Update on the New SAT: Evidence-based Reading

Update on the New SAT: Evidence-based Reading

Important Note: This article focuses on updates that took place to the SAT in early 2016, so goes into great depth about the differences between the old SAT (which students took from 2005-early 2016) and the “new” SAT, which may not be as relevant to most current test-takers and their parents. However, the article also provides detailed context about the Evidence-based Reading and Writing section and helpful information about content and strategies that students will need to work on to reach their goals.

Evidence-based Reading and Writing is a new section on the redesigned SAT that combines multiple-choice questions on reading comprehension, grammar, writing mechanics, rhetoric, context-based reasoning, and use of evidence.

As I mentioned in my previous post on the overall changes to format and scoring, many articles about the new SAT are focusing on the fact that the phrase “SAT word” may be obsolete soon. While that’s true (and exciting news for many SAT students), this simple soundbite leaves us dark:

We know something that’s NOT on the test, but what IS on the test?

The College Board has published a comprehensive document with the details, with information on everything from sample questions to lists of abstract skills tested. I’ve distilled the information you need to know below.

The Evidence-based Reading and Writing (EbRW) is made up of two smaller test segments: the Reading test (65 minutes for 52 questions) and the Writing and Language test (35 minutes for 44 questions). I’ll cover the Reading test here. (See here for information on the Writing and Language test).

The Reading test will include four stand-alone passages and one set of paired passages. In the context of the passages—ranging in topic from literature, to history/social science, to science—students will have to answer questions on literary technique, argumentation, organization, comprehension details, and vocabulary, as well as evaluate evidence in the passage or presented in graphics. This last category is the only new one; the sample material released by the College Board indicates that many of the current questions types on the SAT are not changing. Students will still see questions that ask about:


According to the College Board, there will be at least two different ways students will be explicitly asked to identify or evaluate evidence in the passage:

1) Students will have to pinpoint the part of the passage that provides evidence for a given conclusion.

In the example above, the conclusion to be supported is the student’s answer to the previous question.

2) Students will also have to evaluate evidence presented in graphical form to draw a conclusion.

In the end, we think that the new evidence-specific questions (Type 1) will direct students’ attention towards strategies for scoring higher on the reading comprehension section in general: focusing on the evidence!

See Part 2 of this post for information on the Writing section, and check out our update on the new Math section for Part 3.

*This blog post was updated in October 2017.

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Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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