SAT Reading Passages Types

Video Lesson on SAT Reading Passages Types

The types of passages mainly differ in length, but also in content. Therefore, the strategies for tackling them need to be different.

Types of Reading Passages

If you are preparing for the SAT in near future, chances are you've heard that the SAT has undergone some big changes as of March 2016. Most notably, the guessing penalty has been removed, which is in and of itself a major advantage for test takers. However, the test has also been brought more in line with what you actually learn in school/college. In this lesson, we'll learn how the SAT Reading Test now has four different fields from which passages may be drawn: literature, U.S. history, social science, and science.


Passages from this category show up less frequently on the SAT (thus, only one sample) and have a slightly different feel: they’re difficult not because of scientific terminology or historical references, but mainly because of antiquated language and totally unfamiliar subject matter (e.g. the descriptions below, or a character’s concerns about her upcoming marriage).

First things first, remember the golden rule of the new SAT Reading Test - don't try to apply any knowledge that you know from elsewhere. This test is about your ability to get information from what's in front of you - not from what you remember from American Literature in junior year.

Sample: The youngest man on board (barring the second mate), and untried as yet by a position of the fullest responsibility, I was willing to take the adequacy of others for granted. They simply had to be equal to their tasks, but I wondered how far I should turn out faithful to that ideal conception of one’s own personality every man sets up for himself secretly.


History passages give the SAT a chance to test your understanding of specific meaningful events or evolution of ideas over long periods of time. These are situations in which outside knowledge is (a) most likely to occur, especially for students in AP History courses, and (b) most detrimental: remember, only draw your answers from the material on the page.


Two of the sections of the Reading Test have science-based reading passages. This again should not come as a surprise. After all, so much of our society depends on STEM fields, and you can't spell STEM without the S for science. Also, if you didn't have to compare two texts in the U.S. history section, you'll have to do it here. Again, don't worry if you haven't read the latest issues of science or medicine journals or haven't taken dual enrollment courses in organic chemistry. Anyone on a typical college preparatory schedule of science classes will have everything they need to handle this section. One more thing to be aware of, however. The science sections, as well as potentially the social science section, will almost assuredly feature a graph, chart, infographic, or some other image. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, and being able to interpret that information is just as valuable as being able to read good prose.

Social Science

Of the four fields that you'll have passages from, you may be least familiar with the passages related to social science. After all, students in many parts of the country don't take economics or government until their senior year, and even fewer take sociology or psychology classes. So does that mean that you are set up to fail this part of the exam? Of course not! Remember, the test only measures your ability to synthesize information as it is presented. This is in anticipation of you going to college and suddenly having to read plenty of material that you may not have been exposed to in the past. After all, while few people take a number of economics or psychology classes in high school, many people take those courses as general education requirements. In the meantime, if you want to review some basic definitions common to those fields, that may decrease your anxiety. However, chances are that between history and science, you've already covered many of those terms in one form or another.

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