Is Your Reading Up to SAT Standards?

By: Elisabeth Henderson
Image: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

You read all the time, but is your reading up to SAT standards? This quiz will find out!

Founded by College Board in 1946, the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) has been used for decades to test students across the country on a level playing field. While the tides may be turning—with over 1000 colleges and universities making the standardized tests optional, and college admissions scandals damaging the test’s credibility, it still is crucial for most students to ace the test. The Reading portion of the test is one of three portions for students to master (the other sections are Writing and Math). 

The SAT used to have a reputation for intentionally creating questions to trick students, and the English portion of the test had some of the most tricky. The current reading test, though, takes out the tricky components and focuses on the reading skills that students will actually use in college and daily life. The test doesn’t use obscure vocabulary, but instead it focuses on words that have multiple meanings and tests students’ ability to discern what common words means in context. 

The Reading test is not based entirely on literature. It tests four different areas: history, literature, social science, and natural science.  The questions focus on how deeply students have comprehended the passages and often asks them to select evidence to support their understanding. The makers of the SAT believe that reading and interpreting these various texts are essential skills that high school grads should posses. How do you measure up? Scroll on to find out!

If a question asks what the “structure” of a passage is, what is it asking you?

Questions about passage structure are some of the most difficult for students to answer correctly. One reason for this is that they don’t know what the question means. The structure of text refers to how it is put together—what comes first, how is it related to what comes next, how does the author build their point? Now that you know what it means, you’re halfway there!

What is the meaning of the word in quotations, in the context of the sentence? He “directly” stated that it was not his fault.

This question is a good example of an SAT vocabulary question. The word “directly” is not uncommon, but it has multiple meanings. In some instances it could mean straight ahead, but in this context, it means saying something in a straightforward manner, so it’s crystal clear what you mean.

What is a good practice to do while reading the SAT passages to help retain information?

While memorizing everything may be a good idea if you have a photographic memory, it’s not a practical option for most of us. SAT test prep experts suggest making notations to help you more quickly find important lines and moments in the passage.

How would you determine the purpose of a passage?

Many people may think that the conclusion of a passage would be the best place to find its purpose. But it isn’t always. Sometimes conclusions take an author’s argument in a different direction, like considering what the implications are. Authors most often clearly state their purpose early in the passage, often in the last lines of the first paragraph.

If a question asks what an author “indicates,” what can you guess about the answer?

Questions about what the author “indicates” are common in the SAT Reading test. If someone indicates something, they are not necessarily going to come out and state it clearly. Rather, other points they make or evidence they use will point to this other meaning, like a turning indicator on a car points what direction the car is going to go.

If you were underlining and taking notes on a reading passage, what would you be looking for?

It’s a great practice while reading to take notes, underline and engage with the passage while you are reading it. The reason for this is that the mental work it takes for you think about what’s important and what the author’s argument is will help you to more fully comprehend the passage. And the more you comprehend a passage going into the questions, the more successfully and quickly you can answer the questions.

What is the meaning of the word in quotation marks, in the context of the sentence? Martin was in rare “form” at the party.

The word “form” has multiple meanings. In some cases it’s a verb, and in others a noun. In this case, “form” is a noun that means “state of being,” indicating that Martin was probably not in his right mind. Even though “blitzed” also indicates that meaning, it’s an adjective, while “form” is a noun. For that reason, it’s not a good choice to demonstrate the meaning of “form.”

If a question asks you to find evidence for the answer to a previous question, where should you look?

This type of question is called “command of evidence.” They require you to demonstrate how you arrived at the answer to the previous question. College Board says that all the answers to questions on the Reading test are supported by evidence within the passage. Try to think of how you arrived at your answer and where that was in the passage. Select the line numbers that most closely correspond to that place.

What is the meaning of the word in quotation marks in the context of the sentence? It’s not fair was a constant “refrain” in Ms. Gibson’s class.

Refrain, in this sentence, is a phrase that recurs over and over again. In this sentence, it’s a noun, but in other contexts it may be a verb, meaning to withhold.

If a question asks whether the author would likely agree with a statement, how can you find the answer?

If a question has the word “likely,” then it’s likely that the answer is not actually in the passage. You’ll be expected to intuit the answer based on the information that is in the passage.

What is the meaning of the word in quotation marks in the context of the sentence? George used a safety pin to “doctor” his wound.

Like other words with multiple meanings, doctor can be a verb or a noun. Here it is a verb, meaning to treat. Be sure to read the sentence a few times to make sure you’re understanding the word in context.

If a question asks you why an author refers to work by another author, how can you find the answer?

Authors refer to other authors for many different reasons in order to prove their point. They may use the other author’s work in order to support their own point, in order to show evidence against their own point—and then refute it, to describe what other work has been done on the subject, or many other reasons. To figure out which it is, try to figure out how the work mentioned fits in with the author’s main point.

How would you determine what the “central idea” of a passage is?

The central idea of an essay is an idea that the author returns to throughout the essay and forms the core of the author’s purpose. While this idea is very often found at the end of the first paragraph, if it is not emphasized throughout the essay, then it is not the central idea.

If you read two passages and then are asked if one author agrees with a statement made by the other, how would you find your answer?

The SAT Reading section has one reading in each test that asks you to compare two passages over a similar topic. At the end of this section, students are asked to predict how the authors would respond to what each other say. In most cases, they do not explicitly respond to each other’s work, but they always give enough information about their perspective on the subject that you can accurately predict if they would agree or disagree.

What is a helpful strategy for quickly finding the best answers on the Reading test?

Trying to answer the question for yourself before reading the answer choices is a very helpful strategy. It helps you to form your own idea of the answer, so you can then just find the answer that matches and move on. When students read all the choices first, it’s easy to convince themself that more than one answer may be correct. When you know your own answer, you can just find the closest one.

What is the meaning of the word in quotation marks, in the context of the sentence? It was in his “nature” to dance whenever the mood struck him.

Nature has multiple meanings. In this context, it does not refer to the natural world or physical environment. Instead it describes the inherent character of a person who is compelled to dance whenever the mood is right.

If a question asks you to identify the “central tension” between two different passages, what will you be looking for?

The idea of “tension” describes the way that concepts in different arguments may push and pull against each other. Tension between two passages occurs when authors are in disagreement about an idea. This can definitely be awkward at a dinner party, but it’s less so when it’s just happening on paper.

How do you determine the “tone” of the text?

English teachers and standardized tests love to ask students about tone, but students seem entirely lost about what the heck “tone” is. You can think about it like music. Music has a tone that strikes you immediately—happy and light, melodramatic and dark, etc. In reading, look for the kinds of words an author uses and the meaning and mood those words carry. While it may seem that your own mood while reading may be a good test, the SAT may put you in a bad mood no matter what you’re reading.

If a question asks you what a section of the passage “primarily functions” to do, what is it asking to think about?

You’ll see the word “function” a lot on the Reading test. It always means how something works, and when we think about how something functions in an argument, we’re wondering how it works within the larger argument. Why did the author include this part, and what does it do for the rest of the argument?

How could you determine what “potential criticism” someone might have of a passage’s ideas?

When the SAT asks you to identify “potential criticism,” they are asking you to think about what is missing or what may be wrong with an argument. While this is definitely a higher level of reading, it’s a good practice to think about these questions all the time when you’re reading.

What does it mean when you are asked what kind of “evidence” someone used?

While quotations may certainly be part of evidence in an argument, not all quotations are used as evidence. When you are looking for evidence, you are looking for what the author brings in to support their argument. This may be quotations that agree with them, statistics, anecdotes or other forms.

What is the meaning of the word in quotation marks, in the context of the sentence? He had “reservations” about moving forward with his trip to the moon.

The word reservations, in this context, refers to hesitations—a feeling of holding back, not being sure. Being hesitant to go the moon seems perfectly reasonable! So does fear and suspense, and you’ll probably need reservations, but those don’t match the meaning of the word in this context.

If a question asks what can be “reasonably inferred” about a passage, what can you guess about the answer?

When the SAT asks you what can be reasonably inferred, you can reasonably infer that the answer won’t be stated outright in the passage. That’s because “infer” means to guess based on what you know. And if you have to guess, then it’s not stated clearly.

How can you know why an author would choose to use a quotation?

When you are asked to think about why an author uses a quotation, or any other piece of evidence, look for what the author says about it, both before and after. If their comments show that the quotation supports them, then they’re using it for support. If they seem to disagree, they may be using it as counter evidence.

What does the word in quotation marks mean in the context of the sentence? They came together at the “common” table to share a bowl of popcorn.

The word common here means “shared,” as in having all things in common. The other meanings listed here are also correct meanings of common, so be careful with these kinds of questions to really see which word could replace the word in question without changing the meaning of the sentence.

If a question asks you which statement below is best supported by the information given in a graph, how will you find the answer?

When you are asked to identify a statement that agrees with a graph accompanying a passage, be careful that all of the statement agrees with the graph. There may be statements that agree in part, but that go against some other part of a graph. In order to agree, the statement must support the graph entirely.

If a question asks you which lines of a passage the information in a table could work as evidence for, how will you find the answer?

When a question asks you to think about how the table may serve as evidence for a part of the passage, it is asking you to consider how the information in the table and the passage are interacting with each other. To answer these questions, you’ll need to go back and forth between the passage and the table.

How can you tell what kind of evidence someone’s research relied on?

Thinking about where the evidence comes from will be a good indicator for what kind of evidence it is. For instance, an author may use historical evidence. This kind of evidence will come from historical documents, which the author will likely mention.

What does the word in quotation marks mean, in the context of the sentence? He “harbored” a deep well of anger against her for breaking up with him right before prom.

“Harbored,” in this sentence, is a verb that means to hold onto. It’s related to the idea of a ship being held in a harbor, or a disease carried in a body.

What does it mean to summarize a passage?

A summary is a shorter description that conveys what happened in a text or what the main points of an argument are. If you are asked to summarize, try to think about what is most crucial for understanding the meaning.

Why does the SAT ask which choice provides “the best evidence” for an answer?

The SAT Reading test often asks which choice is “best.” In using this language, they acknowledge that there is some ambiguity in which answer is right, but they still stand by the idea that there is one right answer.

If you are looking for commonality between two passages, what are you looking for?

When a question asks about “commonality” among passages, it’s asking you to think about how the authors are agreeing about the ideas discussed. They may not come out and say so clearly, but you can determine where they agree by understanding each’s argument.

Why are there graphs on the SAT Reading test?

Graphs need to be interpreted, just as texts do. When a graph supplements a reading, you can’t assume that they are really arguing the same thing. The SAT wants to test how well students can draw comparisons between different sources of information.

If the first question on a passage asks about the purpose of the passage as a whole, what is a good strategy?

When the first question is about the passage as a whole, it’s a good strategy to skip it and return after you work through all the questions. This is because as you go through the questions, you’ll become more familiar with the passage as a whole.

What does point of view mean?

Questions about point of view are asking you from whose perspective the story is told. It may be someone involved in the narrative, someone on the outside, a historian or a beetle.

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