Manhattan Review SAT Prep – Reading Test Question Types
SAT Reading Test Question Categories
The 2023 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 as well as paired passages. The College Board has divided the requisite skills into the categories listed below.
Command of Evidence
All of the 2023 SAT's assessments of verbal ability include questions based on the concept of Command of Evidence, including the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. Command of Evidence is also one of the SAT's sub scores, and a total of 10 Reading Test questions count toward this sub score (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 the author’s 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 put forth in reading passages.
Words in Context
Words in Context is one of the areas that underwent significant changes during the 2016 SAT revisions, changes that remain in effect for the 2023 SAT. Instead of obscure vocabulary words, the current SAT focuses on what the College Board calls "high-utility academic words and phrases," which appear in college-level readings across a broad range of disciplines. More importantly, multi-paragraph reading passages allow students to infer word meaning from context rather than 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 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 sub score. 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 determine the meaning of a word from various clues in a multi-paragraph text, while the latter requires test-takers to identify how word choice affects author meaning, style, or tone.
Information and Ideas
This category and the two below are specific to the SAT Reading Test and are not assessed on the Writing and Language 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.
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 persuasive 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 an argument an author is making, students must be able to understand author assertions and rank them by importance.
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 as they appear on the test, 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 sub scores, 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.
The more familiar students are with different types of SAT Reading Test questions, the more readily they will be able to identify what each question is asking of them when they take the exam. While the purpose of preparation is to quickly and correctly answer a given question, understanding the type of question being asked and what category it falls into can help students be more confident of what they are being asked to do and what information they should be looking for in order to select the best possible answer.