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SAT Critical Reading

SAT Critical Reading

The SAT’s Critical Reading sections test students with a variety of reading comprehension passages and vocabulary exercises. This section’s emphasis on reading skills (on passages that are usually fairly boring) can also challenge a student’s testing stamina, so we wanted to provide an overview of what test takers should expect on the SAT.


1. SAT Critical Reading Overview
2. Critical Reading Content
3. GLC’s Approach to SAT Critical Reading


SAT Critical Reading Overview

The SAT’s Critical Reading test focuses primarily on reading comprehension, with a lesser emphasis on vocabulary skills. The SAT will always include at least three (possibly four, depending on the experimental section) sections of Critical Reading material. But what will students see on these sections?

  • A Major Emphasis on Reading. The majority of the Critical Reading test consists of reading comprehension questions based on a selection of short, long, and paired passages that include both fiction and non-fiction material.
  • A Variety of Passage Types. The “standard” reading passage on the SAT is a long, non-fiction selection, but students will also see short passages, fiction readings, and pairings of both long and short selections in a random assortment.
  • Details Aren’t (That) Important. In school, students are often asked to read novels and articles for key details and stylistic elements like word choice and literary devices. Not so on the SAT, which focuses largely on “big picture” elements like main ideas, introductions, and conclusions. This can be a major adjustment for students, especially given the fast pace of the SAT’s Critical Reading sections.
  • Vocabulary Skills Pay Off. The Critical Reading test does include a number of vocabulary questions that require each student to select the most appropriate word to complete a sentence, so strong vocabulary skills and knowledge of roots, stems, and prefixes can be very helpful. Strong vocabulary also helps students get through reading passages more quickly and with better understanding.


Critical Reading Content

A breakdown of the two main question types on the SAT Critical Reading test is included below:


Reading Passages

As mentioned above, students should expect to see a variety of passage types and lengths on the SAT. Each passage is accompanied by several questions covering concepts like main idea, tone, vocabulary, and evidence. Students may see the following passage types on the SAT:

  • Short Passages. Test takers will see several short passages containing non-fiction material and 2-4 questions.
  • Long Non-Fiction Passages. The “bread and butter” SAT reading, this non-fiction reading is usually arranged in a familiar five-paragraph format, and contains approximately 6-12 questions.
  • Long Fiction Passages. Unlike the long non-fiction passage, this reading will be drawn from literature. Fiction passages often contain more vivid language, and will generally be less traditionally structured than their non-fictional counterparts.
  • Paired Passages. Each test usually includes one pair each of short and long passages, which generally discuss similar topics. Questions on paired passages focus primarily on the comparisons between the two versions, though some questions will only focus on one passage or the other.


Sentence Completion Questions

While the Critical Reading test prioritizes reading questions, it also includes a significant number of sentence completion questions testing students’ vocabulary skills. Students should be aware of a few important concepts about these questions:

  • Single-Blank Questions. On most questions, students will need to select one word to fill in the blank in each sentence. Strong vocabulary skills are helpful here, but students can also use context clues and look for certain types of words to eliminate unlikely answer choices and make educated guesses.
  • Double-Blank Questions. A few questions require students to select a pair of words to fill in two blanks in each sentence. Many students feel these are more difficult, but a strategic approach and a solid understanding of context can actually make these easier than single-blank questions in some cases.
  • Questions Get Harder. In general, each section of sentence completion questions gets progressively harder, so students should keep that in mind when budgeting time towards this material.


GLC’s Approach to SAT Critical Reading

In many ways, Critical Reading is the hardest SAT section to prepare for because its content comes from so many diverse fields. That’s why our curriculum focuses on teaching students skills that will serve them well regardless of the passage content or vocabulary words being tested on the SAT.


Developing Efficiency

While pacing challenges many students on the SAT, it’s usually the biggest concern on the Critical Reading sections simply due to the amount of reading that’s required. Coupled with the nearly four-hour length of the entire test, students are often too fatigued to focus properly on material in these sections. Our program helps students build active reading habits that help them stay fresh and pull the essential information out of each passage without wasting time on unnecessary details.


Teaching Universal Skills

Many students stress out when they prepare for the SAT because they try to memorize everything. Instead of spending dozens of hours reviewing flashcards and word banks, we stress concepts like word roots, prefixes, and context clues so students can apply what they already know on tricky questions and methodically arrive at more correct answers. Students who understand how to look for context and a few dozen simple roots gain an advantage on all of the SAT’s Critical Reading content without the long hours and stress of rote memorization.


Road Maps to Success

Many students get into trouble on the Critical Reading test because they approach all of the content the same way. While this can be reassuring, it simply doesn’t make sense to approach a long fiction passage the same way you’d approach two short, paired passages. Our SAT tutoring teaches students the best way to approach each type of reading passage and vocabulary question, helping them both save time and answer questions more accurately.


SAT prep is a great way for students to build the stamina, skills, and confidence to excel on the Critical Reading test. Click the button below to learn more about our program, view class schedules, or register for SAT Classes.


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