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Common SAT Reading Mistakes

Test days make almost everyone nervous, especially SAT test days. As a result, it’s all too easy to make simple mistakes that will bring your score down section by section.

Don’t get caught up on these easily avoidable but common SAT reading mistakes.

Take a minute to check out our various SAT prep course options, so you can avoid these mistakes yourself.


common sat reading mistakes

Time Mismanagement

The SAT Reading section puts test-takers through intense time constraints that are easily mismanaged.

In a little over 1 hour, you need to answer over 50 questions and read 3000 words. With each provided passage covering approximately 12 questions, you should try to spend 12 minutes on each passage section.

This particular pace:

  • Forces you to spend no more than 1 minute per question.
  • Allows for approximately 5 minutes of time to review your answers.

It’s a punishing pace, but one that’s possible with practice. To get a good rhythm down:

  • Get ahold of SAT practice tests (normally from past administrations).
  • Time your pace through the Reading section.
  • Assess completed answers vs correct answers.
  • Address common problems or question types that provide the trouble.

With enough practice, you can develop an internal rhythm that can handle mental stress while also staying mentally clear when answering.

Ignoring Passage Context

Remember to pay attention to the context and passage type of each chunk of reading content you’ll be tested on.

The Reading section uses the following five passage types:

  • One passage using a classic or contemporary piece of either U.S. or world literature,
  • One to two passages from either a US founding document or text inspired by one from abroad,
  • One passage covering a social science including, but not limited to, economics, psychology, or sociology,
  • Two science-specific passages examining foundational concepts and changes in Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, or Physics.

If you can quickly identify the passage type, then you’ll have an idea of what kinds of questions to expect:

  • For literature passages, expect questions about literary device usage.
  • Science passages test your ability to use clues in context to examine an unfamiliar topic.
  • Historical document questions will likely test the historical context they were created within.

Remember, the faster you can identify context, the quicker you’ll understand what’s being looked for answer-wise.


Using Outside Information

Remember, all the information you need to solve the questions is in front of you.

On most other tests, you call upon your overall base of learned knowledge. The SAT, on the other hand, will lead you astray if you take that same testing approach. Remember these points:

  • The SAT Reading section doesn’t assess your existing knowledge.
  • The Reading questions assess how well you use and apply the provided information.

A question may ask you about a particular word’s meaning. Don’t try to remember what it is from a past class.

Instead, look for clues and context in the rest of the question. More often than not, the answer regards the word’s meaning in context, not the pure dictionary definition.

Underestimating Multiple-Choice Answers

Take full advantage of the provided format.

Remember that the right answer is literally staring back at you, so your concentration doesn’t have to burn itself out. There are two major ways to capitalize on the multiple-choice format:

  • Process of Elimination.
  • Reading All Possible Choices First.

The process of elimination is straight forward and works to your advantage because the new SAT doesn’t penalize guesses. Even if you can quickly eliminate one obviously wrong answer, you’ve increased your odds by 33%. If you can eliminate two wrong choices fast, you’re now up to 50%.

However, make sure to read all the provided answer choices carefully. Test makers will often throw in a choice that’s almost correct but misses a detail that throws it off.

They’re counting on kids skimming their choices too fast and taking that one on face value alone. Read everything carefully and choose from there.


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Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Written by Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Prep Expert Founder & CEO

Shark Tank Winner, Perfect SAT Scorer, Dermatologist, & #1 Bestselling Author
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