Kaplan Advantage Sat Critical Reading And Writing Answers To Essay

With so many SAT prep books to choose from, how can you tell the good ones from the bad? Not to worry - we've evaluated the books for you. This fully updated guide gives you our recommendations for the top 11 new SAT preparation books to help you achieve the scores you seek.

To best outline the differences, I've divided the books into three sections: the best overall books, the best books for SAT Math, and the best books for SAT Reading and Writing. Before jumping into the recommendations, a word about my perspective.


Disclaimer: Why Am I Recommending Books?

You might be wondering why PrepScholar, known for its online SAT prep program, is going old school and recommending an SAT book list. As SAT experts who have made it our mission to understand the test and help students succeed, we are dedicated to providing you with the best resources to achieve your academic and personal goals. If you're self-motivated and prefer to have SAT books for your prep, then they can be a great way to learn content, practice strategies, and try sample questions.

That being said, all of the books recommended below have strengths and weaknesses. Several of them seem as if they were rushed to publication to get ahead of the new SAT, and many unfortunately don't offer the same level of quality that they did in previous versions (more on this below). 

I believe PrepScholar has managed to integrate the best parts of these books into its online prep program while adding the helpful element of accountability. We help you plan out and stick to your study schedule, keep track of your progress, and focus on the specific skills and practice problems that you most need to improve your scores.

With books, you can try to customize your study plan to your specific needs too—but with PrepScholar, we do all that heavy lifting for you. Plus, considering the huge gains you can get from it, it's much more cost effective than buying all these books.

Since we're not necessarily benefiting from these book recommendations, you can trust that our advice is neutral, objective, and based on our and students' real experiences with these SAT preparation books. Before delving into the list, there's one more important thing for you to keep in mind about this list of best SAT prep books.


In the race to publish new SAT prep books, some companies chose to offer a mediocre version now instead of a better version later.


A Note on Prep Books for the New SAT 

The new SAT (out of 1600 points) came out in March 2016. Because we're still in the early phases of this new test, there's not as much practice material for the new SAT as there was for the old SAT. Unlike your predecessors, you don’t have years of previously administered tests to practice with. Instead, you have exactly eight official new SAT practice tests—better than nothing, but a small number compared to all the practice tests for the old SAT.

Your limited official material makes it all the more important to find high quality, realistic practice questions for the SAT. As I mentioned above, I’m confident that PrepScholar offers these high-quality questions in its online program. Some of the books I recommend below also offer realistic problems, but not all of them have been fully updated for the new SAT, even over a year out.

These books are produced at the ultra-competitive intersection of publishing and SAT prep, so some of them may have been slapped together in a rush. Many have complained that Barron’s, for instance, recycled way too many old SAT Math problems, and Princeton Review has come under fire for using now obsolete, abstract wording rather than the straightforward style of the redesigned test. Rather than treat the new SAT as its own test and build material from the ground up, as PrepScholar did with its materials, these companies tried to reuse questions that are no longer relevant.

To give you variety in your book choices, I’ve included the top 11 SAT prep books that are available at this time. Unfortunately, some of the books on this list have significant weaknesses, so you should make sure to be discerning as you select your study materials. You can also check back over the year for updates, as some books are set to be updated and republished soon.

Since the best representation of SAT questions always come from the test makers themselves, I'll start this list with College Board's The Official SAT Study Guide. In the past, I would always recommend College Board's book as the best source of official practice questions. In this case, though, I don't necessarily think you should buy this book! Read on to find out why.


College Board's Official SAT Study Guide 

Amazon price: about $21

In past years, I told students that College Board’s book was the number one, critical book they had to have in their study arsenal. Now, I’m saying pretty much the opposite —don’t bother. Why? Because you can find all of its material for free online!

In a pretty decent move, College Board has stated its commitment to transparency and provided free online practice materials (they’re also strongly promoting their partnership with Khan Academy, which has useful video explanations to go along with the official questions).

Some students and educators were disappointed to buyThe Official Study Guide book only to find that its tests were the same exact ones offered online. Since the book doesn’t have scoring charts, you’ll need to go online anyway to score your practice tests.

So does the book offer anything beyond the practice tests? It does dedicate a bunch of pages to explaining the test structure, basic strategies, and answer explanations. Since you can find the majority of this info online, though, Iwouldn’t recommend buying the book unless you really want all the material printed out for you.

If you have access to a printer and a working internet connection, I’d say to take advantage of the free online material and learn about the SAT that way. The total number of tests is still limited, though, so you might space out these official tests throughout your prep as a way to gauge your progress and determine what concepts you need to study most.

In between these tests, you can supplement with questions from other books on this list. Read on for the pros and cons of the best overall books, along with the best books by section.


Best Overall SAT Prep Book: Kallis' SAT Pattern

Amazon price: about $32


Students and educators alike have reported having great experiences withKallis’ Redesigned SAT Pattern Strategy book. It provides six full-length practice tests, which add up to about 24 hours of practice testing. The questions are realistic and closely patterned after official College Board questions.

Kallis goes beyond College Board’s simple explanations to give step-by-step answer explanations for each question. These in-depth descriptions help you understand any mistakes and fix them for next time, a key practice for improving your scores.

Kallis discusses 100 topics that you’ll find on the new SAT and gives a clear and focused presentation of fundamental concepts in grammar, literature, and math. Beyond reviewing content, this book gives some analysis of the various question types, allowing you to take a more strategic approach as you test.

Finally, Kallis goes over the structure, format, and topics covered on the SAT in detail, so you’ll have a strong grasp of logistics before test day. This review will save you time in reading any instructions or understanding timing since you’ll know exactly what to expect when you take the SAT.



While Kallis has done a good job with realistic practice questions and content review, it’s less helpful for SAT strategies, like time management or process of elimination. Kallis emphasizes a “learning by doing” approach, so it doesn’t spend a lot of time going over mindset or strategies.

The Kallis book is relatively expensive, and it requires a lot of independence and self-discipline from you. You’ll need to take responsibility for dividing up the material in the most effective way and for designing and sticking to a productive study plan. The practice questions are there, but it’s up to you to put in the work and make the most out of them.

While Kallis is one of the best books out there right now for SAT prep, there are some others that offer comprehensive review for the SAT. Read on for four more suggestions for instruction, strategies, and practice problems.


Best Traditional Prep Books for Instruction, Strategy, and Practice Questions

The following books are of decent quality, but they have some serious weaknesses too. Since there are a limited number of prep books for the new SAT, these four are the best currently available for content review and practice problems. Let's go over the pros and cons of each.


The SAT Black Book, Second Edition

Amazon price: about $29


I highly recommend the SAT Black Book, Second Edition for its insightful strategies and advice on the SAT. The Black Book is written by Mike Barrett, who has taken the time to understand the New SAT inside and out. He reveals the different types of questions, and how you can recognize certain tricky wording and "distractor" answer choices.

I definitely recommend the Black Book for students who want to learn about the structure, format, and tricks of the test, as well as gain practical strategies for answering the questions and saving time. This book can be useful for students at all levels, as Barrett customizes his advice depending on your target scores. 

Besides its strategies, the Black Book gives you thorough answer explanations for questions on the first four official SAT practice tests. Where College Board doesn't walk you through the steps of a problem, or explain exactly why the other answer choices are incorrect, the Black Book guides you through each question on each practice test in detail.

This can help change your mindset when actually taking the SAT. You can incorporate this book's explanations and strategies into your own approach, so that you're confident when answering each question type. While the Black Book is great for strategy, though, it's less helpful for studying concepts.



The Black Book is a highly useful resource, but it's not sufficient on its own. First off, it doesn't have any of its own SAT practice questions. Instead, it needs to be used in conjunction with the official SAT practice tests. It refers directly to official SAT questions and gives thorough explanations, especially of the hardest questions.

The Black Book focuses on strategy and understanding the SAT, so it's not the strongest resource for reviewing concepts and content. If you're looking to completely relearn sentence parallelism or shape geometry, for instance, you would need an additional resource. 

Finally, while I find this book to be written in a more engaging style than the traditional SAT prep books, this is entirely a matter of opinion; Mike Barrett's explanation style and strategies might not work for everyone. I highly recommend checking it out and seeing which strategies work for you.


McGraw-Hill Education SAT 2018


Amazon price: about $13 


If you’re looking for an informative overview of the structure and content of the SAT, then McGraw-Hill Education SAT 2018 is a decent choice. It goes over the test in detail, from the number of questions to the time limits of each section, so you know exactly what to expect.

The practice questions, especially those in math, are realistic and resemble official College Board questions. For instance, the math questions feature real-world scenarios with problems about temperature and selling tickets for a performance. All the writing questions are based on passages, and the Reading questions feature tables and graphs to reflect the SAT’s emphasis on data interpretation.

While this book reviews content, it’s strongest in its presentation of math concepts. The book breaks down the topics in detail, including Heart of Algebra concepts—expressions, linear systems, inequalities, etc; Passport to Advanced Math—functions, quadratics, etc; Problem Solving and Data Analysis—rates, ratios, percentages, table, etc; and Additional Topics—geometry, basic trig, complex numbers.

Finally, this book gives you some helpful guidance when it comes to mapping out your study plan. Like PrepScholar’s program, it suggests that you begin with a diagnostic practice test and use it to shape your study plan. It also offers a few basic strategies, like improving your calculator fluency so you know when using a calculator is useful and when it might just slow you down.

This book also has four full-length practice tests. 



The other major con is its weakness in reviewing Reading and Writing. While it goes over the Math section in detail, its presentation of the verbal sections is more limited and somewhat unusual. It only discusses “ten essential rules” for Reading and Writing, and its review of the verbal sections is more conceptual and experimental than it is specific to the SAT. For instance, it features chapters with titles like the “Language of Truth, Truthfulness, and Beauty” and the “Language of Dissent, Criticism, and Rebellion.”

While these sections may be interesting to book lovers, they aren’t super specific to the SAT—a feature that I consider to be critical when prepping for this unique, idiosyncratic test. Perhaps these sections reflect the rush to get published that I mentioned above. Since the Math section isn’t changing all that much, McGraw-Hill was able to adapt and produce math problems pretty well. But since the Reading and Writing sections were dramatically revamped for the new SAT, they proved a greater challenge to capture in time for the new edition.

Students have cited a similar problem with Barron’s New SAT. Read on for the pros and cons of Barron’s guide to the SAT.


Barron's New SAT 

Amazon price: about $19


Barron's New SAT is another thorough prep book that offers content review, sample questions, and practice tests. Barron’s 29th Edition has four full-length practice tests, plus access to two more full-length online practice tests, meaning you’ll get about 24 hours of testing. It also offers a diagnostic test, a helpful tool to familiarize you with the SAT, get you into a testing mindset, and help you become aware of any weaknesses you need to address moving forward.

Barron’s is very comprehensive and covers most of the topics you need to know. Because of its dense format, it’s typically more effective for high scorers who are able to engage quickly with the content and maintain focus throughout. If you can divide up and scaffold the material in a manageable way, then you'll be able to gain some valuable practice with this book.



Barron’s has been criticized for recycling practice questions from its old books, rather than creating new SAT content, a problem that remains in the 29th edition. There are a lot more changes to the SAT than having four answer choices instead of five, so simply re-using old questions won’t give you a realistic sense of the question types and concepts on the SAT. This book appears especially guilty of this in its math sections, and it lacks a sufficient focus on algebra—a major component of the new SAT.

In addition to not being as realistic as they should be, some of the questions are overly confusing and have complicated wording. While the SAT will feature multi-step problems that call for in-depth reasoning skills, its problems will have relatively straightforward wording—much like its counterpart, the ACT. Therefore, the questions you’ll get in Barron’s, while helpful, may be too hard and not as useful as they could be for your SAT prep.


Princeton Review's Cracking the New SAT 2018

Amazon price: about $15 ($25 for premium version)


Like Barron's, Princeton Review's Cracking the New SAT prep book provides a comprehensive review of the three sections of the SAT. It has four full-length practice tests, as well as one additional practice tests that you can access online (or, if you get the premium version, three additional online practice tests). Princeton Review covers concepts you need to know, like grammar rules and algebraic functions, along with strategies for approaching the questions and managing your time.

It also gives thorough answer explanations which help you think about how you can approach similar questions in the future. Along with the book, there's an online component that helps you with scoring your practice tests. Given that this book is similar to Barron's in many ways, does it have the same drawbacks?



Princeton Review shares some of Barron’s drawbacks, mainly that some of its questions have overly elaborate wording and don’t match the straightforward style of official SAT questions as well as they should. The practice tests, while helpful, are not the best representation of SAT sample questions.

Unlike Barron's though, some of Princeton Review's content review and questions err on the side of being too easy conceptually, rather than too difficult. While Barron's might be better for especially motivated students aiming for top scores, Princeton Review is more appropriate for students scoring around 600 or below. It probably won't help you break out of that range and score much beyond that, especially since it doesn’t break each content area down into as many subtopics as it could.

The other potential downside of Princeton Review is its style. Like Barron's, it's a big, traditional test prep book with a straightforward approach. Some students appreciate this; others find itboring. If you're looking for a more personable or entertaining type of writing to keep you focused, these books are not the ones to break the mold. Unfortunately, books that used a more entertaining approach for the old SAT haven’t yet been updated for the new SAT.

All the books mentioned have strengths and weaknesses, but combined provide relatively comprehensive prep in all the important areas: practice questions, content review, and strategies. If you're looking to focus even more on a particular section, then you would benefit from a subject-specific test prep book. The following are my recommendations for SAT Math, Reading, and Writing.


Unlike his couches, this frog prefers his SAT prep one section at a time.


Best Books for SAT Math

Books that focus on a single subject often provide especially in-depth prep. Plus, they can be easier to approach than the huge comprehensive test prep books. If you need more prep in one section than the others or are taking advantage of your colleges' superscoring policies by building up your SAT scores one section at a time, then these books could be a great resource.

Below are my recommendations for math prep books, starting with Dr. Steve Warner's New SAT Math Problems.


Dr. Steve Warner's 320 SAT Math Problems 


Amazon price: about $30


Steve Warner’s New SAT Math Problemsis his most recent in SAT math preparation. Just like with his last series, Steve Warner offers comprehensive and clear content review and instruction. He discusses each area on the test: Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Geometry and Trigonometry (College Board calls this last section, Additional Topics).

This book helpfully arranges concepts by level of difficulty, with the easiest being Level 1 and the most advanced classified as Level 4. This organization ensures that math problems from all the different content areas are integrated, and it allows you to focus on certain chapters depending on your own level. Students already aiming in the 700s, for instance, will be helped most by studying Level 4 and 5 concepts and problems.

Each lesson in this book is carefully crafted, and practice problems are realistic and reinforce your understanding. The answer explanations are also useful, as they go over a few different approaches. As mentioned above, these kinds of multifaceted explanations appeal to different kinds of learners and allow you to carefully understand your mistakes and fix them for next time.



While it’s perhaps unfair to compare this book to its predecessors for the old version of the SAT, I can’t help but find it limited next to the previous Steve Warner series of math books. As more are updated and published, the Steve Warner books will be able to break down each content area into smaller and more specific subtopics.

The other downside of this book is its limited number of practice problems (only 320). While it’s helpful for instruction, you’ll want to supplement it with other practice materials for more hours of practice testing. The next two books offer many more practice problems for you to try as you study for the SAT Math section.


Dr. Jang's SAT 800 Math Workbook for the New SAT, Second Edition

Amazon price: about $25


Dr. Jang’s SAT 800 Math Workbook for the New SAT's major and impressive strength lies in its sheer number of practice problems—over 1,500 of them! This book definitely allows for a “learning by doing” approach, as you can time yourself and answer practice questions for days.

The question types are arranged by difficulty level, so you can break them up and customize them for your needs. You may start out with Dr. Jang’s diagnostic test and space out the book’s 10 sample tests as you prep.

Of course, having a lot of practice problems isn’t so useful unless the questions are good. Fortunately, Dr. Jang’s SAT math problems are realistic samples of what you’ll see on the SAT. The book emphasizes algebra, includes basic trigonometry, and divides questions into non-calculator and calculator sections, just like the test. It offers a strong representation of the concepts, format, and rules you’ll encounter on the math section of the SAT.



Dr. Jang’s SAT 800 Math Workbook is like the flipped version of Steve Warner’s book—lots of practice problems, but not a ton of content review. For more instruction, as well as strategies and detailed explanations, you’d probably want to supplement this workbook with another book.

You’ll also want to look elsewhere for test-taking strategies, like time management. This book has lots of practice problems appealing to students at all levels, but it’s probably not sufficient on its own to prep you for all aspects of SAT Math.


PWN The SAT: Math Guide 4th Edition

Amazon price: about $29


PWN the SAT is geared towards high-achieving, motivated students aiming for a top score in SAT Math. The book is written in an engaging, irreverent style, which helps students stay engaged with the material.

It's divided into five categories: Techniques, Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Additional Topics in Math. The book breaks down each SAT Math category into its component concepts.

It has realistic practice problems that are designated as either "Calculator" or "No calculator" to help you get ready for both question types. Each chapter also provides a list of official questions of a certain type to help you drill specific skills. 

Finally, you can register on the PWN SAT website to get bonus material, as well as watch video answer explanations that walk you through practice problems, step by step. 



The main con of PWN the SAT Math Guide is that its target audience is limited. It will help top scorers with strong math skills, but it won't be as accessible to students who struggle with math. 

If you're looking for foundational knowledge, then PWN the SAT isn't the book for you. It won't be the best resource to raise low math scores. Rather, it's better to bring already strong scores into the top percentiles. 


While there are works by several different authors to choose from to maximize your math score, I just have one author recommendation to boost your reading and writing scores: Erica Meltzer.


Quick coffee break, and then it's on to SAT Reading and Writing.


Best Books for SAT Reading and Writing

If you're looking to brush up your reading comprehension skills or knowledge of grammar rules, I recommend Erica Meltzer's books on the Reading and Writing sections of the SAT.


The Complete Guide to SAT Reading by Erica Meltzer, Third Edition


Amazon price: about $33


While studying for the Reading section might seem hard to break down into specific parts, The Complete Guide to SAT Reading does a good job of outlining the skills you'll need. It also has helpful strategies for answering questions. While your English class may leave more room for subjective interpretation, the SAT Reading section does not. This book helps you locate the one unambiguously correct answer on reading comprehension questions.

In addition to time management and reading comprehension techniques, this book teaches you how to locate and identify key information quickly and efficiency. It discusses useful strategies for approaching paired supporting evidence and data interpretation questions, many of which require you to read tables or graphs. Additionally, this book has a list of common, multiple-meaning words with their various definitions alongside strategies for how to use context clues to uncover meaning. 

This book also discusses question type, so you gain a sense of what kind of questions appear on Reading, like main point, interpretation of detail, and vocabulary in context. Finally, it's full of high quality passages that resemble what you'll see on the SAT, including passages from U.S. or world literature, history or social studies, and science. In addition to its own realistic practice questions, The Complete Guide to SAT Reading incorporates questions from College Board and Khan Academy so that you can match up concepts with relevant official sample questions.



Overall, students are highly satisfied with the content and strategies provided by Erica Meltzer. However, not all are a fan of the overall layout and formatting, which has small, crowded font and is not very creative. 

Similarly, the writing style is all to the point. Some people appreciate this for its directness; other students find it dry. You can learn more about it at Erica Meltzer's blog, The Critical Reader, and see how it suits you. It's also relatively expensive for a book that only covers one section of the SAT.

In addition to her guide to SAT Reading, Erica Meltzer provides a high quality book for the SAT Writing and Language section.


The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar by Erica Meltzer, Fourth Edition

Amazon price: about $30


The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar clearly articulates the important grammar rules you need to know for the SAT Writing section. The questions are realistic and resemble the Writing section, as they all are connected to the context of a longer passage.

This book breaks down skills and grammar rules so you can study them individually. By learning the rules of grammar and usage, you can then apply them to practice problems. Rather than just choosing an answer that "sounds right," Meltzer's book will teach you all the rules of grammar and usage that you need to know. 



While this book is helpful in the way it breaks the section down by skill and grammar rule, the questions on the real SAT will be in random order. This book is useful for learning and drilling the rules, but then you want to take practice tests to make sure you can still identify the grammar rule when it's not clearly laid out for you. There also isn't a frequency guide, so it's hard to know which rules to prioritize over others.

It is written in a similar style to her Critical Reading book, which some students find dry. These two books together, furthermore, are relatively expensive at a combined $50-60.

As this guide is meant to help you streamline your studying, let's discuss how you can best use these books to prep for the SAT and achieve your target scores.



How to Best Study From Books

There are a lot of options when it comes to studying for the SAT from books. Rather than reading them cover to cover, you would be better served coming up with a plan and breaking each book down into smaller, manageable goals. 

I would recommend using an official College Board practice test to give yourself a pre-test and gain a sense of your starting level. Take the time to score it and analyze your results to determine what areas you need to focus on. You could also save one of the tests to take right before you take the official SAT, to gain a sense of how much you've improved. As mentioned above, the other tests could be used as benchmarks along the way to gauge your progress and readjust your study plan if need be.  

A comprehensive book like Kallis' or Barron's could be used alongside a subject-specific book, like Steve Warner's math book and Erica Meltzer's guides. Depending on your goals and needs, you can decide how much time you devote to each subject to get the most out of your studying. 

There's a lot of room here to customize your study plan for your own particular strengths, weaknesses, and goals. This requires a good deal of planning, as well as self-discipline to actually stick to your plan. You also will benefit from reflecting on what works best for you in terms of maintaining interest, retaining information, and staying organized.

If this sounds like a lot of "study prep" before you even get to your test prep, you might benefit from exploring SAT prep options beyond using an SAT book list.


Time to explore!


Explore Your SAT Prep Options

The SAT is a unique test. Doing well in math and English class doesn't necessarily guarantee you a high score on SAT Math or Reading. Prep is a critical component of getting a high score for most students, which College Board is finally acknowledging with its efforts to provide free online practice material. Since you probably don't have time to waste, you want to make the most of your prep time. If you're taking time out of your schedule to study, you should see results. 

PrepScholar's online test program was developed with these goals in mind. It retains the quality of content review, practical strategies, and SAT practice questions while adding those elements of accountability and customization. It ensures that you're getting the most out of your prep time, rather than wasting time on material you already know or that won't help you on the SAT. 

With that same goal in mind, we've made available a number of in-depth strategy guides for the SAT, which we're adding to all the time. These are some of the most popular:


The recommended SAT prep books can be very useful in getting you ready, but they can also feel overwhelming and repetitive, not to mention expensive (unfortunately there aren't too many options when you search for "SAT preparation books PDF free download").

Take the time to explore your options, while also learning about the SAT from high quality online resources and our detailed guides. If you're putting in the time to prep for the SAT, make sure that you're seeing results and enjoying the process along the way.


What's Next?

Before delving into content and strategies, you should familiarize yourself with exactly what's on the SAT. Learn all about the Reading, Writing, and Math sections individually and in our Complete Guide to the SAT, fully updated for the 2016 revision of the test.

An important part of your study schedule is knowing exactly when you plan to take the SAT. Read all about how to choose your test dates.

Did you know that a lot of colleges superscore the SAT, or take your highest section scores across all dates? Learn how you can use this policy to your advantage and build up your scores across different test dates.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:


Are you scoring in the 600-750 range on SAT Reading + Writing? Do you want to raise that score as high as possible - to a perfect 800?

Getting to a perfect SAT Reading test score isn't easy. It'll require perfection. But with hard work and my strategies below, you'll be able to do it. I've consistently scored 800 on Reading on my real SATs, and I know what it takes. Follow my advice, and you'll get a perfect score - or get very close.

Brief note: This article is suited for advanced students already scoring a 600 on SAT Reading or above (this equates to a Reading Test Score of 30+ out of 40 on the New SAT). If you're below this range, my "How to Improve your SAT Reading Score to a 600" article is more appropriate for you. Follow the SAT Reading tips in that article, then come back to this one when you've reached a 600.

Also, the New 2016 SAT now has a single 800 Reading + Writing score, combining the individual Reading and Writing test scores. Technically, when I mention a perfect Reading test score, I'm referring to a perfect 40/40 test score, which is essential to getting an 800 Reading and Writing score. In this guide, I'll use 800 and 40 interchangeably to mean a perfect Reading score. We won't talk about Writing here, but if you want to improve your Writing score too, check out my Perfect SAT Writing score guide.



Most guides on the internet on how to score an 800 are pretty low quality. They're often written by people who never scored an 800 themselves. You can tell because their advice is usually vague and not very pragmatic. It's not enough to be reminded of simple Reading tips like "don't forget to guess on every question!" 

In contrast, I've written what I believe to be the best guide on getting an 800 available anywhere. I have confidence that these strategies work because I used them myself to score 800 on SAT Reading consistently. They've also worked for thousands of my students at PrepScholar.

In this article, I'm going to discuss why scoring an 800 is a good idea, what it takes to score an 800, and then go into the 11 key SAT Critical Reading strategies so you know how to get a perfect SAT Reading score.

Stick with me - as an advanced student, you probably already know that scoring high is good. But it's important to know why an 800 Reading and Writing score is useful, since this will fuel your motivation to get a high score.

This guide has been updated for the New 2016 SAT, so you can be sure my advice works for the test you're about to take.

Final note: in this guide, I talk mainly about getting to an 800. But if your goal is a 700, these strategies still equally apply.


Understand the Stakes: Why an 800 SAT Reading + Writing?

Let's make something clear: a 1550+ on an SAT is equivalent to a perfect 1600. No top college is going to give you more credit for a 1590 than a 1550. You've already crossed their score threshold, and whether you get in now depends on the rest of your application.

So if you're already scoring a 1550, don't waste your time studying trying to get a 1600. You're already set for the top colleges, and it's time to work on the rest of your application.

But if you're scoring a 1540 or below AND you want to go to a top 10 college, it's worth your time to push your score up to a 1550 or above. There's a big difference between a 1450 and a 1550, largely because it's easier to get a 1450 (and a lot more applicants do) and a lot harder to get a 1550.

A 1540 places you right around average at Harvard and Princeton, and being average is bad in terms of Ivy League-level admissions, since the admissions rate is typically below 10%.

So why get an 800 on SAT Reading+Writing? Because it helps you compensate for weaknesses in other sections. By and large, schools consider your composite score more so than your individual section scores. If you can get a perfect 40 in SAT Reading, you can get a 39 in SAT Writing (for a total of 790 in Reading + Writing) and a 760 in SAT Math and still be confident about your test scores. This gives you a lot more flexibility.


Harvard's 75th percentile Reading score is 800.


There's another scenario where an 800 in SAT Reading is really important. First is if you're planning to apply as a humanities or social science major (like English, political science, communications) to a top school.

Here's the reason: college admissions is all about comparisons between applicants. The school wants to admit the best, and you're competing with other people in the same "bucket" as you.

By applying as a humanities/social science major, you're competing against other humanities/social science folks: people for whom SAT Reading is easy. Really easy.

Here are a few examples from schools. For Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and U Chicago, the 75th percentile SAT Reading score is an 800. That means at least 25% of all students at these schools have an 800 in SAT Reading.

But if you can work your way to an 800, you show that you're at an equal level (at least on this metric). Even if it takes you a ton of work, all that matters is the score you achieve at the end.

I'll be honest - SAT Reading wasn't my strong suit in high school. When I started studying, I was scoring around the 700 range. I was always stronger in math and science.

But I learned the tricks of the test, and I developed the strategies below to raise my score to an 800. Now I'm sharing them with you.



Know That You Can Do It

This isn't just some fuzzy feel-good message you see on the back of a Starbucks cup.

I mean, literally, you and every other reasonably intelligent student can score a perfect SAT Reading score.

The reason most people don't is they don't try hard enough or they don't study the right way.

Even if language isn't your strongest suit, or you got a B+ in AP English, you're capable of this.

Because I know that more than anything else, your SAT score is a reflection of how hard you work and how smartly you study.


SAT Reading is Designed to Trick You. You Need to Learn How

Here's why: the SAT is a weird test. When you take it, don't you get the sense that the questions are nothing like what you've seen in school?

I bet you've had this problem: in SAT Reading passages, you often miss questions because of an 'unlucky guess.' You'll try to eliminate a few answer choices, and the remaining answer choices will all sound equally good to you.

Well, you throw up your hands and randomly guess.

This was one of the major issues for myself when I was studying SAT Reading, and I know it affects thousands of my students at PrepScholar.

The SAT is purposely designed this way to confuse you. Literally millions of other students have the exact same problem you do. And the SAT knows this.

Normally in your school's English class, the teacher tells you that all interpretations of the text are valid. You can write an essay about anything you want, and English teachers aren't (usually) allowed to tell you that your opinion is wrong. This is because they can get in trouble for telling you what to think, especially for complex issues like slavery or poverty.

But the SAT has an entirely different problem. It's a national test, which means it needs a level playing field for all students around the country. It needs a solid test to compare students with each other. Every question needs a single, unambiguously, 100% correct answer.


There's only ever one correct answer. Find a way to eliminate three incorrect answers.


Imagine if this weren't the case. Imagine that each reading answer had two answer choices that might each be plausibly correct. When the scores came out, every single student who got the question wrong would complain to the College Board about the test being wrong.

If this were true, the College Board would then have to invalidate the question, which weakens the power of the test.

The College Board wants to avoid this nightmare scenario. Therefore, every single Reading passage question has only one, single correct answer.

But the SAT disguises this fact. It asks questions like:

  1. The author would most likely agree with which of the following statements?
  2. The first paragraph primarily serves to:
  3. In line 20, 'dark' most nearly means:

Notice a pattern here? The SAT always disguises the fact that there's always one unambiguous answer. It tries to MAKE you waver between two or three answer choices that are most likely.

And then you guess randomly.

And then you get it wrong.


You can bet that students fall for this. Millions of times every year.

Students who don't prepare for the SAT in the right way don't appreciate this. BUT if you prepare for the SAT in the right way, you'll learn the tricks the SAT plays on you. And you'll raise your score.

The SAT Reading section is full of patterns like these. To improve your score, you just need to:

  • Learn the types of questions that the SAT tests, like the one above
  • Learn strategies to solve these questions, using skills you already know
  • Practice on a lot of questions so you learn from your mistakes

The point is that you can learn these skills, even if you don't consider yourself a good reader or a great English student. I'll go into more detail about exactly how to do this. 

One last point: let's make sure we understand how many questions we can miss to score an 800.


What It Takes to Get a Perfect 40 in Reading

If we have a target score in mind, it helps to understand what you need to get that score on the actual test. There are 52 questions in the Reading section, and how many questions you miss determines your scaled score out of 40.

From the Official SAT Practice Tests, I've taken the raw score to scaled score conversion tables from 4 tests. (If you could use a refresher on how the SAT is scored and how raw scores are calculated, read this.)

Raw ScoreTest 1Test 2Test 3Test 4


These grading scales are harsh. For tests 2 and 4, if you miss just ONE question, you get dropped down to a 39. This means your maximum Reading + Writing score is a 790.

For tests 1 and 3, if you miss one question, you're still at a perfect 40, but miss another and you drop down to a 39.

The scoring chart curve depends on the difficulty of the test. The harder the test, the easier the curve. But you can't predict what kind of test you're going to get on test day.

The safest thing to do is to aim for perfection. On every practice test, you need to aim for a perfect raw score for an 800.

Whatever you're scoring now, take note of the difference you need to get to a 800. For example, if you're scoring a 35 raw score, you need to answer six to seven more questions right to get to a perfect 40 and an 800.

As a final example, here's a screenshot from my exact score report from March 2014, showing that I missed one question and earned an 800.

(This was from the previous 2400 version of the SAT, but it had a similar grading scale).


OK - so we've covered why scoring a higher Reading score is important, why you specifically are capable of improving your score, and the raw score you need to get to your target.

Now we'll get into the meat of the article: actionable strategies and reading tips that you should use in your own studying to maximize your score improvement.


Strategies to Get a Perfect SAT Reading Score

What's your greatest weakness?


Strategy 1: Understand Your High Level Weakness — Time Management or Passage Strategy?

Every student has different flaws in SAT Reading. Some people don't have good strategies for tackling the passage questions. Others don't manage their time correctly and run out of time before getting through all the questions.

Here's how you can figure out which one applies more to you:

  • For each section, use a timer and have it count down the 65 minutes for the Reading section. Treat it like a real test.
  • If time runs out for that section and you're 100% ready to move on, then move on. If you're not ready to move on, keep on working for as long as you need. For every new answer or answer that you change, mark it with a special note as "Extra Time."
  • When you're ready, grade your test using the answer key and score chart, but we want two scores: 1) The Realistic score you got under normal timing conditions, 2) The Extra Time score. This is why you marked the questions you answered or changed during Extra Time.


Get what we're doing here? By marking which questions you did under Extra Time, we can figure out what score you got if you were given all the time you needed. This will help us figure out where your weaknesses lie.

If you didn't take any extra time, then your Extra Time score is the same as your Realistic score.

Here's a flowchart to help you figure this out:

Was your Extra Time score a 35 or above?

If NO (Extra Time score < 35), then you have strategy and content weaknesses. All the extra time in the world couldn't get you above a 35, so your first angle of attack will be to find your weaknesses and attack them (We'll cover this later).

If YES (Extra Time score > 35), then:

Was your Realistic score a 35 or above?

If NO (Extra Time score > 35, Realistic < 35), then that means you have a difference between your Extra Time score and your Realistic score. If this difference is more than 3 points, then you have some big problems with time management. We need to figure out why this is. Are you using the best passage reading strategy for you? Does it take you too much time to get the answer for each question? Generally, doing a lot of practice questions and learning the most efficient passage strategies will help reduce your time. More on this later.

If YES (both Extra Time and Realistic scores > 35), then you have a really good shot at getting an 800. Compare your Extra Time and Realistic score - if they differed by more than 2 points, then you would benefit from learning how to solve questions more quickly. If not, then you likely can benefit from shoring up on your last content weaknesses and avoiding careless mistakes (more on this strategy later).

Hopefully that makes sense. Typically I see that students have both timing and content issues, but you might find that one is much more dominant for you than the other. For example, if you can get a 40 with extra time, but score a 35 in regular time, you know exactly that you need to work on time management to get a 40.

This type of analysis is so important that it's a central part of my prep program, PrepScholar. When a new student joins, he or she gets a diagnostic that figures out specific strengths and weaknesses. The program then automatically customizes your learning so that you're always studying according to where you can make the most improvement.

No matter what your weakness is, my following strategies will address all weaknesses comprehensively.


Strategy 2: Learn to Eliminate 3 Wrong Answers

This strategy was by far the most effective for me in raising my Reading score. It completely changed the way I viewed passage questions.

I spent some time talking above about how the SAT always has one unambiguous answer. This has a huge implication for the strategy you should use to find the right SAT Reading answer.

Here's the other way to see it: Out of the four answer choices, three of them have something that is totally wrong about them. Only one answer is 100% correct, which means the other three are 100% wrong.

You know how you try to eliminate answer choices, and then end up with a few at the end that all seem equally likely to be correct? "Well, this can work...but then again this could work as well..."

STOP doing that. You're not doing a good enough job of eliminating answer choices. Remember - every single wrong choice can be crossed out for its own reasons.

You need to do a 180 on your approach to Reading questions. Instead, find a reason to eliminate three answer choices. "Can I find a reason to eliminate this answer choice? How about this one?"

You have to learn how to eliminate three answer choices for every single question. 


"Great, Allen. But this doesn't tell me anything about HOW to eliminate answer choices."

Thanks for asking. One thing to remember is that even a single word can make an answer choice wrong. Every single word in each answer choice is put there by the SAT for a reason. If a single word in the answer choice isn't supported by the passage text, you need to eliminate it, even if the rest of the answer sounds good.

There are a few classic wrong answer choices the SAT loves to use. Here's an example question.

For example, let’s imagine you just read a passage talking about how human evolution shaped the environment. It gives a few examples. First, it talks about how the transition from earlier species like Homo habilus to neanderthals led to more tool usage like fire, which caused wildfires and shaped the ecology. It then talks about Homo sapiens 40,000 years ago and their overhunting of species like woolly mammoths to extinction.

So then we run into a question asking, "Which of the following best describes the main subject of the passage?" Here are the answer choices:

  • A: The transition between Homo habilus and neanderthals
  • B: The study of evolution
  • C: How the environment shaped human evolution
  • D: The plausibility of evolution
  • E: The influence of human development on ecology

(We're using five answers for purposes of illustration - the SAT will only have four choices).

As you're reading these answer choices, a few of them probably started sounded really plausible to you.

Surprise! Each of the answers from A-D has something seriously wrong about it. Each one is a classic example of a wrong answer type given by the SAT.



Wrong Answer 1: Too Specific

A: The transition between Homo habilus and neanderthals

This type of wrong answer focuses on a smaller detail in the passage. It’s meant to trick you because you might think to yourself, "well, I see this mentioned in the passage, so it’s a plausible answer choice."

Wrong! Think to yourself – can this answer choice really describe the entire passage? Can it basically function as the title of this passage? You’ll find that it’s just way too specific to convey the point of the overall passage.



Wrong Answer 2: Too Broad

B: The study of evolution

This type of wrong answer has the opposite problem – it’s way too broad. Yes, theoretically the passage concerns the study of evolution, but only one aspect of it, and especially as it relates to the impact on the environment.

To give another ludicrous example, if you talked to your friend about your cell phone, and he said your main point was about the universe. Yes, you were talking about the universe, but only a tiny fraction of it. This is way too broad.



Wrong Answer 3: Reversed Relationship

C: How the environment shaped human evolution

This wrong answer choice can be tricky because it mentions all the right words. But of course the relationship between those words needs to be correct as well. Here, the relationship is flipped. Students who read too quickly make careless mistakes like these!



Wrong Answer 4: Unrelated Concept

D: The plausibility of evolution

Finally, this kind of wrong answer preys on the tendency of students to overthink the question. If you’re passionate about arguing about evolution, this might be a trigger answer since ANY discussion of evolution becomes a chance to argue about the plausibility of evolution. Of course, this concept will appear nowhere in the passage, but some students just won’t be able to resist.


Do you see the point? On the surface, each of the answer choices sounds possibly correct. A less prepared student would think that all of these were plausible answers.

But plausible isn't good enough. The right answer needs to be 100%, totally right. Wrong answers might be off by even one word - you need to eliminate these.

Carry this thought into every SAT Reading passage question you do and I guarantee you will start raising your score.


Strategy 3: Predict the Answer Before Reading the Answer Choices

As we've discussed already, the SAT is designed to goad you into making mistakes by putting really similar answer choices next to each other.

In Strategy 2, we covered the strategy of ruthless, unforgiving elimination of answer choices.

Here's another Strategy that works well for me. Before reading the answer choices, come up with your own answer to the question.


Gaze into your crystal ball and predict the right answer.


This strategy is exactly designed to counteract the trickiness of the answer choices.

If you DON'T apply this strategy, your thinking process likely meanders like this:

"OK, I just read the question. Answer A is definitely out. B can kind of work. C...it doesn't exactly fit, but I can see how it might work." and so on. By now, you've already fallen into the College Board's trap of muddling the answer choices.

Take the opposite approach. While you're reading the question, come up with your own ideal answer to the question before reading the answer choices. This prevents you from getting biased by the SAT's answer choices, especially the incorrect ones.

If it's a "Big Picture" type question asking about the main point of the passage, answer for yourself, "What would make a good title for this passage?"

If it's an "Inference" question, answer for yourself, "What would the author think about the situation given in the question?"

Even if you can't answer the question straight away - for example, if you have to refer back to the line number to remember what the passage was saying - try to solve the question before looking at the answer choices.

The key here is that the passage must support your answer choice. Every correct answer on SAT passages needs to be justified by the passage - otherwise the answer would be ambiguous, which would cause problems of cancelling questions I referred to earlier.

Warning: this only works if you can read and understand passages well, and if you have prior experience with SAT Reading questions! That's why I don't recommend this strategy yet before you hit a 600 level since you're more likely to come up with the wrong answer choice in your head.



Strategy 4: Experiment With Passage Reading Strategies and Find the Best for You

In your prep for the SAT, you may have read different strategies for how to read a passage and answer questions. Some students read the questions before reading the passage. Others read the passage in detail first.

At your high level, I can't predict which method will work best for you. We're going for perfection, which means that your strategy needs to line up with your strengths and weaknesses perfectly, or else you'll make mistakes or run out of time.

What I will do, however, is go through the most effective methods. You'll then have to figure out through your test data which one leads to the highest score for you.


Passage Method 1: Skim the Passage, Then Read the Questions

This is the most common strategy I recommend to our students, and in my eyes the most effective. I prefer this one myself.

Here it is:

  • Skim the passage on the first read through. Don't try to understand every single line, or write notes predicting what the questions will be. Just get a general understanding of the passage. You want to try to finish reading the passage in 3 minutes, if possible.
  • Next, go to the questions. If the question refers to a line number, then go back to that line number and understand the text around it.
  • If you can't answer a question within 30 seconds, skip it.

My preferred way to tackle a passage: skimming it on the first read-through.



This strategy is a revelation for students who used to close-read a passage and run out of time.

This skimming method works because the questions will ask about far fewer lines than the passage actually contains. For example, lines 5-20 of a reading passage might not be relevant to any question that follows. Therefore, if you spend time trying to deeply understand lines 5-20, you’ll be wasting time.

By taking the opposite approach of going back to the passage when you need to refer to it, you guarantee reading efficiency. You're focusing only on the parts of the passage that are important to answering questions.

Critical Skill: You must be able to skim effectively. This means being able to quickly digest a text without having to slowly read every word. If you're not quite good at this yet, practice it on newspaper articles and your homework reading.


Passage Method 2: Read the Questions First and Mark the Passage

This is the second most common strategy and, if used well, as effective as the first method. But it has some pitfalls if you don't do it correctly.

Here's how it goes:

  • Before you read the passage, go to the questions and read each one.
  • If the question refers to a series of lines, mark those lines on the passage. Take a brief note about the gist of the question.
  • Go back to the passage and skim it. When you reach one of your notes, slow down and take more notice of the question.
  • Answer the questions.

Here's an example passage that I marked up, with questions coming first. Notice that beyond underlining the phrase referenced in the question, I left clues for myself on what's important to get out of this phrase.

(questions not relating to specific lines aren't shown above)


In the hands of an SAT expert, this is a powerful strategy. Just like Method 1 above, you save time by skipping parts of the passage that aren't asked about. Furthermore, you get a head start on the questions by trying to answer them beforehand.

But there are serious potential pitfalls to this method if you're not careful or prepared enough.

Here's one: when you first read the questions before the passage, you won't have enough time to digest the actual answer choices (nor will they make sense to you). So you have to make your best guess for what the question is asking when you're writing a note along the passage.

In some cases, this can lead you astray. Take this example from above:

When I read the question, I saw that it asked me to find how Woolf characterized the questions I marked in lines 53-57.

The problem is how broad the question is. How something can be characterized gives a wide range of options. Here are a number of plausible characterizations as I read the text:

  • important, life-changing ("have to ask ourselves")
  • communal ("we")
  • detail-oriented ("on what terms?")
  • urgent ("here and now")
  • ambitious
  • progressive and future-looking ("where is it leading us")

There's a lot of flexibility in interpretation here, since the questions really do touch upon all these characterizations.

It turns out "important" and "urgent" are the right interpretations, for answer choice C.

But when I'm reading the passage and see my note, I can waste a lot of time coming up with potential options that aren't even correct answer choices. In the worst case, it can bias me toward the wrong answer.

Critical Skill: You need to have so much experience with the SAT Reading section that you can anticipate what the question is going to ask you for your notes to be helpful. If you're not sure of this, you can easily be led down the wrong track and focus on the wrong aspect of the passage.


Passage Method 3: Read the Passage in Detail, Then Answer Questions

This method is what beginner students usually use by default, because it's what they've been trained to do in school. Some beginner books like Princeton Review and Kaplan also suggest this as a strategy.

It's my least favorite method because there are so many ways for it to go wrong. But for the sake of completeness, I'm listing it here in case it works best for you.

Here's how it goes:

  • Read the passage in detail, line by line.
  • Take notes to yourself about the main point of each paragraph.
  • Answer the questions.

As you might guess, I don't like this method for the following reasons:

  • By reading the passage closely, you absorb a lot of details that aren't useful for answering questions.
  • The notes you take aren't directed toward helping you answer the questions.
  • By interpreting the passage ahead of time, you risk being led astray.

But this might work especially well for you if you're very good at reading for understanding, and if you have so much expertise with the SAT that you can predict what the test is going to ask you about anyway.


Choose Which Works Best for You, Based on Test Data

Because I can't predict which one will work best for you, you need to figure this out yourself. To do this, you need cold, hard data from your test scores.

Try each method on 2 sample test passages each, and tally up your percentage score for each. If one of them is a clear winner for you, then develop that method further. If there isn't a clear winner, choose the one that feels most comfortable for you.

As part of our PrepScholar program, we give you advanced statistics on your score performance so that you can experiment with methods that work best for you.


Next strategy: Understand your mistakes.



Strategy 5: Understand Every Single Mistake You Make

On the path to perfection, you need to make sure every single one of your weak points is covered. Even just one mistake will knock you down from an 800, as we saw in the score charts above.

The first step is simply to do a ton of practice. If you're studying from free materials or from books, you have access to a lot of practice questions in bulk. As part of our PrepScholar program, we have over 1,500 SAT questions customized to each skill.

The second step - and the more important part - is to be ruthless about understanding your mistakes.

Every mistake you make on a test happens for a reason. If you don't understand exactly why you missed that question, you will make that mistake over and over again.

I've seen students who did 20 practice tests. They've solved over 3,000 questions, but they're still nowhere near a perfect SAT Reading score.

Why? They never understood their mistakes. They just hit their heads against the wall over and over again.

Think of yourself as an exterminator, and your mistakes are cockroaches. You need to eliminate every single one - and find the source of each one - or else the restaurant you work for will be shut down.

Here's what you need to do:

  • On every practice test or question set that you take, mark every question that you're even 20% unsure about.
  • When you grade your test or quiz, review every single question that you marked, and every incorrect question. This way even if you guessed a question correctly, you'll make sure to review it.
  • In a notebook, write down 1) the gist of the question, 2) why you missed it, and 3) what you'll do to avoid that mistake in the future. Have separate sections by question type (vocab questions, big picture questions, inference questions, etc).

It's not enough to just think about it and move on. It's not enough to just read the answer explanation. You have to think hard about why you specifically failed on this question.

By taking this structured approach to your mistakes, you'll now have a running log of every question you missed, and your reflection on why.


No excuses when it comes to your mistakes.


Always Go Deeper - WHY Did You Miss a Reading Question?

Now, what are some common reasons that you missed a question? Don't just say, "I didn't get this question right." That's a cop out.

Always take it one step further - what specifically did you miss, and what do you have to improve in the future?

Here are some examples of common reasons you miss a Reading question, and how you take the analysis one step further:

Elimination: I couldn't eliminate enough incorrect answer choices, or I eliminated the correct answer.

One step further: Why couldn't I eliminate the answer choice during the test? How can I eliminate answer choices like this in the future?


Careless Error: I misread what the question was asking for or answered for the wrong thing.

One step further: Why did I misread the question? What should I do in the future to avoid this? 


Vocab: I didn't know what the key word meant.

One step further: What word was this? What is the definition? Are there other words in this question I didn't know? 


Get the idea? You're really digging into understanding why you're missing questions.

Yes, this is hard, and it's draining, and it takes work. That's why most students who study ineffectively don't improve.

Many people don't know the right way to study. Of the people who do, very few will diligently apply the right methods, day in, and day out, with discipline.

But you're different. Just by reading this guide, you're already proving that you care more than other students. And if you apply these principles and analyze your mistakes, you'll improve more than other students too.

Reviewing mistakes is so important that in PrepScholar, for every one of our 1,500+ practice questions, we explain in detail how to get the correct answer, and why incorrect answers are wrong. We also point out bait answers so that you can you can learn the tricks that the SAT plays on test takers like you.



Bonus Tip: Re-Solve the Question Before Reading the Answer Explanation

When you're reviewing practice questions, the first thing you probably do is read the answer explanation and at most reflect on it a little.

This is a little too easy. I consider this passive learning - you're not actively engaging with the mistake you made.

Instead, try something different - find the correct answer choice (A-D), but don't look at the explanation. Instead, try to re-solve the question once over again and try to get to the correct answer.

This will often be hard. You couldn't solve it the first time, so why could you solve it the second time around?

But this time, with less time pressure, you might spot a new reason to eliminate the wrong answer choice, or something else will pop up. Something will just "click" for you.

When this happens, what you learned will stick with you for 20 times longer than if you just read an answer explanation. I know this from personal experience. Because you've struggled with it and reached a breakthrough, you retain that information far better than if you just passively absorbed the information.

This is perfect for SAT Reading because you'll often miss a question because of an incorrect interpretation of the text. By forcing yourself to get the right answer, you'll practice getting the CORRECT interpretation of the text. Even better, you'll be scrounging the passage for clues as to why the correct answer is correct, which is exactly what you need in your passage strategy to begin with.

It's too easy to just read an answer explanation and have it go in one ear and out the other. You won't actually learn from your mistake, and you'll make that mistake over and over again.

Treat each wrong question like a puzzle. Struggle with each wrong answer for up to 10 minutes. Only then if you don't get it should you read the answer explanation.


Strategy 6: Find Your Reading Skill Weaknesses and Drill Them

Reading passage questions might look similar, but they actually test very different skills. At PrepScholar we believe the major passage skills to be:

  1. Big Picture/Main Point
  2. Little Picture/Detail
  3. Inference
  4. Words and Phrases in Context
  5. Citing Textual Evidence
  6. Perspective
  7. Analyzing Word Choice
  8. Analyzing Text Structure
  9. Analyzing Multiple Texts
  10. Analyzing Quantitative Info

Whew - that's a lot of skills. That's a much more detailed breakdown than what appears at first glance, and what most books and courses offer.

Each of these question types uses different skills in how you read and analyze a passage. They each require a different method of prep and focused practice.


The SAT requires a lot of skills. Make sure you know which ones are your weaknesses.


If you're like most students, you're better at some areas in Reading than others. You might be better at getting the Big Picture of a passage, compared to the Inference. Or you might be really strong in vocabulary, but weak in understanding the function of sentences in a passage.

If you're like most students, you also don't have an unlimited amount of time to study. This means for every hour you study for the SAT, it needs to be the most effective hour possible.

In concrete terms, you need to find your greatest areas of improvement and work on those.

Too many students study the 'dumb' way. They just buy a book and read it cover to cover. When they don't improve, they're SHOCKED.

I'm not.

Studying effectively for the SAT isn't like painting a house. You're not trying to cover all your bases with a very thin layer of understanding.

What these students did wrong was they wasted time on subjects they already knew, and they didn't spend enough time on their weaknesses.

Instead, studying effectively for the SAT is like plugging up the holes of a leaky boat. You need to find the biggest hole, and fill it. Then you find the next biggest hole, and you fix that. Soon you'll find that your boat isn't sinking at all.

How does this relate to SAT Reading? You need to find the sub-skills that you're weakest in, and then drill those until you're no longer weak in them. Fixing up the biggest holes.

Within reading, you need to figure out whether you have patterns to your mistakes. Is it that you don't get Inference questions? Or maybe you're really weak at interpreting details? Or from strategy 1: is it that you're running out of time in reading passages?

For every question that you miss, you need to identify the type of question it is. When you notice patterns to the questions you miss, you then need to find extra practice for this subskill.

Say you miss a lot of inference questions (this is typically the hardest type of question for students to get). You need to find a way to get focused practice questions for this skill so you can drill your mistakes.

Bonus: If all of this is making sense to you, you'd love our SAT prep program, PrepScholar.

We designed our program around the concepts in this article, because they actually work. When you start with PrepScholar, you’ll take a diagnostic that will determine your weaknesses in over forty SAT skills. PrepScholar then creates a study program specifically customized for you.

To improve each skill, you’ll take focused lessons dedicated to each skill, with over 20 practice questions per skill. This will train you for your specific area weaknesses, so your time is always spent most effectively to raise your score.

We also force you to focus on understanding your mistakes and learning from them. If you make the same mistake over and over again, we'll call you out on it.

There’s no other prep system out there that does it this way, which is why we get better score results than any other program on the market.

Check it out today with a 5-day free trial:

SAT Free Signup


Strategy 7: Read the Italicized Passage Introduction

This is a quick tip that many students ignore. Each passage comes with an italicized introduction, like this for the passage shown above:

This is a freebie. It gives you context for the entire passage. By knowing that the passage is about "the situation of women in English society," you hit the ground running when you read the very first sentence. This helps a lot.

Sometimes, the introduction alone can give you the answer for the "Big Picture" question about what the main point of the passage is.

Always always make sure that you read this introduction, no matter what passage method you use from Strategy 4.


Strategy 8: Be Interested in the Passage Subject Matter

The SAT has passages about a lot of weird topics. Victorian novels, underwater basket-weaving, and the evolution of gerbils are all fair game.

It's unlikely that you're naturally thrilled about all the subjects you'll read about.

This makes it easy to tune out when you're reading the passage. This makes it harder to answer the questions, which will make you more frustrated.

Instead, adopt this mindset: For the next 10 minutes, I am the world's most passionate person about whatever subject this passage is about. This passage is the most frickin' exciting thing I could be reading right now. 


For every single passage, be as excited as she is.


Force yourself to care about what the passage is telling you. Pretend that your LIFE depends on understanding this passage. Maybe you're about to give a lecture on this subject. Or someone's holding a puppy hostage if you don't answer enough questions correctly.

Or your crush turns out to be a huge mid-18th century English literature fan, so you pay rapt attention to every single word.

When I was preparing for the SAT in high school, I took this so far tot he extreme that I ended up genuinely fascinated by whatever the passage was telling me about. I remember reading a passage about volcanic activity and thinking, "Wow, I'm really glad I just learned this." (I know this sounds crazy.)

If you stay engaged while reading, you'll understand the passage so much better, and you'll answer questions with way more accuracy.



Strategy 9: DON'T Spend Time on Vocab

Vocab typically gets way too much attention from students. It feels good to study vocab flashcards, because it seems like you're making progress. "I studied 1,000 vocab words - this must mean I improved my score!"

This is why other test prep programs love teaching you vocab - it feels like they're teaching you something useful worth your money, but it's not obvious that vocab actually isn't helping your score.

Fortunately, vocab doesn't play a big role in your SAT Reading score anymore. This is especially true in the redesigned 2016 SAT. They've completely taken out Sentence Completion questions, and the words that you have to analyze in context are usually pretty common.

Here are examples of words that you need to understand in context in the current SAT:

  • ambivalent
  • clashes
  • convey
  • plastic
  • postulate

These are somewhat advanced words, but they're nowhere near the level of the words you used to have to know, like "baroque," "diatribes," "platitudes," and "progenitor."

College Board lowered the emphasis on vocab because of complaints that memorizing esoteric vocab was useless in college success and career success. Instead, it's now asking you to figure out the meaning of more common words the way the author intended.

For example, "plastic" can mean "malleable," "artificial," or "sculptural." Only one of these is right in the context of the passage.

This doesn't mean that vocab is totally useless. For one, SAT Writing still has a few vocab questions (read more about this in my Perfect SAT Writing guide). Furthermore, sometimes knowing the definition of the words in context is helpful.

Here are a few tips on what to learn, and how to learn vocab effectively.

First, I've written a super detailed guide on the best way to study SAT vocabulary. This method makes your studying much more efficient so you retain words longer and engage with the most difficult vocab most often.

Second, you need to take notes on vocab words that you don't know that you see in your practice questions. Don't just focus on the right answers - understand the definition of wrong answers as well. 

Only take notes from official SAT tests. It's hard to predict what words the SAT will use, and the SAT doesn't often repeat words from previous tests. But the official free practice tests or from the Official Study Guide that we integrate in our PrepScholar program are the best sources.


Strategy 9B: Don't Spend Time Reading Books or Magazines

Over the many years I've studied for tests or run a test prep company, I've heard this advice for SAT Reading: "Read great novels and well-written magazines, like in the New York Times or the Atlantic. This will help with reading comprehension."

I hate this advice.

A test like SAT Reading is very specific. It tests reading comprehension in very specific and formulaic ways, as I showed with all the question types in Strategy 3.

Reading for general leisure does NOT train you effectively for the test. You're not exercising the same skills you need on the test, nor is it goal-driven enough to help you make progress.

This terrible advice is like saying you can train for a swim meet by standing in the shower for longer. Yes, by being in the shower, you'll be in water, just like you will in the swimming pool. But you're not using the same skills.

Yes, if you have a lifetime of strong reading, with thousands of hours of leisure reading experience, you will do better on SAT Reading. But right now, reading general material won't help you efficiently.

Take your extra time and do SAT Reading practice questions instead.



Strategy 10: Finish With Extra Time and Double Check

Your goal at the end of all this work is to get so good at SAT Reading that you solve every question and have extra time left over at the end of the section to recheck your work.

In high school, I was able to finish a Reading section in about 60% of the time allotted. For SAT Reading, this means finishing all 5 passages and 52 questions in 40 minutes.

This means I have a whopping 25 minutes left over to recheck my answers two times over.

How did I get so fast?

1) I have an efficient reading strategy that works best for me. Namely, I skim the passage and work through the questions afterward.

2) Through a lot of hard work, I have a strong instinct for the test. I understand the test so well that when I read a question, I can predict the answer within a few seconds. I can rule out wrong answers instantly because they just feel wrong. I've surveyed thousands of questions and understood every single SAT skill deeply to design PrepScholar, so I can typically understand exactly what the College Board is asking.


Kind of like Neo seeing code in The Matrix.


Here are some time benchmarks that might help:

  • You should finish skimming a long passage within three minutes.
  • Each passage question should take you no more than 30 seconds.

If you can do this well, you'll finish the entire section in 40 minutes, leaving a lot of time to double check.

What's the best way to double check your work? I have a reliable method that I follow:

  • Double check any questions you marked that you're unsure of. Try hard to eliminate answer choices. If it's a reading passage question, make sure that the passage supports your answer.
  • If I'm 100% sure I'm right on a question, I mark it as such and never look at it again. If I'm not sure, I'll come back to it on the third pass.
  • At least two minutes before time's up, I rapidly double check that I bubbled the answers correctly. I try to do this all at once so as not to waste time looking back and forth between the test book and the answer sheet. Go five at a time ("A D B C B") for more speed.

If you notice yourself spending more than 30 seconds on a problem and aren't clear how you'll get to the answer, skip and go to the next question. Even though you need a near perfect raw score for an 800, don't be afraid to skip. You can come back to it later, and for now it's more important to get as many points as possible.



Quick Tip: Bubbling Answers

Here's a bubbling tip that will save you two minutes per section.

When I first started test taking in high school, I did what many students do: after I finished one question, I went to the bubble sheet and filled it in. Then I solved the next question. Finish question 1, bubble in answer 1. Finish question 2, bubble in answer 2. And so forth.

This actually wastes a lot of time. You're distracting yourself between two distinct tasks - solving questions, and bubbling in answers. This costs you time in both mental switching costs and in physically moving your hand and eyes to different areas of the test.

Here's a better method: solve all your questions first in the book, then bubble all of them in at once.

This has several huge advantages: you focus on each task one at a time, rather than switching between two different tasks. You also eliminate careless entry errors, like if you skip question 7 and bubble in question 8's answer into question 7's slot.

By saving just ten seconds per question, you get back 200 seconds on a section that has 20 questions. This is huge.

Note: If you use this strategy, you should already be finishing the section with ample extra time to spare. Otherwise, you might run out of time before you have the chance to bubble in the answer choices all at once.


Strategy 11: Be Ready for Turbulence in Scores

Now you know what it takes to achieve perfection in SAT Reading.

You know the best strategies to use for tackling the passage. You know how to identify your weaknesses and learn from them. You know how to save time, and you know to stay engaged while reading a passage.

Even despite all this, sometimes a passage just won't click with you.

Of all SAT sections, I find that Reading has the most volatile score. How you vibe with a passage has a big impact on your score. You might get a string of questions wrong just because you couldn't really understand what the passage was really about. This doesn't happen on Math or Writing.

No matter what happens, you need to keep calm and keep working.



You might swing from an 800 on one practice test to a 710 on another. Don't let that faze you. Don't start doubting all the hard work you've put in.

Keep a calm head, and, like always, work hard on reviewing your mistakes.

This might even happen on the real SAT. You might get below your target score and be crestfallen.

Pick yourself up. This happens. If you've consistently been getting 800's on practice tests, you should take the test again and try to score higher. Very likely, you will. And because most schools nowadays Superscore the SAT, you can combine that new 800 with your other sections for an awesome SAT score.


In Overview

Those are the main strategies I have for you to improve your SAT Reading score to an 800. If you're scoring above a 600 right now, with hard work and smart studying, you can raise it to a perfect SAT Reading score.

Even though we covered a lot of strategies, the main point is still this: you need to understand where you're falling short, and drill those weaknesses continuously. You need to be thoughtful about your mistakes and leave no mistake ignored.

Here's a recap of all the strategies, in case you want to go back and review any:

Strategy 1: Understand Your High Level Weakness: Time Management or Passage Strategy
Strategy 2: Learn to Eliminate 3 Wrong Answers
Strategy 3: Predict the Answer Before Reading the Answer Choices
Strategy 4: Experiment with Passage Reading Strategies and Find the Best for You
Strategy 5: Understand Every Single Mistake You Make
Strategy 6: Find Your Reading Skill Weaknesses and Drill Them
Strategy 7: Read the Italicized Passage Introduction
Strategy 8: Be Interested in the Passage Subject Matter
Strategy 9: DON'T Spend Time on Vocab
Strategy 10: Finish With Extra Time and Double Check
Strategy 11: Be Ready for Turbulence in Scores


Keep reading for more resources on how to boost your SAT score.


What's Next?

We have a lot more useful guides to raise your SAT score.

Read our complete guide to a perfect 2400, written by me, a perfect scorer.

Read our accompanying guide to a 800 on SAT Math.

Learn how to write a perfect-scoring 12 SAT essay, step by step.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

I built the PrepScholar program based on the principles in this article - the principles that worked for me and thousands of our students. I'm confident they'll also work with you.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:


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