How to Improve Your SAT Reading Score – 10 Strategies

August 9, 2023

how to improve SAT reading score

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already taken the SAT and are looking for how to improve your SAT reading score. Or, maybe you’re looking for SAT reading tips to prepare for your first attempt. Not to worry, there are many SAT reading strategies to utilize. This article will share SAT reading tips that are sure to boost not only your SAT reading score but also your confidence.

What the SAT Requires

Firstly, let’s break down what material is covered on the SAT. The test is separated into two sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 200-800. The composite score of your SAT is the average of your section scores. This means the max score is 1600. So, since the scores are averaged, improving your SAT reading score will improve your composite score. The good news is, we’re going to break down SAT reading strategies to do just that.

How Many Passages in SAT Reading Test?

Before launching into our tips for improving your score, let’s answer a common question–how many passages are there on the SAT reading test? There are five reading passages on the test, each of which is followed by multiple-choice questions.

What is a good SAT score?

While a 1050 is the average score on the SAT, earning a higher score will make your application more competitive. For example, a score of 1350 or higher is likely to establish you as a more appealing candidate to admissions boards.

So, how do you improve your SAT reading score?

Improving your SAT Reading Score

1) Understanding What to Expect

In the SAT reading section, the questions will target your ability to understand words in context, your command of evidence, and standard English conventions. Additionally, the test will look at components such as the expression of ideas and best writing and language practices.

Typically, the SAT reading section offers three passages on different topics, such as US and world literature, history and social studies, and science. Students have 65 minutes to answer 52 multiple-choice questions in the SAT reading section.

Usually, the passages cover very niche topics, such as Victorian literature or the breakdown of an economic principle. Chances are, you won’t know the background of what’s being discussed. But, you shouldn’t let that intimidate you. One of the important SAT reading tips is to know that while additional knowledge on these topics may prove beneficial, all the information needed to answer each question will be provided in the passage.

 2) Take the Test Multiple Times

If you’re nervous about the SAT, you may wonder: do I really have to take the test more than once?

However, taking the SAT more than one time will help you familiarize yourself with the time constraints and the nature of the test. Plus, taking the SAT more than once can help demystify it so it no longer feels as daunting. Keeping track of when the SAT is offered is one of the good SAT reading tips.

In fact, there are plenty of free resources to utilize to take practice SAT tests before the real one. For example, the College Board offers sample SAT reading passages and test questions online. Reviewing sample SAT reading sections provides a better idea of how the questions are phrased and how the test is structured.

If you’re interested in scoring yourself, you can also utilize this free practice test. From Test Guide, this site offers 4 sample tests to choose from and provides instant results.

Ultimately, the more you take the SAT, the better you can identify what components are tricker for you than others.

How to Improve Your SAT Reading Score (Continued) 

3) Identify the Areas to Improve

Taking the SAT multiple times is beneficial because you can determine what trips you up. The time constraints or your ability to synthesize? Figuring out which component is trickier for you is one of the good SAT reading tips because it will help you figure out the best way to allocate your time.

Since you only have 65 minutes to complete this portion of the exam, you may be worried about finishing on time. Ideally, you should time yourself on each practice test. That way, you’ll have a realistic idea of how long it takes you to complete this section. If you’re routinely taking longer than 65 minutes, then you’ll know you need to focus on time management.

4) Bettering Your Time Management

One way to combat the time restraint is to skim the passage. You don’t necessarily need to remember every single line to understand the main ideas. With this strategy, you can finish reading the passage sooner and have more time to focus on the questions.

If you don’t feel that you’re confident about skimming each passage, you can practice with online articles or textbooks you have at home. This strategy may not work for every test taker, but with practice, it could be an efficient method to better your SAT reading score.

Another one of the SAT reading strategies is to read the questions first. Sometimes, questions on the SAT will refer to a specific line number. If a question asks you about line number 10, for example, then you would return to that line and understand the context around that section.

However, it’s important to remember not to take too long answering one question. Especially when the answer is not immediately obvious, it’s easy to feel stuck on a question. It’s a good rule of thumb to take 30 seconds to one minute on each question if you’re looking to finish in good time. If you’re still stuck after one minute, skip the question (or fill in a guess for the time being) and head to the next one.

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5) Start With Easier Passages First

Along those same lines, there is no rule that you must start with the first passage presented to you. For example, if you feel like you’ll do a better job beginning with the science-related passage, then start there. If you start with a section you feel confident in, then your confidence may even carry over to the next section.

6) Bettering Your Synthesizing

If the time constraint isn’t an issue, then you may have trouble understanding the questions. In the SAT reading section, questions are designed to have one unquestionably correct answer. Because of this, questions are often phrased like: Which choice best describes, or This word most nearly means, etc.

Sometimes, the phrasing of these questions feels foreign or confusing. Don’t worry, you may not be the only one who feels this way. The questions are formulated like this on purpose.

A good rule of thumb for answering questions on the SAT reading section is to think about how to eliminate obviously incorrect answers. For example, incorrect answers may be too generalized and broad. While the answer may seem reasonable, its vagueness will discount it as a correct option. Typically, generalized questions will leave off an important component or idea discussed in the passage.

Sometimes, an incorrect answer may be way too specific. I know you’re thinking, but isn’t that kind of answer better than a vague one? These answers are tricky because they focus on one specific detail from the passage. You might remember reading about that detail, but it doesn’t account for the main idea of the passage.

Other times, the answers may include a completely unrelated concept. These answers are somewhat tricky because even though this idea was not directly discussed in the passage, you could infer it. In short, outside information is referenced. Typically, these answers are traps intended to catch test takers who overthink.

So, what should you be focusing on while you read?

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7) Look for the Identifiers

Another SAT reading strategy is to first focus on locating identifying information. For example, names, dates, and times are key factors to help orient you within the text. We’ve already discussed how the SAT reading section curates passages on niche topics. So, while you may not be immediately familiar with the topic, you can always learn more about the primary goal of the text. For example, understanding the passage’s main idea is important to better analyzing the passage.

But, how do you keep track of what you’ve read?

8) Annotate the Passages

You are able to write on the test itself. If underlighting and notetaking, while you read, is an important part of your processing, then use this SAT reading strategy.

Making diligent notes while you read can help you quickly refer to specific passages and their main ideas. Especially when you’re on a timed schedule, these notes decrease the length of time it takes to reread. As you read, be on the lookout for main ideas and other big-picture summaries. Oftentimes, SAT reading questions are focused on larger-scale arguments and ideas.

Now that you better understand what to focus on, how long will take to improve your SAT reading score?

How to Improve Your SAT Reading Score (Continued) 

9) Establish a Realistic Timeline

Obviously, you should not expect to instantly improve your SAT reading score in one try. While everyone’s experience with the test is different, seeing instant progress may not be realistic for you. That’s okay.

Giving yourself enough time to retake the test and practice is necessary to help better your score. It’s important to set aside time specifically dedicated to SAT prep to ensure you test each SAT reading strategy to see what works best for you. Establishing realistic, incremental goals is a good first step to help better your overall score. For example, it might take 2-3 months to see significant improvement in your test scores. However, ensuring consistent practice happens over time is the best way to maintain steady progress.

10) Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Often overlooked, it’s also important to remember that there are SAT reading tips that do not involve studying. Ensuring you are in the best mindset to take the test is a great way to set you up for success. Think about it: the SAT is a 3-hour-long exam. If you’re feeling sluggish, you might not have the stamina to finish strong. Resting up the night before the SAT is a great way to start off on the right foot.

How to Improve Your SAT Reading ScoreIn Review

So, if you’re off to take your SAT, be sure to follow these suggestions to help boost your SAT reading score. Believe in yourself. Improving your score is within reach!