How to Read Paired Passages on the SAT

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

Paired passages on the SAT Reading section may cover a variety of topics, including science, social science, history, or social studies. The questions, 10 or 11 of them, sometimes address one passage, sometimes the other, and sometimes both at the same time.

To achieve the maximum number of points on a paired set, follow these steps:

  1. Read the introductory material. Tucked into the directions you may find a description of the type of writing (diary, op-ed, speech, and so forth) and information about the author or time period. Often, you discover how the passages differ. One may be a first-person account of a historical event and the other, an interpretation of that event written at a later time. Or you may see that two different scientists write about the same topic. If so, they probably disagree or come at the subject from different angles.
  2. Read Passage I. As you read, annotate a bit. If you’re a question-first sort of person, zero in on the information they’re asking for. For instance, if you know one question addresses the attitude toward voting rights expressed in Passage I, underline any sentence that discusses this issue.
  3. Answer questions that deal solely with Passage I. Don’t waste time reading every word of every question. Skip over anything that mentions both passages or that mentions Passage II. Concentrate on questions tied to Passage I.
  4. Read Passage II. Annotate again, as explained in Step 2.
  5. Answer questions that deal solely with Passage II. Now you’re skipping questions about Passage I and again ignoring those that address both passages.
  6. Answer questions about the pair. These questions often ask how the authors’ ideas or writing styles differ or what both would agree on. These questions tend to be time-consuming, so skip them if you’re running out of minutes and go back to answer them later.