills and the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, and integrate information and ideas from the passage. The passages may also include informational graphics (tables, bar graphs, and line graphs) for you to interpret.
  2. Craft and Structure -- This question type measures your reading comprehension, vocabulary, analysis, synthesis, and reasoning skills and knowledge needed to understand and use high-utility words and phrases in the context of the text. It also determines whether you can evaluate texts rhetorically and make connections between pairs of text passages.
  3. Expression of Ideas -- For these questions you will be asked to revise texts to improve the effectiveness of the author's points or arguments or improve the text to meet specific rhetorical goals.
  4. Standard English Conventions -- These questions ask you to edit text to conform to core conventions of Standard English sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.

If you’re still deciding whether or not you should take the SAT or deciding on your SAT test dates it’s worth checking which version of the test you’ll be taking so you can make an informed decision. Keep in mind there are colleges that do not require the SAT.

SAT Reading Study Strategies

If you’re not sure how to study for the SAT, preparing for the SAT Reading test is straightforward, but there are some strategies you can use to better prepare and ensure you are ready for the test’s challenges. Of course, if you want extra guidance in studying for the SAT, you can hire an SAT tutor or look into enrolling in an SAT prep course.

#1 Read plenty!

Regular reading is something you must incorporate into your SAT schedule! Reading college-level texts or sample SAT passages can broaden your understanding of the subject areas tested on the SAT, but most importantly they flex your reading comprehension and analysis skills. The more you read, the more your reading comprehension will increase and the easier you’ll be able to understand complex texts and a higher level of vocabulary.

Your reading speed will also increase steadily, which can help save you time on the SAT. For the Reading test, there is no practice like sitting down read through some passages!

#2 Take practice tests

Practice tests and practice SAT questions are also important so you can apply the skills you gain from reading regularly. It’s one thing to read and understand a text, but another to apply your knowledge of it to practice questions and draw conclusions based on what you read. Work with practice questions to gauge how well you’re really understanding what you’ve been reading and how to draw inferences from the author’s points.

#3 Build your vocabulary

The SAT doesn’t require you to memorize a list of words to ace the test, but improving your vocabulary can help you better understand the complex passages on the exam. Some of the words used may be unfamiliar to you, and while you can usually discern the definition from context clues, this can slow you down when the clock is ticking.

Take the time to learn the definitions of college-level vocabulary and some common words that come up on the SAT. These will give you a more nuanced understanding of the text passages, and as a bonus help you prepare for college-level reading and assignments!

Want to avoid taking the SAT altogether? Here’s why you might not need to:

Scholastic Aptitude Test Reading: Sample Passages, Questions and Answers

Reading SAT practice is essential for preparing for this part of the test! Below we’ve included some sample passage excerpts, questions and answers to give you an idea of what the SAT Reading questions are like on the real thing.

SAT Reading Sample Passage #1

Passage excerpt from a classic novel: In the labyrinthine corridors of the ancient castle, secrets were interred within the stones. The fading tapestries that adorned the walls whispered of forgotten knights and long-lost legends. Amidst this somber atmosphere, a lone candle flickered, revealing the cryptic journal of a scholar who had vanished in pursuit of the castle's enigmatic history.

SAT Reading Sample Passage #2

Passage excerpt from the U.S. Federalist Papers: In Federalist No. 51, Madison elucidates the necessity of a system of checks and balances. He posits that if men were angels, no government would be needed. However, as human nature is inherently flawed, the structure of government must accommodate this imperfection.

SAT Reading Sample Passage #3

Passage excerpt from an economic analysis: The intricate relationship between economic cycles and social welfare remains a subject of extensive study. Longitudinal analyses of income distribution and economic growth reveal complex patterns, and the impact of policies on reducing income inequality is a multifaceted challenge.

SAT Reading Sample Passage #4

Passage excerpt from a physics research paper on quantum entanglement: Quantum entanglement, described by Einstein as "spooky action at a distance," is at the core of quantum mechanics. This phenomenon challenges classical physics and introduces concepts such as superposition and the collapse of the wave function, all of which defy everyday intuition.

SAT Reading Sample Passage #5

Passage excerpt from a speech by Winston Churchill: We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.


1. What is the SAT Reading test?

The SAT Reading test is the first of three parts of the SAT. It is primarily a reading comprehension test and evaluates your ability to answers questions based on text passages you’ve read, make inferences about the passage’s main points and analyze provided data.

2. How hard is the SAT?

The SAT is a challenging test, but it is not impossible to score well. The SAT Reading section may be the easiest one for you if you have strong reading comprehension skills, while for other students it may be challenging. It is still a good idea to prepare adequately for the Reading test, since some questions may be more challenging than others and stump you.

3. How do you score well on SAT reading?

To score well on the SAT reading section, it’s important to develop your reading comprehension skills and ability to draw inferences based on context clues. Reading widely on the different SAT subjects will help you develop these skills, as well as using regular practice questions.

4. What SAT words do I need to know?

The SAT does not have a set list of vocabulary you need to memorize, but it does use a number of college-level words you may not have seen before. It’s a good idea to expand your vocabulary before the test to save yourself time and give yourself a better understanding of the SAT passages.

5. Is reading easy on the SAT?

This depends on the student taking the test, since some students will find the SAT Reading test very easy, while others might struggle with reading comprehension. If you are a slow reader, you may want to practice your timing for the real test.

6. How many questions are on the SAT reading test?

There are 52 questions on the SAT Reading test, although the Digital SAT has 54 questions total for the Reading and Writing tests.

7. How long is the SAT reading test?

The SAT Reading test gives you 65 minutes total to complete the section. The Digital SAT allows 64 minutes, or two 32-minute modules for the combined Reading and Writing test.

8. How do you study for the SAT reading test?

To prepare for the SAT reading test, you will, of course, want to read widely and broadly in the topics covered on the test. This will help you improve your reading comprehension and analysis skills. You should also use practice questions or SAT practice tests to gauge how well you understand what you’re reading.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

Source: College Board SAT Suite of Assessments

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