The SAT Reading Test

Written by tutor Jeff S.

The reading portion of the SAT test, also known as the Reading Comprehension or Critical Reading section, is designed to test your ability to read a short passage and answer a set of questions about what you just read. There are both reading comprehension and interpretation questions.

Reading Comprehension Questions

The reading comprehension questions test the student’s ability to answer informational questions about a short passage they just read. For example, a comprehension question might ask who the main character was or what the topic of the passage was. You can find the answers to comprehension questions written directly in the passage.

Interpretation Questions

Interpretation questions test student’s ability to answer questions that are not directly stated in the passage. You have probably had plenty of practice answering questions such as, “Why do you think the author chose to include that character in the story?” These questions require students to think about what they read in the passage and use context clues to “read between the lines.” Authors do not include answers to these questions in their writing.

SAT Critical Reading Strategy

Both types of questions require different answer strategies. There are two ways to approach comprehension questions. One strategy is to read the passages slowly so that you understand the details the first time through. Students will be able to answer comprehension questions much more quickly if they don’t need to re-read the passage to find the answer. Another strategy is to read passages at a steady pace and then answer questions you know first. Then, go back and re-read some or all of the passage for help on the questions you skipped.

Interpretation questions require some deeper thinking and can take a little longer to answer. Interpretation questions are open-ended and begin with words and phrases such as “why” or “why do you think.” Re-reading some or all of the passage may be necessary for answering these questions, too. Test-takers will better understand passage details if they can locate the author’s clues. However, answers are not written directly in the passages.

Regardless of the strategy you choose, be very careful if you decide to skip questions. Take extra care to ensure you don’t skip too many lines on your answer sheet. One way to safeguard yourself from this is to look at the number on both your answer sheet and in your question book before marking your answer. Don’t rely on the “I skipped two questions, so I need to skip two answers” method. Miscalculating this once can affect the rest of your answers.

A Third Type of Question

Occasionally students will encounter questions called “double comprehension” questions. These questions ask students to answer questions about the relationship between two or more passages. For example, a question might ask, “How are the main characters in the last two passages similar?”

The suggested strategies for answering interpretation questions also applies here. The passages will, most likely, be written by different authors with unique writing styles. Students may need to re-read each passage to uncover clues that will help them answer the question(s).

For example, Isaac Asimov and H. G. Wells both wrote Science Fiction novels in the early 20th century, however, their writing styles are very different. Isaac Asimov was a scientist as well as a novelist, whereas H. G. Wells had a college degree in biology and was a teacher before becoming a writer. Asimov easily described artificially intelligent, mechanical robots in his “Robot” book series, while Wells awed readers everywhere with his story of earth-visiting aliens, “The War of the Worlds.”


The SAT Reading Rest – also called the Reading Comprehension or Critical Reading Test – assesses the student’s ability to answer questions about a short reading passage. There are two main types of questions: comprehension and interpretation questions. Comprehension questions relate to details that are stated directly in the passage while interpretation questions ask students to dig deeper and “read between the lines.” A third, rare type of question is called a “double comprehension” question. These are often interpretation questions and ask test-takers to consider how two passages are related.

Comprehension questions are answered either by slowly reading the passage so students understand the details the first time through, or, by answering questions you know first and re-reading the passage as needed to answer the skipped questions. Interpretation questions are open-ended questions that begin with words or phrases such as “why” or “why do you think.” Answers are not written directly in the passage, which requires that test-takers understand the passage’s details well and can “read between the lines.” “Double comprehension” questions require the same strategy used for interpretation questions.

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