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How to improve SAT Reading scores?

Do you dread the SAT Reading section? Have you lost all hopes of obtaining a perfect score in SAT Reading? SAT Reading may be challenging for most students. This section contains five passages from three genres such as literary narrative, science, and, history/social studies. There is a lot of room for misinterpretation in this section. Students must have reading comprehension, graph analysis, and inference skills to answer all questions correctly. If you are in search of ways to improve your SAT Reading score, this article is for you. SAT-accepting Colleges in the USA like Chicago University, Yale University, Princeton University, and Columbia University among others expect high SAT Reading and Writing scores. On the other hand, the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Montreal are SAT-accepting colleges in Canada that demand high scores. We will explore the SAT Reading section and discuss effective strategies to improve your scores in this article.

SAT Reading: The Toughest Section

SAT Reading makes up 50% of the score of the Evidence-based Reading and Writing section. What makes SAT Reading so difficult? The SAT Reading Test assesses students’ ability to read and interpret texts. It consists of passages and students are allotted 65 minutes to complete the section. Some feel stressed due to time constraints while some find it challenging to comprehend the passage correctly. Similar to other sections, SAT Reading consists of multiple-choice questions. One might wonder what is so difficult about selecting the correct answer from four answer choices. But reading the passage, understanding it, identifying the important parts, and eventually finding the correct answer takes tremendous effort and patience.

What makes SAT Reading so hard?

While what is tough and easy depends on each individual, SAT Reading is a bit difficult to tackle even for the brightest students. Some students fail to understand the main idea of the passage, some cannot interpret words in the context of the passage, some struggle with reading speed and some lose motivation after repeatedly scoring low.

The answer choices can be confusing for students as SAT exams are quite different from what you are exposed to at the school and college levels. Students tend to overthink each question and end up making careless errors.

SAT Reading test
SAT Reading questions may be difficult for some students due to its difference from other school materials

How does the scoring work?

Understanding the scoring system is critical to obtain a perfect SAT Reading score. You might be familiar with the term raw scores and scaled scores. The raw score is converted into a scaled score which is again converted into a final score. Let’s have a look at the raw score to the scaled score conversion chart.

Raw Score (# of correct answers)

Reading Test Score































The SAT Verbal section consists of the Reading and Writing section. The scaled score of the Reading section is combined with the scaled score of the Writing section and then multiplied by 10 to convert it into a final score. The scores obtained will be within the range of 200-800.


Do you know any strategies to improve your SAT Reading score? If not, it is time to formulate a few preparation strategies. SAT Reading section is tricky to master but a few preparation strategies will go a long way in improving the scores.

How to improve critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking is a crucial skill essential for improving SAT Reading scores. A perfect score doesn’t come too easy. Reading critically allows one to analyze topics and form ideas after careful analysis. Here are a few tips you can use to master the art of critical reading. Practice SAT Reading section without timing yourself in the initial stages.

1. Practice reading

You have won half the battle if you know how to read the passages properly. First, read the background description given in italics. Underline difficult words in the passages and look up their meanings. Note them down somewhere. Read the entire passage thoroughly and evaluate whether you can understand the main idea of the passage. Try summarizing the passage in a few sentences. It may seem time-consuming at the initial stages. But your reading speed will increase with daily practice.

2. Eliminate the wrong answers

This is one of the easiest ways to arrive at the correct answer. Read the question carefully and first eliminate the irrelevant answers. You should be able to justify why a particular answer is wrong. This comes only with practice. Eliminate as many wrong answers as possible and narrow down your options to 2 answers. Read the relevant portion of the passage and find the correct answer out of the 2 final options. Justify why the answer is correct. By training your brain to justify why answers are right or wrong, you develop your critical thinking skills.

3. Mark the correct answer

Once you are done eliminating wrong answer choices, mark the correct answer on each page. This step is to make the reviewing process easier.

4. Review your answers

Go back to the questions and review your answers. Here are the possible scenarios you might face when answering the questions:

  • You chose a correct answer from 2-3 close answers. You couldn’t confidently eliminate 3 choices as you are unsure about why exactly they are wrong. Such a situation exposes your lack of ability to justify each answer. Students should identify these gaps and practice the elimination step properly.

  • You cannot confidently eliminate any answer choice. You are not sure which answer is right. This shows that you need to work hard on interpreting the text as well as the questions.

  • You eliminated the correct answer. This means there is some serious issue with how you are interpreting the text.

  • You eliminated all the wrong answers and arrived confidently at the right answer with the necessary justification. This situation proves you have mastered the SAT Reading.

These review sessions are meant to help you address the pain points. Pinpoint the areas that need improvement and dedicate time to resolve these issues.

5. Time yourself

After you gain a fair understanding of SAT Reading sections and complete a couple of practice exams, time yourself. Despite knowing all the right answers, you may still miss out on some questions due to a lack of time management skills. Keep learning new words and refresh your memory by frequently using these words in sentences.

Strategies by perfect scorers to get a perfect SAT Reading score

The raw score to scaled score conversion chart undergoes slight changes for every test. The scoring curve depends on the difficulty level. The harder the test, the easier would be the curve. However, you cannot depend on grading scales, and hope luck is in your favor. The best thing to do is aim for a perfect score. A perfect score will set you apart from the competition and give you admission into competitive colleges. Colleges like the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Princeton University require SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing scores between 700 and 780. Listed below are tried and true strategies by perfect scorers:

1. Understand your weakness

Once you start taking timed tests, you will understand your weaknesses. Each student struggles with different things. If interpreting texts and applying critical thinking skills is where you struggle, you need to practice more passage strategies. If you run out of time before completing the test, you need to focus on time management. Take note of the total number of questions remaining after the timer runs out and work on improving your speed.

2. Try different passage reading strategies

You can follow different passage reading strategies depending on what works best for you. Some students prefer reading the passage before the questions whereas others read the questions first. Here are a few techniques you can try to read the passage effectively:

  • Skim the passage first and then read the questions. Finish reading the passage in 3 minutes. The goal is to gain a general understanding of the passage. Go back to relevant lines in the passage after reading the questions.

  • The second technique involves reading the questions first and then marking relevant lines in the passage.

  • The third method is where you read the passage in detail and then answer the questions.

3. Identify your reading weaknesses

The Reading section tests different skills. Though the questions might look similar, students are required to exhibit a variety of skills. These include understanding the main idea of the passage, finer details, the function of sentences in the passage, vocabulary, analyzing text structure, and word choice among others. You have to identify exactly which reading skill needs to be improved. This requires lots of practice.

4. Read the passage introduction

Never skip reading the passage introduction at the beginning. This can save a lot of time and ensure you grasp the main point of the passage.

5. Pay attention to the passage you are reading and stay interested.

SAT Reading section could present you with a variety of topics. Not all topics may sound interesting to you. However, you have to stay interested in the passage till the end. It is easy to lose focus when the subject is not exciting enough. Keep your mind fresh and stay engaged while reading to answer all the questions with accuracy.

Student reading a passage
Pay attention to the passage you are reading and stay interested.

What not to do?

Now that we have looked at plenty of strategies to master the Reading section, it is time to know what not to do when preparing for SAT Reading. Here are a few don’ts to bear in mind:

1. Don’t give too much importance to vocabulary.

A good vocabulary does help when attempting the SAT Reading section. However, you don’t have to waste too much time mugging and memorizing new words. The current SAT doesn’t test students’ knowledge of complex words. Instead, it tests students’ ability to understand the words in the context of the passage. The same word could have different meanings in different contexts. If you fail to understand the context, mugging up definitions of new words won’t work.

2. Don’t passively read books and magazines.

People may advise you to read books and magazines to strengthen your reading skills. While this may help to a certain extent, you don’t have to go on a reading spree. Passively reading books and magazines doesn’t develop the necessary skills. Instead, take as many practice tests as possible and read different passages commonly asked during tests.

3. Don’t spend more than 5 minutes reading a passage.

Students get 65 minutes to solve 5 passages in the Reading section. Reading one passage should not take more than 5 minutes. After reading the passage in 5 minutes, you have 6 minutes to attempt all the questions per passage. Don’t get lost in reading and compromise on the time allotted to solve the questions.

Tips and tricks to improve your score

You can always resort to some tips and tricks to boost your scores. If you have been struggling with low scores for a while, the tips discussed below may help improve your scores. .

1. Don’t skip any questions

There is no wrong answer penalty in the current SAT. Students can attempt a question even if they don’t know the correct answer. Guess smartly, and don’t miss a chance to earn a point.

2. Identify question categories

Become familiar with the format of SAT Reading. Identifying the question type will make it easier to crack the section. Here are the categories of questions you will find in the SAT Reading section:

  • Primary purpose questions - These questions deal with the central idea of the passage.

  • Factual questions - These questions are based on facts stated in the passage. Students can easily find answers to these questions by referring to the passage.

  • Inferential questions - These questions ask students to draw logical conclusions based on the passage. Students cannot directly pick answers from the passage here.

  • Command of Evidence questions - This is a set of two questions. The first question is a general question whereas the second one will ask for the best evidence for the answer to the previous question.

  • Informational graph questions - These questions typically ask students to derive information from graphs, charts, or tables.

  • Words in context questions - These questions test students’ ability to interpret the meaning of certain words in the context of the passage.

3. Save complex questions for last

If you cannot answer a particular question, quickly move on to the next question. Solve the easier ones first and revisit the complex questions later. If you spend too much time on the tougher ones, you will rush through the easier ones and make silly errors.

4. Attempt dual passages one at a time

Dual passages mean two shorter texts about one topic. Either science or history passages could be dual passages. Maintain the order when answering dual passages. Attempt the first passage followed by the second, and, finally, questions about both passages. Stick to this order to avoid confusion.

5. Do main idea questions at the end

Each passage will contain one question about the main idea of the passage. You should keep this question for later and attempt all other questions first. By the time you have answered these questions, you will have accumulated enough knowledge to answer the question on the main idea effortlessly.

Practice, practice, and practice

Take enough practice tests to understand how the test works. Identify your weak areas and keep practicing daily to improve your score. You cannot hone your test-taking skills unless you are committed to serious practice. Determination, discipline, and hard work will help you master the SAT Reading. Students should dedicate ample time and energy when preparing for the SAT Reading. How to practice for SAT Reading? Read on to learn the correct ways to prepare for the SAT.

Invest time

Students should spend a minimum of 5 hours a week practicing various parts of the Reading section. If you are aiming for a 100-point increase in score within six weeks of preparation, you need to spend at least 30 hours studying. Time commitment depends on various factors. You will have to invest more hours per week if you have less time to prepare. If you are aiming for a perfect score, rigorous preparation is a must.

Avoid distractions and stay committed

Consider each practice test as an actual test. Avoid distractions like mobile phones or music and time yourself while practicing. Practice with complete focus. Choose a comfortable place and be mindful of your posture. Follow all the instructions as you would do on the actual test day.

Invest in the right practice materials

You need practice materials with tests that bear a close resemblance to the actual test. Space out your practice tests evenly so you get enough time to rectify the mistakes and prepare better for the upcoming tests. Make it a point to read reviews and seek feedback before purchasing practice materials.

Wrapping up

Mastering the SAT Reading section is not an insurmountable task. You just need to know the right way to approach each passage. Following the tips, tricks, and strategies discussed in this article will help you improve your SAT Reading score. If students can combine critical reading skills with pacing, they are bound to score well in the SAT Reading section. Preparing for SAT Reading can be mentally taxing. You need to take full-length practice tests before appearing for the final test. Some students become extremely nervous and develop anxiety when appearing for the final test. Practice builds mental stamina and boosts confidence.

SAT Reading has a tight time limit and practice is the only way you can master this section. Quit cramming, calm down before the test and apply all the tips and strategies you have learned to achieve your desired score.

What's Next?

Need professional guidance for your SAT preparation? Prestige Institute offers an individualized care system for students to take their preparation to the next level. It leverages state-of-the-art data platforms to deliver personalized sessions that suit the specific needs of students. Students can also choose programs such as one-on-one sessions or offline sessions depending on their preferences. Get in touch with us now to gain access to expert tutors, group study sessions, immersive cohort experiences, and customized study plans.

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