SAT Reading Test - Question Types

The 2016 SAT Reading Test, which is part of the "Evidence-Based Reading and Writing" section of the exam, consists entirely of multiple-choice questions that require students to demonstrate comprehension of individual reading passages and paired passages. The College Board has divided the requisite skills into the categories listed below.

Command of Evidence

All of the 2016 SAT's assessments of verbal ability include questions based on the concept of Command of Evidence, including the Reading Test, Writing and Language Test, and Essay. Command of Evidence is also one of the SAT's subscores, and a total of ten Reading Test questions count toward this subscore (two for each of the test's five reading passages). Command of Evidence questions on the SAT Reading Test evaluate the following skills: determining the best evidence, interpreting data presented in graphics, drawing connections between text and graphics, and understanding author use of evidence. Test-takers must be able to find the best evidence in a reading passage in order to answer a question, infer answers from informational graphics, connect written text to information presented graphically, and assess an author's use of supporting evidence (or lack thereof) for arguments advanced in reading passages.

Words in Context

Words in Context is one of the most significant areas of improvement for the 2016 SAT. Instead of obscure vocabulary words, the new SAT focuses on what the College Board calls "high-utility academic words and phrases," which appear in college-level readings in a broad range of disciplines. More importantly, multi-paragraph reading passages allow students to infer word meaning from context rather simply regurgitating dictionary definitions. Contextual inference is a much more useful academic skill than vocabulary memorization. As with Command of Evidence, Words in Context is an area evaluated across all verbal sections of the new SAT, and there are 10 Words in Context questions on the Reading Test (two per reading passage) that represent a portion of the Words in Context subscore. Words in Context questions on the Reading Test are of two types: interpreting words in context, and analyzing word choice rhetorically. The former asks students to assess the meaning of a word from various clues in a multi-paragraph text, while the latter requires test-takers to determine how word choice affects author meaning, style, or tone.

Information and Ideas

This category and the two below are specific to the 2016 SAT Reading Test. Information and Ideas questions are described by the College Board as falling into six "types": reading closely, citing textual evidence, determining central ideas and themes, summarizing, understanding relationships, and interpreting words and phrases in context. The skills evaluated include finding directly stated or implied information, choosing passages that best support a conclusion, understanding main themes, recognition of summarization, determining relationships between ideas, and discerning the meaning of specific words in the context of reading passages.

Rhetoric

This question category focuses on analysis of reading passages with respect to word choice, text structure, point of view, purpose, and argument. The term "rhetoric" can be defined as the art of persuasion in the use of language, and the SAT Reading Test requires students to understand various techniques. Word choice questions are concerned primarily with effect rather than definition, and text structure questions require comprehension of organizational strategies such as problem-solution or cause and effect. Point of view questions ask about the perspective of the author, while purpose questions necessitate inference of the author's agenda. To successfully answer questions about author argument, students must be able to understand author assertions and rank them by importance.

Synthesis

Questions in this category are oriented around the analysis of multiple texts and quantitative information. The "synthesis" category of the Reading Test is therefore only relevant to paired reading passages and reading passages with informational graphics. Paired passages generally include two texts on a similar topic in history/social studies or science. Test-takers answer questions about consistency or discrepancy between passages. Passages with informational graphics require students to find information, draw conclusions from charts and tables, and understand how graphics support textual assertions.

SAT Reading Test questions are not labeled by category, but it is often a simple matter to discern which skill is being tested by noting the specific wording of the questions. For example, students should look for keywords and phrases such as "main focus," "stance," or "asserts," all of which suggest analysis of argument. In addition to the Command of Evidence and Words in Context subscores, some Reading Test questions are also components of the Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science cross-test scores. These are usually identifiable by the nature of the questions and subject matter of the passages.