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SAT Critical Reading


Reading Passages

The SAT also requires you to read and analyze brief reading passages. Each passage is followed by questions that test your ability to understand the point the author is trying to make and your ability to evaluate how the author uses language to make that point.


Types of Reading Passages

The SAT Critical Reading includes both long and short reading passages, as well as single and dual passages:

  • Long passages: Approximately 500–800 words in length; followed by 8–13 questions related to the passage.

  • Short passages: Approximately 100 words in length; followed by 2 questions related to the passage

  • Dual passages: Either two long passages or two short passages; followed by questions that relate to the passages individually and to the relationship between the two passages.


Types of Questions

There are seven types of questions about reading passages.

  1. Main idea

    • Main idea questions test your understanding of an passage as a whole. Common main idea questions include:

      • What is the primary purpose of the passage?

      • What main idea is the author trying to convey?

    • The best way to tackle main idea questions is to come up with a one-sentence summary of the passage on your own and then compare that to the answer choices.

  2. Attitude and tone

    • Attitude and tone questions test your understanding of the author’s view on the subject of a passage.

    • When you read a passage, pay attention to the language the author uses and try to determine the stance the author takes toward the subject matter. Does the author sound enthusiastic? Disapproving? Balanced? Judgmental? Enraged?

    • It may help to try to imagine how the author would sound if he or she read the passage aloud.

    • If you feel stuck, remember that if you’re at least able to determine whether the author’s tone is positive, negative, or neutral, you’ll likely be able to eliminate at least some answer choices and turn the guessing odds in your favor.

  3. Specific information

    • Specific information questions ask about information that is explicitly stated in the passage.

    • Often, specific information questions come in the form of “NOT” or “EXCEPT” questions, in which you must choose the one incorrect answer among the five answer choices.

    • Note: In questions on long passages, specific information questions usually pinpoint parts of the passage by citing line numbers or making direct quotations.

  4. Implied information

    • Information is implied when certain facts, statements, or ideas convey the information but don’t declare it outright.

    • Implied information questions ask about less obvious information and require you to “read between the lines” of the passage.

    • Often, implied information questions contain words such as inferred, indicated, or suggested.

  5. Themes and arguments

    • Themes are the central concepts or ideas that an author explores in a passage. Arguments are the specific perspectives and opinions an author sets forth in regards to his or her main idea.

    • Themes and arguments questions test your ability to look at particular parts of a passage and identify the underlying assumptions.

  6. Technique

    • Technique questions require you to identify the literary tools or methods the author of the passage uses in a specific part of the passage.

    • As a result technique questions also often refer to literary terms and figures of speech. (For a list of some of these, see the next section, Literary Techniques and Figures of Speech.)

    • If you know the main idea of a passage, you often can use that information to figure out what the author is trying to accomplish in a particular part of the passage.

  7. Words in context

    • Words-in-context questions ask you about the meaning of a specific word or phrase meaning of a specific word or phrase in the greater context of the passage.

    • One way of approaching these questions is to go to the line number referenced in the question and approach the sentence and the word or phrase in the same way that you would approach a Sentence Completion question.