The 65-minute reading section of the SAT is designed to measure your ability to understand and interpret different types of texts. However, for many students, 65 minutes doesn’t feel like nearly enough time.
Managing time effectively for this section is paramount to your success, and we suggest that you tailor your approach to the passages based on the amount of time you have. If you had all the time in the world, you might go at things a bit differently than if you were moments from the buzzer.
Here are some strategies for attacking a passage in the reading section of the SAT when you’re low on time. Remember: don’t panic! You can still do a lot even when you feel like you don’t have time. Let’s get down to basics.
Before reading a word of the passage, look at the questions. Get an idea of where you should be focusing while reading. When you’ve finished going through the questions, circle the ones that are asking about larger themes and concepts so they’re fresh in your mind. Take a moment to note any questions that reference specific lines and make a mark next to that line in the passage so you’ll know there’s a question to answer when you get there.
Now it’s time to read. If you feel like you need to skim to finish on time, skim! As you read, write a few key words next to the paragraph in the booklet. This will help you simplify the point of the piece. It will also help you find what you’re looking for quickly if you need to refer back to something. As you’re going through the passage, pause to answer the line-specific questions you’ve noted already. That way you won’t have to look back at the passage as often when you’re answering the questions.
Answer the remaining questions! Once all the questions are answered, skim through the passage one last time with your answer choices in mind. If you’ve completed all the questions and feeling confident, it’s time to move onto the next one.
If You’re Down to the Wire:
Now, there may be a time when you find yourself with with only moments left and an entire passage still to go. Don’t hesitate — look straight to the questions. Avoid questions about theme, argumentation, or anything that would require you to have read the whole text. Look for the simpler questions that call attention to specific lines, the meaning of words in context, details, syntax, literary devices, etc and answer as many of those as possible!
Of course, if you had all the time in the world, you’d read and reread the passage, taking your dear sweet time to work through the questions. But sometimes, that’s just not realistic.
Whatever type of test-taker you are, or however you perform with time constraints, the reading section presents challenges for all students. However, the above strategies will help you attack the section with confidence.