Hardest Digital SAT Reading Questions

Bonus Material:   PrepMaven’s Digital SAT Reading Comprehension Diagnostic

Scoring well on the digital SAT means being prepared for everything the College Board can throw at you–including the hardest questions! This is especially important with the new adaptive scoring system, since more difficult questions are effectively worth more points. 

If you plan on taking the SAT this year, you need to know exactly what to expect. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the hardest type of SAT Reading question with analysis of real examples. By preparing yourself now, you can guarantee yourself points on the test later down the road. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve spent the last 20+ years helping students ace exams, earn top SAT and ACT scores, and earn acceptances to selective colleges. Through that time, we’ve earned perfect 5-star reviews and countless enthusiastic testimonials. Behind every one of our blog posts and guides, you’ll find decades of experience guiding students like you. 

Read on to learn more about the hardest SAT Reading questions. If you want to get a sense of how well you really know the SAT Reading material, download our free diagnostic below–it uses real sample questions updated for the digital SAT!

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Unlike the old SAT, there’s no separate section for Reading or Writing. Instead, the digital SAT combines both into one Reading & Writing section, split across two “modules.” You can jump to our breakdown of the SAT Sections for more info, but we’ll summarize the key bits below. 

Each module has the same structure: 32 minutes for 27 questions. The reason College Board splits the section into separate modules has to do with the “adaptive” testing system they use. In a nutshell, the second module’s difficulty will depend on your performance on the first module. 

Do better on module 1, and you’ll get harder questions on module 2. It’s important to note that you’ll still see the same types of questions, just at different degrees of difficulty. 

One key thing to remember about digital SAT scoring is that not all questions are worth the same number of points. In essence, harder questions are worth more points than easier ones, so you want to ensure that you’re prepared for the toughest questions the SAT can throw at you. For a full breakdown of the digital SAT scoring system, including how the adaptive testing works, check out our digital SAT score guide here


According to College Board’s official categories, the SAT Reading & Writing Section tests: 

  1. Information and Ideas
  2. Craft and Structure
  3. Expression of Ideas
  4. Standard English Conventions

The first two categories correspond to the “Reading” questions; the second two categories are the “Writing” questions. 

If that’s not confusing enough, each of the main categories has specific subcategories that–more or less–correspond to question types.

So, College Board uses “Information and Ideas” questions to test: 

  • Central Ideas and Details
  • Inferences
  • Command of Evidence

And “Craft and Structure” questions to test: 

  • Words in Context
  • Text Structure and Purpose
  • Cross-text Connections

Confused by these categories and subcategories? You’re right to be: it’s a terrible system! It’s not just that the categories are broad and generic (“Information and Ideas” isn’t all that helpful); it’s also that these subcategories don’t actually make clear what skills are being tested. 

If you want to really understand the SAT, these College Board categories are less important than the underlying skills being tested by the SAT Reading & Writing section. Understand those skills, and you’ll understand what you need to do.

That’s why we’ve done our best to translate these College Board categories into more recognizable question types (you can read more about these on our guide to SAT Reading here), but you can really think of the main question types for Reading coming down to:

  1. Literal Comprehension
  2. Logical Reasoning

Literal Comprehension questions correspond to College Board’s “Words in Context, Test Structure and Purpose, Cross Text Connections, and Central Ideas and Details” categories. 

Logical Reasoning questions are really what College Board means when they refer to “Inference” and “Command of Evidence” based questions. 

It’s these logical reasoning questions that are, by far, the SAT’s most difficult questions. Even the smartest students we work with routinely struggle to understand and approach them! That’s why we’re putting together a guide on how to crack these questions. 

Want to see how ready you are for SAT Reading questions right now, without any additional prep? Download our Digital SAT Reading Diagnostic below, which uses real College Board questions to help you understand your weak and strong points! However well you do, we promise you’ll do better by taking advantage of our free resources and guides. 


We’re going to pick some of the toughest examples of these Logical Reasoning (or “Inferences” and “Command of Evidence”) questions, teach you how to recognize them, and break down how the SAT wants you to approach them.

SAT Reading Question Example 1:

Let’s start with an example of what College Board calls an “Inference” question, sourced from the College Board Digital SAT Question Bank: 

This kind of question can be brutal to tackle: how do you decide which of the answer choices is the “logical” one? 

The key to understanding these is to think of these passages as logical arguments. In essence, they’re made up of two pieces: evidence and a conclusion. The conclusion must always be supported by the evidence

When the Digital SAT asks you to “most logically complete the text,” they are always asking you for the conclusion. The only way to get to the correct answer is to identify all of the relevant evidence, and then identify which answer option matches up with it. 

So, let’s do a detailed breakdown of this question. 

Start by identifying all the evidence: 

  • 2010 census has almost 2x the number of species as 2000 census. 
  • This difference is only partially explainable by the new invertebrate species. 
  • Another factor is that there is uncertainty about how to define microorganisms as species.
  • Researchers’ decisions on how to do so are highly consequential.
  • The two censuses reported similar numbers of vertebrate, plant, and algal species. 

When we say evidence, we don’t just mean the numbers and stats: the evidence is all of the relevant facts leading up to the conclusion!

So, now that we have our evidence gathered, all we need to do is compare each answer option to the evidence and ensure that it is consistent

Let’s take a look at our four answer choices: 

  • Answer option A is inconsistent with our second piece of evidence, which specifically stated that the “new invertebrate” species could only “partially” explain the difference. 
  • Answer option B is consistent with all the evidence! Remember, we need to explain why one census had so many more species than the other one, even though both had similar numbers of “vertebrate, plant, and algae species.” The difference must be in the microorganisms, since our evidence tells us that there is uncertainty in how to define microorganisms, and that the scientists are the ones who make those decisions. If the first census considered many microorganisms to be the same species, but the second census considered them all to be different species, then of course the second study would have more total species. B is correct
  • Answer option C is inconsistent with the evidence, because it doesn’t explain why the second census had so many more species. All C talks about is differences within one species, which has no bearing on the total number of species recorded by the census. 
  • Answer option D is inconsistent with the evidence because it says Coll’s study underestimated the total number of species, but we know that Coll’s study is the one that had more species than the other study. 

It’s still not an easy question, but this method is your best bet at eliminating wrong answer choices and landing on the correct one. 

The key here is not, as College Board would have you believe, “inference.” It’s just the opposite: you need to stick as close as possible to the literal evidence, and ensure the answer choice you pick matches with all the points of evidence. 

To recap the method:

When a digital SAT Reading question asks you to “logically complete the text,” you must: 

  1. Identify all of the evidence in the passage. 
  2. Identify which answer option is consistent with all the evidence. 

These can still be tricky, but using this method will dramatically improve your chances! The other way of really increasing your chances at a great or perfect score? Get one-on-one help from an SAT expert who can walk you through methods like this one, answer your questions, and teach you personalized test prep strategies. 

Our tutors are the best in the business, and we’ve got the testimonials, the reviews, and the results to prove it. If you want to work with a PrepMaven tutor, contact us today. 

SAT Reading Question Example 2:

Not all SAT Logical Reasoning questions will ask you to “logically complete” the text. But they all expect you to use the same method we’ve just discussed. Let’s take a look at an example from what College Board calls “Command of Evidence:”

This one likely seems complicated, but it’s just a matter of applying our evidence and conclusion method to a slightly different question. Do that, and you’ll be able to eliminate the wrong answer options because they’re inconsistent with the evidence and/or conclusion!

Let’s sum up the evidence again: 

  • Mosasaurs were large marine animals that lived in the Late Cretaceous.
  • Oxygen-18 isotopes suggest mosasaurs were endothermic.

Summed up, that’s really our only evidence. The difference is we now have a conclusion/claim to think about as well: 

  • The team claims endothermy would have allowed mosasaurs to include relatively cold Polar regions in their range. 

It’s important to note that this isn’t evidence: it’s a conclusion/claim/argument/etc. that the team is making based on the evidence. 

Hint: Don’t get hung up on the science words/terms: you don’t need to know anything beyond what’s in the text. 

The question asks us to “support” their claim. All that means is that we need to pick an answer that is consistent with all the evidence and with their claim. In other words, something that makes their conclusion more likely to be true

Let’s take a look at the answer choices: 

  • Answer option A does not make it more likely that their claim is true. It’s irrelevant: we don’t care, in this case, about these other, non endothermic marine reptiles. 
  • Answer option B is inconsistent with the claim. Tricky, but think about it: the claim is that the mosasaurs could survive in the polar regions because they were endothermic. If there are equal numbers of endothermic and non-endothermic animals at the poles, then that would suggest being endothermic has nothing to do with Polar survival. 
  • Aha! Now answer option C is the opposite, and is exactly what we need. It’s consistent with the evidence and the claim: if mosasaurs were found at the pole but non-endothermic animals were not, then being endothermic would seem to be what allowed the mosasaurs to survive at the poles. 
  • The “D” must stand for “dud:” answer option D is irrelevant, since we don’t care about current sea temperatures. They’ve got nothing to do with mosasaur survival at the poles!

Once again, we were able to take a brutally difficult, dense question and break it down. Let’s recap:

When the question presents you with a claim and asks you about “supporting,” “weakening,” “undermining,” or “bolstering” it, here’s what you do:

  • Identify the claim/argument/conclusion/hypothesis
    • Remember: this is not a fact or evidence. This is what someone is arguing or trying to prove. 
  • Identify all the facts/evidence. 
  • Pick the answer option that is consistent with the evidence and (depending on the question) undermines or supports the claim. 

You can find a useful diagnostic packet of Reading question types here for free. It’s a great study resource–and it’s even more effective when paired with personalized instruction from one of our expert test prep tutors! 


Let’s recap. The hardest part of the SAT Reading & Writing section for most students will be what College Board calls “Inference” and “Command of Evidence” questions. 

We really don’t like those terms because they don’t capture what’s actually being tested. Instead, we encourage you to think of them as Logical Reasoning questions. They test your ability to interpret, weaken, and support logical, evidence-based arguments. 

How do you recognize these question types? There are a few key giveaways: 

  • Any question that asks you what “logically completes” a phrase or passage.
  • Any question that uses language about “weakening” or “supporting” a conclusion, claim, hypothesis, or argument. 
  • Any question that asks you to compare visual data (a chart or graph) with a text passage. 

How do you eliminate incorrect answer choices and get to the correct one?

Look for logical consistency! The right answer will align with the evidence and either support or contradict the conclusion (depending on the question). The wrong answers will not properly match up with the evidence and/or the conclusion. 

All three of these question types will come up on your SAT. No doubt about it. The only question is whether you’ll be flustered by them (like most students) or be ready for them. 

Of course, these question types–while the most difficult–are only a small part of the puzzle. Getting a high or perfect score on the SAT requires mastering every part of the test. If you’re serious about aiming for that goal, we recommend you spend some time reading our detailed breakdowns of the digital SAT. 

You can find everything you need to know about digital SAT scoring, format, and overall concepts tested by following the links to each post. Plus, you can dive deep into SAT strategy with our breakdowns of SAT Reading concepts, SAT Math questions, and SAT Grammar rules


This guide will help you start developing your SAT strategy for tackling the hardest reading questions, but it’s not enough on its own to help you get a top score. 

For that, you need to practice, practice, practice. We recommend starting with our free SAT Reading diagnostic quiz below, which uses real SAT questions to help you identify what you need to focus on. 

Then, sit down with one of our SAT experts to review and come up with a test prep plan tailored to your goals. Our tutors range from top-scoring undergraduates at Ivy League colleges to test-prep wizards who’ve been tutoring for decades. Whatever your goals, we’ll find the right tutor for you. 

In the meantime, explore our related strategy guides below, and happy prepping. 


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Mike

Mike

Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.