Reading Comprehension on the SAT Reading Section

reading comprehension SAT
By Nic

One common belief that I’ve heard about the SAT Reading section is that older high school students just wake up one day and “get it.” When these students start to suddenly excel on questions about tone and paragraph purpose, it can seem like they flicked on a light switch. Students, parents, and other people alike have talked to me about this scenario, but I don’t think it captures the whole story. At best, this view can give students hope that one day they’ll crack the secret code for the SAT Reading section, but at worst, this can leave students with less confidence and understanding about how this section works. The SAT Reading section, like any other skill, takes time, practice, and feedback for a test-taker to improve.

As a tutor, I don’t have the chance to see how my clients practice their reading skills in their daily lives. I only have a snapshot of how they’re doing during a tutoring session or homework problems. Comparing a younger high school student to an older one only tells us about a difference in age. It does not tell us how much a student reads or how often they use critical thinking skills in their reading, which can be a huge boon to the Reading section. 

For any SAT test-taker, it is always a good idea to try to find more time for reading, such as an online news article or a short story. Even social media can be an opportunity. When you’re reading a friend’s post online, try to take a moment to pause and ask yourself about what you’ve just read. How would you describe the mood of the post in a single word? Can you capture the post’s meaning into a single sentence? If you had to switch out a word from the post, what would you change it to? These real-life examples can mimic the types of questions that you’ll see on the SAT, and their presence in your digital life might give you the buy-in to remember these skills. 

Another common challenge I’ve heard my clients share with me is that it can be hard to remember to practice these approaches in between sessions. In these situations, I like to explain that mindfulness, or a person’s ability to try to be present and aware of what they’re doing and thinking, can be helpful. When you notice that you’ve been reading for a while, then you would probably benefit from testing yourself about the text. I’m also a huge fan of visual reminders. A sticky note with a few reading comprehension questions tucked into your phone case or your backpack can be all it takes. You likely won’t notice any changes to your SAT Reading score overnight, but over time, you can see a difference. Taking the SAT Reading section into your own hands can also be very meaningful instead of hoping that one day there will be a light switch to turn on.

Nic found graduated from Princeton University in 2018 with a degree in Molecular Biology and Creative Writing, cum laude. Then, Nic completed a research year at Princeton Neuroscience Institute prior to starting at Harvard Medical School, where they are currently an MD candidate. They have received Harvard’s Presidential Public Service Scholarship and the REACH Scholarship.


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