SAT Reading: Passage Types, Content & Subjects

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Vocabulary on the Revised SAT

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Critical Reading
  • 1:05 Vocab Tips
  • 3:02 Question Order
  • 5:03 Answer Choices
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christie Rowe
In this lesson, you'll get some helpful hints for the types of passages on the SAT reading section. Learn how to organize passages according to their goals and subjects to build confidence for the test.

Critical Reading

On the critical reading section of the SAT, you'll see two different types of questions. Sentence completions are questions with a sentence containing either one blank or two blanks. Your job is to pick the best word or words for the blanks. The other type, the passage-based reading questions, will give you a passage of text and ask you questions about it. The passages may be short (one paragraph) or long (multiple paragraphs).

Both of these question types reward smart test takers who bone up on strategy beforehand. In this lesson, we'll walk through some strategy hints for scoring your best on the SAT reading section, broken down into three different categories:

  • Vocab: Help for tackling ten-dollar words without losing your mind
  • Question order: How to use the arrangement of the questions on the test to your advantage
  • Answer choices: Hints for making the answer choices work for you, not the other way around

Vocab Tips

One strategy for handling a word you aren't sure of is to examine it closely and look for roots. Don't give up right away when a word isn't immediately familiar. Before just deciding that you don't know a word, look at it more closely. Are there roots that you do know? Does it sound like any other word that you're familiar with? This will help you use roots and similar words to make an educated guess, even when you don't know.

A second strategy is to use context. You can often use the context of a word to figure out more or less what it should mean - at least well enough to answer an SAT question about that sentence in general.

Example: Pale and etiolated after her long illness, Marissa drooped like a houseplant that hadn't gotten enough sun for a year.

In this sentence, you can get the idea that etiolated has something to do with being sick and looking unwell without needing to spend a lot of time on the word itself. The way you apply these strategies to the questions will depend on what kind of question you're tackling.

On the sentence completions, the whole focus of the question is on the vocabulary. So, on these questions, it's worthwhile to spend more time on the words. You'll probably want to use both roots and context to figure out the words as well as you can. But most passage-based reading questions are testing comprehension, not vocabulary. The key is to get a good enough understanding of the passage to answer general questions, not to completely know every word.

For the few passage questions that focus on individual words, it helps to spend more time on the words if you don't know them. But on most of the passage questions, try to use some context clues and cut down the time you spend on individual vocab words - it just doesn't pay off in terms of points on the test. And definitely don't agonize over a word in the passage if there's no question about it. You can almost always figure it out well enough from context to get on with the questions.

Question Order

On top of managing your time on the vocab words, another way to be smart about SAT strategy is to work the question order to your advantage. On the sentence completions, this means starting at the beginning since sentence completion questions go from easy to hard. But passage questions won't be arranged in order of difficulty. Instead, passage questions follow the order of the passage - a question on line 1 will come first and so on.

These questions are not in order of difficulty, but each question is still worth the same number of points. So, considering that you're under time pressure and may not be able to hit all the questions, it's to your advantage to identify and knock off the easy questions first. Start with the specific questions - the ones that give you a particular line in the passage. These questions tell you exactly where to find the answer, so you don't have to spend time skimming through the passage to find it.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account