5 Digital SAT Reading Tips for a Top Score

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s DSAT Reading Comprehension Diagnostic

If you’re one of the many students taking the Digital SAT in order to apply for college admissions, you likely already know how important it is to achieve a high score. It can often mean the difference between an acceptance letter and a rejection!

The Digital SAT’s Reading and Writing section may seem like it’s subjective, or like it’s the kind of test that you can’t really prepare for. But that’s not true: acing the SAT’s Reading questions doesn’t require you to be an amazing reader (or a lucky one). It’s all about understanding how the Digital SAT’s questions and answers are designed, and knowing in advance what to look out for. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve guided thousands of students to top SAT scores, and we’ve developed a winning approach to cracking the SAT Reading questions. The SAT Reading tips contained in this guide aren’t just helpful hints: they’ll teach you exactly what the SAT test-makers want and how you can use that information to lock in a top SAT Reading and Writing score. 

One key factor in SAT Prep is your goal score, which depends on what colleges you plan to apply to. Below, we’ve compiled the median SAT score ranges for the top 500 US universities–download it for free and start planning!

Jump to section:
Digital SAT Reading and Writing Overview
SAT Reading tip 1: Find evidence
SAT Reading tip 2: Don’t infer
SAT Reading tip 3: Use clues for words in context questions
SAT Reading tip 4: Prepare for Logical Reasoning questions
SAT Reading Tip 5: Familiarize yourself with the types of SAT Reading passages
Next steps

The SAT Reading tips below are specifically designed to help you answer the Reading questions on the Reading and Writing section of the SAT. Although the whole section tests your verbal skills, only half of the questions test reading ability specifically: the other half test your grammar knowledge, on which we have a guide here

Although we have a full break-down of the SAT Reading and Writing section’s format and question types here, we’ll recap the main types of questions you’ll be asked below. Later in this guide, we’ll work through the specific ways to approach the Reading questions. 

So, what does the digital SAT Reading and Writing section test?

According to the College Board, the questions on the SAT Reading and Writing fall into four broad categories: 

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

But to tell you the truth, these categories are not the most helpful way to understand the test. (I mean, what doesn’t count as “information and ideas?) 

Instead, we recommend thinking about the SAT Reading and Writing section as being half-Reading, half-Writing, each of which with two broad question types. 

When it comes to the Reading questions, it’s much easier to think of them as testing two key skills: 

  1. Literal comprehension
  2. Evaluating logical/scientific reasoning

That’s it, really! While there are specific question types (more on that below!), these are the two fundamental skills tested by the Digital SAT’s Reading questions. 

Bear that in mind as we walk you through a comprehensive SAT Reading approach below. 

And, if you want to know what SAT score you should be targeting, feel free to download the free resource below: in it, we’ve compiled the median SAT scores at the top 500 US universities!

It’s good advice for a detective, but it’s absolutely crucial advice for the SAT Reading questions. 

If you’ve ever felt that an SAT Reading question was subjective or up to interpretation, the problem is likely that you weren’t thinking about it through the lens of evidence.

For every single SAT Reading question, there is only one answer that is supported by evidence from the text or passage. What do we mean when we say “supported by?” Well, it basically means that the answer is literally within the text of the passage. 

Doing SAT Reading questions is really like being a detective: identify what the question wants you to find, and then search for it within the passage. Once you find what you’re being asked about, read it literally and look back to your answer options: the correct answer is the one for which every single word can be supported with specific evidence from the passage. 

When practicing, try the following exercise–you’ll be surprised at how much clearer these questions become. 

For every SAT Reading answer option that you select, identify and note down the place in the passage that each part of your answer comes from. It’s all about the evidence: can you prove that the text says exactly what the answer option does? If so, you’ve got the right answer. 

This tip is so important we’ll really double down here: never assume, infer, or deduce. This is where students get themselves in trouble: they think about what might be true or what would make sense or what is reasonable

Thinking this way is a recipe for getting SAT Reading questions wrong. Remember Tip 1: find evidence! The only answer that is correct is the one that is literally stated within the passage (the one that you can point to evidence for). 

The moment you start thinking about what might make sense or what could be true, you’re already stepping away from how the College Board wants you to answer these questions. When you do so, you’re making it nearly impossible for yourself to get the right answer. 

You might be thinking: well, what about those questions that ask “It can most reasonably be inferred that…” or “The author would most likely agree with…”? Don’t these questions want you to do a little inferring? 

Nope! They’re phrased this way to trick you, plain and simple. No matter how the question is phrased, your answer is in the passage. That’s it! 

The moment you find yourself thinking about what could or would or should be true, stop yourself. Go back to the passage, and ask yourself: what does it literally say? 

Let’s keep the detective theme going here and talk about those pesky “Words in Context” questions. You’ll see a healthy serving of these questions at the very beginning of each module of the Digital SAT’s Reading and Writing section, so it’s crucial to have a strategy. 

While it’s important to know what each of your answer options means, these aren’t really vocabulary questions! They’re not asking you for the definitions for these words. What matters is whether the word in the answer option fits within the sentence they’ve selected. 

So, what decides what the right word is for the context? It’s not about what “sounds right,” it is, once again, all about evidence! For these questions, the sentence or sentences will always contain specific clues that indicate what the missing word is supposed to mean. Let’s take a look an example from a real Digital SAT practice test: 

Note: if you just plug these answer options into the sentence, they all sound fine. Grammatically, they all work. 

So, how do we decide which is correct? Look for clues: what else in this paragraph connects to our missing word?  

Well, we know that, whatever these particle physicists are doing in the first half of the sentence, it’s synonymous with “closely examine” in the second half of the sentence. That’s our clue: whatever our missing word is, it should mean the same thing as “closely examine,” since we know that both are descriptions of what the particle physicists are doing. 

As soon as you identify this clue, the question becomes much easier. Which of the four words is closest in meaning to “closely examine?” Well, that would have to be B, “inspecting,” which is the correct answer. 

This question is an easier one, but every words in context question operates exactly the same way. Mastering these is a great way to set yourself up for success on the SAT Reading and Writing section, and it’s a skill that takes time to learn. 

A great way to give yourself a headstart? Work with one of our tutors. They’re not just SAT experts: they’re experts at helping others ace the SAT. Over the course of a few sessions they can help you develop skills that you can use throughout the rest of your test prep journey. 

This is a totally new question type on the digital SAT Reading and Writing section, and one that is very difficult for most students. What does an SAT Logical Reasoning question look like? Check out the real example below: 

It is, unfortunately, a very wordy question, which is typical of this question type. So, what does this question test? Fundamentally, it’s asking you to identify the link between evidence and a conclusion

In this specific question, they want you to pick an option that would support the team’s hypothesis. The first thing to do is identify the hypothesis: “fork-tailed flycatcher females are attracted to the specific sound made by the males of their own subspecies, and that over time the females’ preference will drive further genetic and anatomical divergence between the subspecies.” 

That’s the easy part: the hard part of this question is to identify what answer options would support this hypothesis! Again, the key is evidence. Remember the exact language of the hypothesis, and refer back to it often. 

The first half of the hypothesis was specifically about the sounds male birds make, right? So, we can eliminate A and D, which don’t deal with sound. The second half of the hypothesis was about how there would be eventual divergence between subspecies, so we can eliminate C (which is about “communication,” an idea not present in the hypothesis). The correct answer here is B, since it’s the only one that connects to the conclusion. 

That was an easy example of the SAT’s new Logical Reasoning questions. Not only are many of these questions harder than the one above, but you’ll have to work through a lot of them–they make up almost a quarter of the SAT Reading and Writing test. 

A strong SAT Reading strategy absolutely depends on you getting lots of practice with these new, difficult Logical Reasoning questions. If you have any doubt about your ability with this question type, then you’d really benefit by connecting with one of PrepMaven’s expert SAT tutors, all of whom have been studying the new digital SAT to ensure they’re well-versed in every question type. 

Are you a lover of 19th and 20th century poetry? If so, the SAT Reading and Writing section has some treats for you. If not, on the other hand, you might find yourself dismayed: while not a huge portion of the test, you will see at least a couple SAT Reading passages that take the form of poetry excerpts. 

In general, you need to go into the  SAT Reading and Writing section with a clear strategy for different kinds of passages. Although the SAT Reading passages vary in content and form, they have one thing in common: they’re short!

How long are SAT Reading passages? On the digital SAT, they’re extremely short: SAT Reading passages are 25-150 words long. In other words, about a paragraph. You will only ever have to answer one question per digital SAT reading passage. 

So, what are the types of digital SAT Reading passages?

You should expect to see all of the following:

  1. Fictional/Literary
  2. Poetry
  3. Humanities/cultural
  4. Scientific 
  5. Political/historical

You’ll see all of these on each digital SAT you take. If you’re serious about locking in a top SAT Reading score, you’ll need to develop a reading strategy for each type of passage! Are you weaker with one area than others? Do you have a lot of experience reading one kind of text, but not another? You’ll need to compensate for that before test day. 

If you walk into the digital SAT without having read any poetry or any scientific articles for the past three years, those passages are going to take up more of your time, and you’ll struggle much more to understand their form and content. 

Fortunately, this isn’t hard to fix: get lots of reading practice in for each of these short passage types! We’re not saying you need to read whole books. But you should incorporate short reading passages from all of these fields into your SAT Reading practice routine. 

Not sure if your SAT Reading & Writing score is good enough? Well, it all depends on what college you want to go to! Take a look at the median SAT scores for the top US schools below, and you’ll have a better idea of where you stand. 

You might be wondering why we only put 5 SAT Reading tips here, but the truth is that these aren’t just tips: these 5 rules should be the backbone of your SAT Reading strategy. If you master these and incorporate them into your practice, you’ll see your score and understanding of the digital SAT improve rapidly. 

Of course, it’s not always easy to just implement new strategies by reading them. That’s why we strongly recommend any students targeting a digital SAT score above 1500 spend at least a little time with a top-tier test prep expert, like one of our tutors. 

Unlike some other companies’, our tutors don’t just have you drill countless problems. They help you dive deep into the fundamental concepts and strategies you need to understand to ace the SAT, ensuring that you have an edge on test day. 

In the meantime, feel free to keep reading our other guides on the digital SAT below: the test has changed, and you want to make sure you’ve got the latest information!

As you start your test prep journey, be sure to keep your end goal in mind: what’s a good SAT score for your target schools? There’s no easier way to find out than by downloading the free resource below, which contains the median SAT scores for 500 top US universities!

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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.