SAT Critical Reading Tips

SAT Critical Reading Tips

The SAT critical reading section is perhaps the most difficult section to improve relative to the other sections—especially for students who are not avid readers—but, like the other sections, you can certainly get better with practice. 

Study vocabulary, early and often: 

Having a strong vocabulary is one of the cornerstones of good SAT critical reading performance. Without a strong vocabulary, you may not be able to fully understand the passage, questions, and answer choices. It’s frustrating to see a serious student who just doesn’t have time to improve his or her vocabulary enough before the test to see the point gains that he or she wants. Since developing your vocabulary takes time, start studying vocabulary as early as possible. 

Learn to read carefully: 

No number of tips or tricks is going to help you achieve truly excellent critical reading scores. The best strategy to do well on the SAT critical reading is to actually become a good reader. How do you do that? Well, one easy and effective technique for practice is simply to be very, very careful with your reading. After every word, sentence, and paragraph, pause to ask yourself if you’ve understood what you’re reading really means. You can even paraphrase it word-for-word and write it out. This is hard, and just a practice strategy because of limited time during the test, but the more you do it, the more your reading ability will improve. 

Look for evidence:

Every SAT critical reading passage-based question is going to have evidence that supports the correct answer. The SAT is very systematic in this way, and not subjective. So, when practicing, make sure to find the evidence for every single answer. If you practice with this strategy, you’ll find that you’ll start to see the patterns among questions, and answering them will become easier. Once you get to the test, you won’t have to think so deliberately about finding evidence for each answer, but make sure to always use this technique for challenging questions. 

Use individual words to identify correct answers: 

When comparing answer choices, look specifically for individual words that will break a tie between two choices. The SAT tests your ability to see differences between answer choices at the word level, so read carefully and look for specific words that either qualify or disqualify your answers. 

Obsessively review your wrong answers: 

The only way to learn from a mistake is to understand what you did incorrectly AND internalize the correct way to answer a question. So, keep a running list of every single problem you got wrong, make sure to review each one immediately after grading it, and go back periodically (every two weeks or so) to review until you will are sick of seeing the problem. Do this review carefully: don’t just skim over the problem and recall the answer. Rather, read the problem carefully, diagnose what you got wrong and why, note down any challenging vocabulary words, and replay the problem in your head until you get it correct. 

Looking for SAT tutoring that will help boost your reading comprehension? Try a Signet Education expert SAT coach.

Picture of Jay B.

Jay B.

Jay Bacrania is the CEO of Signet Education. As a high schooler, Jay won awards for chemistry at the state level in his home state of Florida, and at Harvard, he initially studied physics. After graduating, Jay spent two years studying jazz trumpet at the Berklee College of Music.

More Resources