SAT Critical Reading Section


The Critical Reading section of the SAT is intended to test vocabulary, reasoning and reading comprehension skills. There are three Critical Reading sections – two that are 25 minutes long and one that is 20 minutes long. The Critical Reading section includes Sentence Completion questions that primarily test vocabulary, and Reading Comprehension passages followed by multiple-choice questions. The Reading Comprehension passages might be short (100 to 150 words) or they could run as long as 850 words. The Critical Reading section is probably the portion of the SAT with the least variety in that each of the three Critical Reading sections is made up of a similar mix of Sentence Completion questions and short and long Reading Comprehension exercises.

Sentence Completion

The Sentence Completion questions of the SAT Critical Reading section are arranged in order of difficulty. The Sentence Completion questions that students encounter first will be the easiest and they will get successively harder throughout the test.

The questions are all multiple choice with five possible choices, and they involve selecting the correct word (or words) for filling in one or two blanks in a sentence. The missing word is usually a higher level vocabulary word (as are several of the possible answer choices) and these questions test the breadth of a student's vocabulary. These questions also test reasoning skills, as students must look for clues within the sentence to deduce the meaning of the missing word.

It is important to look for clue words in these sentences that give hints about the meaning of the missing word. For example, the word "although" might indicate that there is a contradiction in the sentence. Many people find success with these questions by covering the answer choices and figuring out a type of word that could fit in the blank. They then look at the answer choices and select the choice that is most synonymous with the word that they imagined.

While there is no scratch paper, it is fine to write in the examination book. Crossing out words that have been ruled out might help narrow down the choices and avoid careless mistakes.

Reading Comprehension

The Reading Comprehension passages and questions are not arranged in order of difficulty, so the hardest ones could be first, last or anywhere in between. The questions based on Reading Comprehension passages make up approximately 70 percent of the questions in the Critical Reading section. Reading Comprehension passages range in length from 100 to 150 words on the short end, to 400 to 850 words on the long end. There should also be at least one "paired" passage exercise, in which students read two related passages and answer questions that compare and contrast the two. The subjects of Reading Comprehension passages might be about humanities, social sciences, natural sciences or fiction.

One of the easiest tricks for tackling this section is to work on the shorter passages first. If there is an 800-word passage that looks long and complicated, do the shorter passages and come back to the long one. There is no rule that the questions in a section have to be answered in order. It is also advisable to take notes and underline or mark points in the passage that seem important to remember. Particularly for the longer passages, this can be a time saver when a question asks about a fine point buried somewhere in the passage.

There are certain common skills that the questions will test. Expect questions to ask about the main idea or overall point a passage is trying to make. Many questions also direct students to a particular line or group of lines in the passage and ask about the significance of that part of the passage. These questions are similar to main idea questions in that the students are interpreting meaning, but on a smaller scale.

Several questions ask students to identify what the author is implying. This might involve picking the choice that best explains what the author is suggesting but not stating. This type of question could also be asking students to identify something that the author has already assumed. Usually these questions direct students to a certain point in a passage. There are often several clues that could make these questions fairly straightforward. Be on the lookout for words that could be clues as to something the author believes but doesn't fully state.

Finally, there are several vocabulary questions in this section. These questions might direct students to a particular word on a particular line and ask the test taker to explain what the word means in the context of the passage. The word needing a definition is usually a word that could have two meanings, but it's contextual meaning should be obvious from reading the sentence in which is it used and perhaps reading a few sentences around it.