What the New SAT Reading Test Covers

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The Reading test section of the SAT used to be called Critical Reading, but for some reason the test-writers dropped half of the name. However, reading-comprehension passages still play a critical (vital, essential) role in your SAT score. Besides dropping sentence completions — statements with blanks and five possible ways to fill them — reading-comprehension questions now ask you to choose among four, not five, possible answers.

Here’s what you see in the new SAT Reading section:

  • Quantity: A total of four single passages plus one set of paired passages, each from 500 to 750 words long, with each passage or pair accompanied by 10 to 11 questions, for a total of 52 questions.

  • Content: Two passages, or one passage and one pair, in science; one literary passage, either narrative fiction or nonfiction; and two passages, or one passage and one pair, in history/social studies. One of the history/social studies passages or pair deals with what the College Board calls the “Great Global Conversation” — a historical document, such as a presidential speech or a modern discussion of an issue relating to democracy and human rights.

  • Reading level: Some passages on the 9th and 10th grade level, some on the college-entry level (12th grade and beyond).

  • Graphics: Charts, tables, graphs, diagrams: one to two in science, and one to two in history/social studies.

Reading-comprehension questions are a mixture of literal (just the facts, ma’am) and interpretive/analytical. You’ll be asked to choose the meaning of a word in context and to understand information presented graphically (though you don’t need to know math to answer these questions). You may also have to assess the author’s tone or point of view. At least two questions per passage or pair ask you to recognize supporting evidence for your answer. For example, take a look at this pair of questions.

Sample Passage

Tim was frantic to learn that the first GC-MP8 handheld was already in circulation. And here he was wasting his time in college! The degree that he had pursued so doggedly for the past three years now seemed nothing more than a gigantic waste of time. The business world, that’s where he belonged, marketing someone else’s technology with just enough of a twist to allow him to patent “his” idea. Yes, Tim now knew what he must do: Spend time with YouTube until he found an inventor unlikely to sue Tim for intellectual property theft.

  1. In this passage, the word his is in quotation marks

    (A) because it’s a pronoun

    (B) because the reader is supposed to hiss at Tim, whom everyone hates

    (C) to show that the idea is really someone else’s

    (D) because the typesetter had some extra quotation marks

  2. The best evidence for the answer to the preceding question is

    (A) “Tim was frantic . . . circulation.”

    (B) “The degree . . . years now”

    (C) “The business world . . . belonged”

    (D) “marketing someone else’s . . . twist”

Note: In the real exam, the lines will be numbered and the questions will include the line they’re interested in.

The answer to the first question is Choice (C). These quotation marks refer to Tim’s claim to “someone else’s technology.” Although he isn’t quoted directly, the quotation marks around his imply that Tim says that a particular invention is his, when in fact it isn’t.

The answer to the second question is Choice (D). As you see in the explanation to the first question, these words reveal that the technology isn’t Tim’s invention and support the correct answer, to show that the idea is really someone else’s.