peer tutoring, for free.
Free SAT® Prep, as part of a research study.
SAT® Bootcamps
Free SAT® Prep, as part of a research study.
A global network of volunteers.
Explore Tutors
A global network of volunteers.



How Many Passages Are in the SAT Reading Section? (And How to Tackle Them)

By Akshay R on April 23, 2024

Blog image
The SAT Reading section can feel like a marathon with its numerous passages and tricky questions. One of the key things you'll need to be prepared for is the sheer number of passages you'll have to analyze on test day. So, how many are there?

SAT Reading Section Breakdown

While there are five passages, understanding what's within them will give you a massive advantage:

Literature: Beyond the Basics

The SAT Literature passages go beyond simple plot summaries. To excel in this area, you'll need to analyze the author's craft and the deeper meaning of the text. Here's what to focus on:

  • Author's Purpose: Consider why the author chose to write this specific piece. Are they entertaining, persuading, informing, or expressing an emotion?
  • Shifts in Tone: Be on the lookout for changes in the author's tone. Does it shift from sarcastic to sincere, or from optimistic to pessimistic? These shifts often signal important points in the narrative.
  • Figurative Language: Metaphors, similes, personification, and other uses of figurative language add deeper meaning. Learn to recognize these devices and understand their implications.

History/Social Studies: Digging Deeper

Historical passages on the SAT offer a window into the past, but you'll need to read them critically to uncover the big picture. Here's how to analyze them effectively:

  • Context is Key: Knowing when and where a document was written can unlock its meaning. Was it written during a time of conflict, social change, or relative peace?
  • Types of Documents: The SAT could include speeches, letters, founding documents, political pamphlets, laws, or even newspaper articles. Each type has its own structure and purpose to be aware of.
  • Rhetorical Devices: Just like in literature, authors of historical documents use persuasive techniques. Look for appeals to emotion (pathos), logic (logos), or authority figures (ethos).
  • Multiple Perspectives: Be aware that some historical passages will present multiple viewpoints on the same issue.

Science: Breaking it Down

Scientific passages might seem overwhelming, but focus on the core elements of the research to boost your understanding. Here's a breakdown:

  • The Scientific Method: Even if you don't understand all the technical jargon, try to identify the basic steps of the research: question, hypothesis, experiment, data collection, analysis, conclusion.
  • Graphs and Charts: Don't skip them! The SAT might ask questions that require you to interpret visual data.
  • Focus on Big Ideas: What is the overall research question, and what are the main findings? Don't let individual unfamiliar terms trip you up.
  • Scientific Jargon: Often scientific passages will define complex terms within them. Look for these definitions in the text to aid your understanding.

Tackling the Paired Passage

The paired passage presents a unique challenge in the Reading section. To master it, you'll need to analyze the relationship between the two passages. Here are some key things to look for:

  • Compare and Contrast: How do the viewpoints in each passage agree or differ? One might support the other, one might challenge the other, or they might offer different perspectives on the same topic.
  • Look for Relationships: Be on the lookout for cause and effect connections, or whether one passage provides background information relevant to the other.

Advanced Strategies

Once you feel comfortable with the basics of SAT Reading, try these techniques to level up your score:
  • Predict Questions: As you read, try to anticipate the types of questions the SAT might ask about the passage. This will help you focus on the most important information.
  • "Read" the Questions First: Consider skimming the questions before reading the passage. This will prime your brain to look for the answers as you go.
  • Eliminate Wrong Answers: Even if you're not 100% sure of the right answer, eliminating obviously wrong choices can increase your odds.

Mental Toughness

The SAT Reading section is long and can be mentally tiring. Here's how to boost your stamina:

  • Time Yourself: Practice with full-length SAT Reading sections to get used to the time pressure.
  • Short Breaks: If you get overwhelmed, take a few seconds to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and reset your focus.
  • Don't Give Up: Some passages will naturally be tougher than others. Don't let one difficult passage ruin your concentration for the rest.

Time Management Matters

You get 65 minutes to read all the passages and answer 52 questions. This means you have a little over 12 minutes to work with for each passage. Because of this, solid time management is a crucial SAT Reading skill. Here are some tips for success:

  • Don't Panic: Five passages may seem daunting, but remember, you don't have to understand every single word.
  • Skim and Scan: Before getting bogged down in the details, skim to get the gist of the passage and its main idea.
  • Look for Keywords: Highlight or underline important words, phrases, and the author's point of view.
  • Take Notes: Jot down brief summaries of each passage as you read.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: The more familiar you are with the types of passages and questions on the SAT Reading section, the better you'll do.

The Bottom Line

Feeling overwhelmed by the SAT Reading section too? Schoolhouse can help! Our expert tutors break down the strategies and provide personalized practice exercises to boost your confidence and your score. Get started with free SAT tutoring and prep by joining a Schoolhouse SAT Bootcamp. peer tutoring, for free.


About UsPartnershipsRoadmapCareersDonate


Terms & ConditionsPrivacy PolicyTrust & SafetyPress