SAT Reading Test - Reading Skills

Testing Areas

The 2016 SAT features a Reading Test that is significantly different from older versions of the exam. The new Reading Test is intended to evaluate a broad range of reading skills using a wider range of subject matter than before. The College Board has classified these skills into two areas that are tested across the "Evidence-Based Reading and Writing" section and three areas that are specific to the Reading Test. "Command of Evidence" and "Words in Context" are foundational principles for the general assessment of verbal skills, and the Reading Test questions focus on three Reading Test-specific categories: "Information and Ideas," "Rhetoric," and "Synthesis."

Needed for Success

The SAT Reading Test is ultimately an assessment of students' ability to comprehend written texts. Though the skills necessary for high test scores are complex and multi-faceted, the overall goal is simple: college-level reading ability in a wide variety of disciplines. Test-takers must be able to draw both stated and implied information from reading passages, infer shades of meaning with respect to vocabulary, understand author purpose, analyze rhetorical strategies, assess the validity of arguments, and connect related ideas. These skills are tested with reading passages drawn from literary traditions around the world, historical documents, secondary sources in the social sciences, and the "hard" sciences such as physics, biology, and chemistry. The focus is on the reading skills noted above rather than subject-matter knowledge. All information needed to successfully answer Reading Test questions will be included in each individual passage. Test-takers do not need to concern themselves with acquiring specialized scientific or historical knowledge in order to receive high scores.

How to Read Test Passages

Reading efficiency is of the utmost importance to success on the SAT Reading Test. In this context, reading efficiency is defined as comprehension of all necessary information in the smallest possible amount of time. Speed is a valuable goal, because this leaves more time for the other test passages, but speed without comprehension is at best useless and at worst counterproductive. Briefly previewing Reading Test questions can help test-takers read the passages more efficiently. Students should look for references to specific lines in the questions, such as those that ask about specific words, and then place asterisks next to those lines in the passage. While reading the passages, distinguishing between evidence and argument can help test-takers answer the questions more quickly later. Underlining is a helpful tool in this regard, and can be helpful to prioritizing certain sections of the passage.

How to Read Test Questions

Careful reading of the test questions is of immense benefit to test-takers. Students should pay special attention to the exact nature of the question and the type of information that is being requested. This will help narrow down plausible answer choices and save time by creating a more streamlined process of elimination. For example, many Reading Test questions specifically ask for evidence of a given claim, but some of the answer choices are clearly not actual evidence and thus do not even need to be considered. Students should also pay special attention to the verbs used in the questions. When the verb "indicates" appears, for example, it can be assumed that the question concerns something stated directly in the passage, as opposed to information that needs to be inferred. Using SAT practice tests will help students become thoroughly familiar with the types of questions asked on the SAT Reading Test. These questions can then be applied to any text that students encounter in their academic and everyday lives, which will produce better SAT Reading Test scores and help develop a skillset that is invaluable to almost any area of academic study and professional life.

SAT Redesign and the SAT Reading Test

In its redesign of the SAT, the College Board has attempted to align the test more closely with the types of written texts typically found in high school curricula, and there is also a deliberate emphasis on testing the types of reading skills needed for success in college. The 2016 SAT can therefore be considered a substantive improvement over older versions of the test that to some degree assessed abilities (such as vocabulary memorization) lacking significant real-world applications. Student preparation should account for these changes to the SAT, and students should make sure that their preparation resources are current. Despite the College Board's praiseworthy efforts to create an assessment more relevant to the actual academic lives of students, success on the test remains a specialized skill, and the best preparation strategy is informed and experienced guidance.