What to Expect from SAT Reading Passages: Types of Passages & Content

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  • 0:00 Types of Reading Passages
  • 0:41 Literature
  • 1:29 U.S. History
  • 2:20 Social Science
  • 3:17 Science
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Big changes have come to the SAT Reading section. This lesson will help make sure that you're ready for the new passage types and what you're likely to find in each section.

Types of Reading Passages

If you've been preparing for the SAT, chances are you've heard that the SAT has undergone some pretty big changes as of March 2016. Most notably, the guessing penalty has been removed, which is in and of itself a major advantage for test takers. However, the test has also been brought more in line with what you actually learn in school. No, you won't have to take specific tests for every subject, but instead your knowledge in different fields could help you on test day. In this lesson, we'll see how the SAT Reading Test now has four different fields from which passages may be drawn: literature, U.S. history, social science, and science.


Literature passages on the SAT Reading Test really aren't a shocker. After all, it only makes sense that a reading test is concerned with your ability to read literature. However, if Macbeth or The Scarlet Letter put you to sleep, you will relieved to know that each reading passage is capped at around 750 words.

First things first, remember the golden rule of the new SAT Reading Test - don't try to apply any knowledge that you know from elsewhere. This test is about your ability to get information from what's in front of you - not from what you remember from American Literature in junior year. Also, take this is a time to brush up on your ability to comfortably handle English prose from an earlier era. After all, it's not just the literature section that you'll need it for.

U.S. History

The next type of passage on the Reading Test that we'll discuss features a document from American history. Sometimes, it will feature one document in addition to a related document. For example, you may have to read part of the Constitution alongside the UN Declaration of Human Rights. You did notice that there could be two documents, right? U.S. history is one of the two areas where you may be asked to compare and contrast two documents. Be prepared for that. Again, chances are that you'll have some passing familiarity with the documents in question. They may not be as obvious as the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but those would certainly be good documents to review in order to get a taste for the relevant language. However, just because you are familiar with the writing of the Mayflower Compact or the Federalist Papers does not mean that you should allow outside sources to affect your analysis.

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