Increase Your Reading Speed for the SAT

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The SAT Reading section asks you to read about 3,250 words in 65 minutes. If reading the passages were your only task, reading speed wouldn’t be a problem, because (do the math!) you’d have to read only 50 words per minute to get through everything.

Unfortunately, you also have to read and answer questions on those 3,250 words, raising the optimal (best) rate of words per minute substantially (significantly, by a large amount).

A few simple tricks may make a big difference in how many questions you have a chance to answer and, thus, how high you score on the SAT Reading section. To increase your reading speed, try these techniques:

  • Wind sprint. If you’re a track star, you run a lot at a steady pace, but occasionally you let out all the stops and go as fast as possible for a short period of time. When you’re reading, imitate the runners. Read at a steady pace, but from time to time push yourself through a paragraph as fast as you possibly can. After a couple of minutes, go back to your normal reading speed. Soon your “normal” speed will increase.
  • Read newspaper columns. When you read, your eyes move from side to side. But you have peripheral (on-the-edge) vision that makes some of those eye movements unnecessary. To practice moving your eyes less (and, thus, speeding up your progress), read a narrow newspaper column. Printed material works best, but you can practice with on-screen material also. Try to see the entire column width without moving your eyes sideways. If you practice a couple of times, you can train your eye to grasp the edges as well as the center. Bingo! Your speed will increase.
  • Finger focus. If you’re reading something wider than a newspaper column, you can still reap gains from the peripheral-vision training described in the preceding bullet point. Just place your finger underneath the line you’re reading, about a third of the way in. Read the first half of the line in one, stationary glance. Then move your finger to about two-thirds of the way across. Take in the second half of the line in just one more glance. There you go! Your eyes are moving less, you’re staying focused, and you’re reading faster.
  • Hit the high spots. People who make a living analyzing such things as paragraph organization (can you imagine a more boring career?) have determined that nearly all paragraphs start with a topic sentence. If you want to get a quick overview of a passage, read the topic sentence of each paragraph slowly. Then go back and zoom through the details quickly. Chances are you can get everything you need.