How the New SAT Reading Section Works

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The new SAT sends sentence completions — statements with blanks into which you insert an appropriate word — into oblivion (nonexistence). Instead, the SAT-makers have beefed-up the reading-comprehension passages, adding graphics and questions about evidence.

In this way, the College Board attempts to relate 65 minutes of highly artificial reading to your ability to plow through 50 or 60 pounds of textbooks (or the electronic equivalent) each semester. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Single passages. You see four single passages on the test, each from 500 to 750 words long. Attached to each passage are 10 to 11 multiple-choice questions.

  • Paired passage. One pair appears on every SAT Reading section. The total word count of the pair is 500 to 750 words. Most pairs offer two distinct (different) points of view on one issue. Either 10 or 11 questions come with each pair.

  • Content. You get one passage drawn from a work of literature, two passages (or one passage and one pair) from history/social studies, and two passages (or one passage and one pair) from science.

  • Graphics. You won’t see a picture of the main character in a literary passage, but you will see charts, graphs, or diagrams similar to those that appear in textbooks. One or two will be attached to science passages and one or two to history passages.

  • Level. The reading level of the passages ranges from ninth and tenth grade to just before college entry.