16 Easy SAT Reading Tips to Get a Perfect Score

Bonus Material: 8 Extra SAT Reading Hacks from the Experts

What SAT Reading tips do you need to get a perfect score?

We get asked this question a lot.

The SAT Reading test is the first section of the SAT. With this section, students have a little over an hour to complete 52 questions associated with 5 passages.

This is a tough section for many reasons, but the good news is that a perfect SAT Reading score is in range for students who apply the right strategies and prepare accordingly. 

In this post, we offer 16 easy, expert SAT Reading tips for getting a perfect score on this section. We also have an additional 8 SAT Reading hacks, which you can download below!

Here’s what we cover in this post:


16 Easy SAT Reading Tips to Get a Perfect Score

Tip #1: Familiarize yourself with this strategy-based section

Many students preparing for the SAT assume that the reading section is just that: a section that requires test-takers to read some stuff and answer questions about it.

That is only partially true. 

In fact, the Evidence-Based Reading section is a bit more complex than that. It has a wide variety of reading passages, for one thing, a strict time limit, and tough questions. 

The first thing you should do on your path to a perfect SAT Reading score is understand exactly what this section looks like in terms of the following:

  • Format
  • Scoring
  • Strategy

Format

The SAT Reading section is first in the lineup of sections on the SAT.

Here are the nuts and bolts of the SAT Reading section’s format:

  • Time limit: 65 minutes
  • Questions: 52
  • Passages: 5 (one of these is a dual passage)
  • Genres of passages: History, social science, natural science, literary narrative

The passages can appear in any order, with the exception of literary narrative: that always comes first.

Dual passages, passages that contain two shorter excerpts from different pieces, will always be history, social science, or natural science–never literary narrative.

It’s also worth noting that not all of these passages will be contemporary, meaning that they’ve been written recently. At least one passage will be an “older” text, such as:

  • An excerpt from a nineteenth- or twentieth-century novel
  • A selection from a Federalist paper or other founding document
  • 18th or 19th century speeches

Scoring

Your SAT Reading score is combined with your SAT Writing & Language score for a total Verbal score of 400-800.

On its own, your SAT Reading score is calculated on a scale of 200-400. Basically, the College Board converts the number of questions you get right on SAT Reading (your raw score) into a scaled score of 200-400.

This conversion process is different for every test, due to the fact that no SAT is the same. But it is possible to approximate the relationship between raw and scaled scores.

For example, based on our assessment of the raw score conversion tables for the College Board’s officially released SAT practice tests, we can conclude that students need to get X questions right on SAT Reading to earn a “perfect” score.

That’s right–you don’t have to get every single question right in order to earn a perfect SAT Reading score

This has to do with the College Board’s “equating process,” the process it uses to convert raw scores into scaled scores based on that exam’s difficulty.

Strategy

The SAT Reading section is the only section on the SAT that doesn’t require outside content knowledge. That’s both good and bad news.

The good news is that you don’t have to memorize author names, texts, or dates for this section. You don’t even have to study a lot of vocabulary, necessarily.

The bad news is that you’ve got to learn and implement strategy on this section. For many students, this is an unfamiliar component of test-taking. In a typical high school English classroom, students aren’t tested on their capacity to be strategic test-takers.

But the good news in that bad news is the fact that there are a lot of tried and true strategies out there for succeeding on SAT Reading, many of which we discuss in this post.

What’s more, if you find yourself bringing in outside knowledge to answer an SAT Reading question, that’s a sign that you’re veering towards a wrong answer choice. All of your information should come from the passage, and the passage alone.

Before you keep reading, we recommend that you check out these other 5 things you should know about SAT Reading.

Tip #2: Start by knowing where you stand

Before you start prepping, it’s vital to take an SAT practice test if you haven’t done so already. 

Taking an official practice test under test-like conditions will give you the most accurate reading of where you currently stand on SAT Reading.

A diagnostic score report can also be very revealing in terms of the following:

  • Timing
  • Accuracy with passage and question types
  • Testing habits

Find all officially released practice SATs and advice on self-proctoring a diagnostic test here

After you take your first SAT practice test, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which passages did I have higher accuracy on? Least accuracy?
  • Where might timing have been an issue?
  • What types of questions am I missing consistently? What types am I acing?

Answering these questions can be helpful for establishing goals in your SAT Reading prep. They can also be helpful for pinpointing where your strengths lie on this section (a key point we discuss in Tip #5).

Tip #3: Establish a realistic timeline for increasing your score

Some students assume they can cram for the SAT and boost their score that way. Unfortunately, this is not a solid strategy for earning a perfect score on any SAT section.

SAT test prep takes time. We encourage students to set aside at least three months–and often many more–to prepare for this exam.

This is especially important for SAT Reading, which requires a significant amount of strategy and practice. We discuss SAT goal-setting in more depth in this post here

We also want to reiterate that it’s not necessarily realistic to set your target score as a perfect 400 out the gate, unless you are already very close to this number. Establish incremental goals that can get you closer to that perfect score over time.

When establishing these goals, it can be helpful to think in terms of number of questions correct (as opposed to the scaled score itself). 

For example, if you get 35 questions right on your first SAT Reading section, a reasonable goal would be to get 40 questions right on the next round (then 45, 50, etc.). Think about maximizing your raw score (the questions you get right) and this will maximize your scaled score.

Tip #4: Think like the test-makers, not a test-taker

The test-makers design the SAT Reading section to be challenging. They want students to fall for trap answers and use their time inefficiently. They want students to answer questions in predictable ways.

That’s why it’s important to think strategically on SAT Reading. Be on the lookout for ways that the SAT is trying to trick you–the more you can anticipate these traps, the more likely you are to not fall for them! 

Here’s one example.

The literary narrative passage is always the first passage on SAT Reading. At first glance, this passage sounds easy-peasy. Fiction? Characters? Dialogue? Cool!

But on second glance, the questions associated with this passage are detail-oriented and time-consuming. Many students who start with this passage end up losing a lot of time, especially if the passage is from an older literary text, like Pride and Prejudice.

You guessed it: the test-makers do this for a reason. They want you to waste your time on this first passage so you have limited time to get to the others! The predictable test-taker will do this passage first.

The savvy test-taker will not.

Tip #5: Identify where your strengths lie and always play to these

There is no wrong answer penalty on the SAT. This means that students do not lose points when they answer a question incorrectly.

They simply do not gain any points. 

For this reason, there’s no harm in guessing! Students should never leave answers blank on SAT Reading. 

Every question is also worth the same amount of points on each individual section of the SAT. There is no point value difference between an easy SAT Reading question and a hard one.

Make your life easier from the outset by prioritizing what is easier for you in terms of:

  • SAT Reading passages
  • Questions

For example, if you consistently have high accuracy on questions associated with Science passages on the SAT Reading section, start with those passages. If you always nail Words in Context questions, do those first for every passage.

Save the harder passages and questions for the end–or for guessing. Beginning with your strengths on SAT Reading is the surest way to guide you closer to a high score.

Want even more SAT Reading tips? Check out these additional hacks from the experts.

Tip #6: Boost your fluency in SAT Reading question types

In line with Tip #5, it’s important to recognize the different types of questions you’ll encounter on SAT Reading.

This fluency will help you pinpoint your strengths and cater to these. It can also clue you in to the predictability of SAT Reading. It will have the same types of questions every time, after all. 

And each question type will have its own predictability, especially in terms of wrong answer choices.

Here are the types of questions you can expect to find on SAT Reading:

  • Words in Context
  • Command of Evidence
  • Function / Purpose
  • Main Ideas
  • Detail or Line Reference
  • Inference
  • Charts & graphs

Words in Context

These questions ask students to choose a word or idea similar in meaning to a word or idea used in the passage, as in this example here from the College Board’s Official SAT Practice Test #1:

Command of Evidence

These ask students to select a line reference in the passage that best supports their answer to the previous question. Students can expect to encounter 8-10 of these on SAT Reading.

Function / Purpose

Function or Purpose questions are interested in a student’s knowledge of the purpose of a part of the passage, whether that’s a line, word, paragraph, idea, or passage as a whole.

Main Ideas

These questions are all about main ideas of passages as a whole, a series of lines, or paragraphs.

Detail or Line Reference

Detail or Line Reference questions ask test-takers about specific details in the passage, often with a line reference attached. On the literary narrative passage, these often concern character analysis.

Inference

An inference is a logical conclusion one can make from presented evidence. With Inference questions on SAT Reading, students must make a logical inference based off of a specific part of the passage.

Charts & Graphs

This question type always surprises students. Why do figures and charts appear on SAT Reading, a verbal section? Good question! It’s all part of the SAT’s effort to test a student’s ability to synthesize many different types of information.

Luckily, these questions aren’t normally too difficult. Some can be answered without even reading the passage. Others depend on a working understanding of a passage’s main idea(s).

Tip #7: Recognize typical wrong answer choices

The more you can learn to recognize typical wrong answer choices, the greater your odds are of avoiding these traps on SAT Reading.

Some common wrong answer choices include:

  • “Extreme” answers, which often include words like never or always
  • Inferences that go too far beyond the passage
  • Distortion of details or keywords from the passage
  • Verbiage that sounds “nice” but can’t be backed with passage evidence
  • References to outside knowledge

Notice a common thread in these? You guessed it — wrong answer choices are wrong because they can’t be supported with direct evidence from the passage.

Students should thus get in the habit of identifying evidence in the passage for every answer choice they select, not just for Command of Evidence questions. That’s why it’s called the Evidence-Based Reading section!

Tip #8: Don’t get lost in those answer choices, by the way

This is one of the most important SAT Reading tips we pass along to our students. Many test-takers get in the habit of reading through all of the answer choices before coming up with an answer to a question.

Don’t do this! This increases your odds of getting sidetracked by a “shiny” trap answer.

We recommend reading the question first, researching your answer in the passage, making a prediction, and then eliminating answers that don’t match your prediction. 

Tip #9: Divide and conquer on the dual passage

Don’t forget that one of the 5 SAT Reading passages includes a dual passage. This means students will have to read two smaller passages in one, and answer questions about both.

Instead of reading through these two passages before getting to the questions, divide and conquer! Make your life easier by tackling only one passage at a time.

  • Take a look at the questions
  • Tackle the passage that has the most questions first
  • Answer questions for that passage
  • Tackle the other passage and its respective questions
  • Complete questions about both passages

This strategy means that you only have to think about both passages at once for the questions that concern both (arguably the harder questions on the dual passage).

Want even more SAT Reading tips? Check out these additional hacks from the experts.

Tip #10: Annotate, annotate, annotate

SAT Reading passages are complex, dense, and boring. Maintain focus by annotating when you engage with any passage.

What does it mean to annotate?

Pay attention to main ideas as you work a passage. Jot down the main idea for every paragraph in the margins, circle words you recognize from the questions, and underline anything that feels relevant.

Students should focus less on details. They should prioritize big picture ideas and arguments as they annotate, as SAT Reading questions are most interested in these.

These notes can be extremely valuable later on as students answer questions, providing a specific road map for passage ideas (and ultimately answers).

Tip #11: Think in terms of main ideas

This tip goes hand-in-hand with #10. It’s important to consider main ideas when reading an SAT passage.

But it’s equally important to answer questions with these main ideas in mind. In fact, in many cases, it’s possible to employ process of elimination based on which answers are in line with the passage’s central claim, and which aren’t.

In this question, for example, test-takers should first consider the main idea of the paragraph that houses these lines. Odds are that the answer to this question has something to do with that main idea!

Tip #12: Be literal

Once again, this is one of the most important SAT Reading tips we pass along to our students.

Every correct answer to every SAT Reading question can be found in the passage itself. This means that students should be very cautious if they find themselves making assumptions, huge inferences, or other logical leaps.

Approach questions literally! Work only with what you see in the passage and in the question stem. Be very skeptical of answer choices that lead you away from these two things.

Tip #13: Read while you prep

Students will encounter a wide range of passages on SAT Reading, including some genres they might not regularly read.

These especially include older literature and primary documents, scientific articles, and speeches.

That’s why we encourage students to have a reading list on hand as they prepare for this difficult section. This doesn’t have to be intensive! 

It could be as simple as subscribing to a publication like The Economist, reading an article in a scientific journal that interests you, or working through a chapter of Jane Eyre a week.

For added practice, mentally paraphrase the main ideas of what you’re reading–or even annotate!

Tip #14: Prioritize accuracy over quantity

Accustomed to having to answer every question on a high school test, many test-takers race through SAT Reading. They try to answer every question, even if some of these answers are guesses.

This is not a strategy to embrace on SAT Reading or the test as a whole. Speed often leads to inaccuracy. Students are more likely to earn a higher score in general if they prioritize getting more questions right rather than answered.

Playing to your strengths and embracing a guessing strategy can help with this. The same goes for regularly assessing your progress via practice tests, which we discuss in Tip #16. 

Tip #15: Don’t forget about Writing & Language

Your SAT Verbal score consists of your SAT Reading score and Writing and Language score. As you think about boosting your SAT score, don’t forget this crucial point.

If you’re aiming for a perfect or near-perfect score on SAT Verbal, it’s important to devote equal prep time to this other section. 

While the passages on Writing & Language aren’t nearly as complex as those on SAT Reading, your prep on these two sections can be complementary. About 50% of questions on Writing & Language concern your understanding of context, main ideas, and logical argument.

We recommend starting by learning these 13 grammar rules tested on Writing & Language, if you haven’t done so already.

Tip #16: Practice close to the source, and practice often

When it comes to standardized test prep, it’s important to utilize practice materials that are as close to the source as possible.

What does this mean? Begin by working with College Board prep materials, as this is the company that produces the SAT. You can find all 10 official College Board practice tests here.

We also encourage students to create a study plan prior to prepping for any section of the SAT. This study plan should include regular, timed practice tests.

Frequent practice tests are vital for SAT Reading prep, given that this section has a particularly tight time limit, and success depends on a variety of strategies we’ve discussed in this post.

Download 8 Additional SAT Reading Hacks

Want more help on SAT Reading? We’ve put together 8 of our very best SAT Reading hacks in addition to the awesome tips in this post.

SAT Reading Tips and Hacks

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • 8 of our very best SAT Reading Hacks
  • Examples from official SAT practice tests


Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.