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SAT Reading Practice Questions

When students score highly on the SAT, they often hear statements like “wow, you must be a genius!” or “I wish I was that smart!”

However, just like achieving many other goals in life, doing well on the SAT requires more than just intelligence. It also takes a lot of practice. In fact, with enough practice and support, any student can earn a good SAT score.

In order to reach your target SAT score, you should spend time tackling the toughest practice questions you can find.

Good practice questions will help you know what to expect when you take the test, and they will give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes before test day. These two factors are critical for doing well on the SAT.

Consider a musician preparing for an upcoming performance. If she spends all of her time practicing pieces that don’t use any of the same skills she will need to use for her performance, she likely will not do as well as she hopes. Likewise, if she practices all of the right pieces, but she doesn’t learn from the mistakes she makes during practice, she will likely make some of the same mistakes during her performance.

In the same way, when you practice for the SAT, you will want to make sure you are using questions that are relevant and challenging. I recommend using official College Board practice questions because they are going to be the closest to what you will see on the SAT. You should also  prioritize reviewing your mistakes so that you can learn from them and improve. Going through practice questions for each section will help give you a good starting point for your SAT prep.

This is especially important when it comes to preparing for the SAT Reading section. With five passages to read, 52 questions to answer, and only one hour to complete this section, SAT Reading is challenging for many test-takers…but it’s nothing that a little (or a lot) of practice can’t handle.

Here is a high difficulty reading passage and three SAT Reading practice questions that go with this passage from the College Board that will help you prepare for this section of the SAT:

This passage is adapted from Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome, originally published in 1911. Mattie Silver is Ethan’s household employee.

Mattie Silver had lived under Ethan’s roof for a year, and from early morning till they met at supper he had frequent chances of seeing her; but no moments in her company were comparable to those when, her arm in his, and her light step flying to keep time with his long stride, they walked back through the night to the farm. He had taken to the girl from the first day, when he had driven over to the Flats to meet her, and she had smiled and waved to him from the train, crying out, “You must be Ethan!” as she jumped down with her bundles, while he reflected, looking over her slight person: “She don’t look much on housework, but she ain’t a fretter, anyhow.” But it was not only that the coming to his house of a bit of hopeful young life was like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth. The girl was more than the bright serviceable creature he had thought her. She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will.

It was during their night walks back to the farm that he felt most intensely the sweetness of this communion. He had always been more sensitive than the people about him to the appeal of natural beauty. His unfinished studies had given form to this sensibility and even in his unhappiest moments field and sky spoke to him with a deep and powerful persuasion. But hitherto the emotion had remained in him as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that evoked it. He did not even know whether any one else in the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege. Then he learned that one other spirit had trembled with the same touch of wonder: that at his side, living under his roof and eating his bread, was a creature to whom he could say: “That’s Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones—like bees swarming—they’re the Pleiades…” or whom he could hold entranced before a ledge of granite thrusting up through the fern while he unrolled the huge panorama of the ice age, and the long dim stretches of succeeding time. The fact that admiration for his learning mingled with Mattie’s wonder at what he taught was not the least part of his pleasure. And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow. When she said to him once: “It looks just as if it was painted!” it seemed to Ethan that the art of definition could go no farther, and that words had at last been found to utter his secret soul….

As he stood in the darkness outside the church these memories came back with the poignancy of vanished things. Watching Mattie whirl down the floor from hand to hand he wondered how he could ever have thought that his dull talk interested her. To him, who was never gay but in her presence, her gaiety seemed plain proof of indifference. The face she lifted to her dancers was the same which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset. He even noticed two or three gestures which, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him: a way of throwing her head back when she was amused, as if to taste her laugh before she let it out, and a trick of sinking her lids slowly when anything charmed or moved her.

Question #1

Over the course of the passage, the main focus of the narrative shifts from the

  1. reservations a character has about a person he has just met to a growing appreciation that character has of the person’s worth.
  2. ambivalence a character feels about his sensitive nature to the character’s recognition of the advantages of having profound emotions.
  3. intensity of feeling a character has for another person to the character’s concern that that intensity is not reciprocated.
  4. value a character attaches to the wonders of the natural world to a rejection of that sort of beauty in favor of human artistry.

Take a moment to try to answer this question on your own before reading further. No seriously! Stop, review the passage, and select an answer.

Did you choose option C? If so, you were correct! Here is the College Board explanation: 

The first paragraph traces the inception of Ethan’s feelings for Mattie: Ethan “had taken to the girl from the first day” and saw her as “like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth.” The second paragraph focuses on “their night walks back to the farm” and Ethan’s elation in perceiving that “one other spirit . . . trembled with the same touch of wonder” that characterized his own. In other words, the main focus of the first two paragraphs is the intensity of feeling one character, Ethan, has for another, Mattie. The last paragraph shifts the focus of the passage to Ethan’s change in perception; he sees Mattie in a social setting interacting with other men, wonders “how he could have ever thought that his dull talk interested her,” interprets her seeming happiness as “plain proof of indifference” toward him, and sees betrayal in the “two or three gestures which, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him.”

Question #2

In the context of the passage, the author’s use of the phrase “her light step flying to keep time with his long stride” is primarily meant to convey the idea that

  1. Ethan and Mattie share a powerful enthusiasm.
  2. Mattie strives to match the speed at which Ethan works.
  3. Mattie and Ethan playfully compete with each other.
  4. Ethan walks at a pace that frustrates Mattie.

The correct answer for this question is option A. Here is the College Board explanation:

Choice A is the best answer. The author uses the phrase mainly to introduce a topic discussed at length in the second paragraph—namely, the growing connection Ethan sees himself forming with Mattie over the course of many evening walks during which they share similar feelings for the wonders of the natural world. In the context of the passage, the phrase evokes an image of two people walking eagerly and in harmony.

Question #3

The description in the first paragraph indicates that what Ethan values most about Mattie is her

  1. fitness for farm labor.
  2. vivacious youth.
  3. receptive nature.
  4. freedom from worry.

The correct answer for this practice question is option C. Here is the College Board explanation:

Choice C is the best answer. Lines 4–8 mention many of Mattie’s traits: she is friendly (“smiled and waved”), eager (“jumped down with her bundles”), easygoing (“she ain’t a fretter”), and energetic (“like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth”). However, the trait that appeals most to Ethan, as suggested by it being mentioned last in the paragraph, is her openness to the world around her: “She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will.”

Why these practice questions are effective

You might be wondering what makes these good practice questions? 

These practice questions are good because they use a passage and questions that are similar in difficulty to what you will encounter on the SAT, and they provide detailed explanations with evidence from the text so that you can review your answers.

Effective practice questions for the SAT Reading section should cover one of the following:

  • Big Picture Questions: These questions are like question #1 above, and they cover the author’s purpose, rhetorical strategies, and point of view.
  • Small Picture Questions: These questions will require you to focus on small details or specific portions of the text like question #3 above.
  • Inferences: These questions will require you to make judgements about the text using logic and reasoning.
  • Function Questions: These questions, like question #2 above, will ask you to determine the purpose of a specific line or paragraph or how it helps convey the author’s message.
  • Author Diction and Technique Questions: These questions require you to think about the author’s specific word and organization choices throughout the passage.
  • Textual Evidence Questions: These questions ask you to find lines that best support a specific claim made in the passage.
  • Data Questions: These questions will require you to use a figure in order to make sense of information presented in the passage.
  • Analogy Questions: These questions will require you to relate information from the passage to a hypothetical situation. 
  • Vocabulary questions: These questions will ask you to use context clues to determine the best definition for a specific word used in the passage.

As you prepare to take the SAT Reading section, spend time answering practice questions that will help you answer each of these types of questions effectively on test day.

If you need help reviewing your practice questions and learning other strategies that can help you do well on the SAT Reading section, sign up for an SAT prep class through Prep Expert. Our classes are taught by experienced, expert instructors who will help you review effectively and teach you tips and tricks for the SAT that you can’t learn anywhere else.

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