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SAT Practice Test - Passage-Based Reading

SAT Test Structure

Passage-based reading questions will compose 71% of the total questions you will see on the critical reading SAT. One 30 minute section will contain a passage with up to 13 questions and the other 30 minute section will contain a passage followed by up to 15 more questions. The 15 minute section will consist of a passage and up to 13 questions.

* Unlike the other SAT questions, the critical reading questions are not arranged in order of difficulty. This is actually fortunate as they are arranged in chronological order.

Read the introductory italicized sentence

This sentence will describe the passage and is the only thing you will read that is not directly related to a test question...

Read the questions - not the rest of the passage

The questions will direct you to the part of the passage that contains the information you need to correctly answer the question. What more could you want than the actual answer itself?!

Note: Should the question not give you a line number, it should be relatively easy to scan the passage for the key word or phrase, ex. Aristotle.

Remember time is of the essence

You will waste too much time if you read the entire passage and then begin the questions. Remember this is a timed test and you are not being graded on your reading form. (Yes, we know this is an ironic way to approach the critical reading section. But trust us that this is a very powerful technique!)

Read a line above and a line below those specified in the question

This will insure that you catch the entire context of the reading relating to the question. 

Expect to see incorrect answers that seek to exploit those test takers who do not read these additional lines.

Answer the questions in the order they are asked except...

Because the questions are arranged in chronological order instead of order of difficulty, answering them in order allows you to move right along. However, if you come across a question which relates to the "general summary/general tone" of the passage before the end of the series of questions, you are well advised to skip it until you have answered the other questions. By the time you do answer these questions, you should have a good idea how to answer the question.

If you find yourself still unable to answer the question, read the first sentence of each paragraph. You should not invest the time to read the entire passage for this one question unless it is necessary and you have time left over at the end of the section.

Dual passages

One of the 3 passages you will encounter will be a "dual passage". Quite simply, this section will be 2 short passages that offer different perspectives on the same topic. You should answer all the questions on the first passage first and then answer all the questions about the second passage. The last questions you should answer should be those that refer to both passages.

SAT Practice Test - Critical Reading

There are 5 different types of critical reading questions. Here are our tips and advice for each type:


These questions are the "low hanging fruit" of the critical reasoning section. You will find the answers to them verbatim inside the passage. To be quite frank, only mental fatigue and lack of concentration should prevent you from acing the detail questions.

Be sure to read one line above and one line below the line number reference in the question!


These questions are a little more difficult. The key here is to decide how the particular word is being used in the passage. Be very well aware that ETS, the test writers, will deliberately choose a word with more than one meaning and the correct answer will NOT be the vocabulary word's primary meaning.

An example might be a passage about an individual "ready to explode". There will be an incorrect choice that defines this to mean a literal explosion. The correct choice will say something along the lines of "The pent-up frustration and stress was getting ready to cause him to lose his temper."


Questions such as "The author's attitude towards..." are what we refer to here as "tone" questions. The correct answer will never be too strongly worded. As a result, you can eliminate answer choices such as "lunatic and irrational" and -- at a minimum, put our friend Process of Elimination to work on your SAT test score behalf.


These are the most difficult critical reading questions for most of the students that we have helped on the SAT1. You must judge what the author is advocating and what his "agenda" is. Practice and process of elimination should net you at least a few points out of these questions even if inferences and implications are not your forté.

Main Idea

Since all the questions count equally and these questions will take the most time to complete, answer these questions last if you have the time. Examine the opening and ending sentences of each paragraph. 

The topic sentences in SAT1 tests are almost always implied. Think proactively as you are reading the opening and ending paragraph sentence, "Who is the passage about?", "Why is the author making these individual points?", etc. The main idea will be supported by the arguments. It will never be extraneous to any of the points made in the passage.

SAT Test Critical Reading Questions

Since our lines are about 1.5 times as wide as those you will see on the SAT (we're SAT gurus, not web design gurus as you can probably already tell), our passage may appear to be shorter. However, it will take you roughly the same amount of time to read as a "real one".

In all honesty though, the SAT passages are often times a bit more interesting. Do not use the test time to read these though. If, by some weird chance, you become captivated by a passage, you can read more about the passage's material after the test -- on your time!

The following passage chronicles an interview between a communications professor and the author.

As a communications specialist, I teach my students to become more aware of interpersonal communication such as symbolic behavior, use of words, and nonverbal mannerisms. My goal is to ignite symbols in their minds so we can come to a point of agreement on language.
5 I immensely enjoy the work because life is becoming more this way -- persuade people to accept your point of view. We are both communicating and persuadable animals. It's not unethical and I train my students in an ethical manner. 
Many of my peers have left academia and taken up positions in business. 10 They tend to become human resources officers. Happiness in job behavior is directly related to profits. If you get your employees to trust you, then you will increase your profits. This is why professionals in my field are so highly valued.
Many famous psychologists reach over into communications and many 
15 study my field so they can learn more about interpersonal relationships. Whether it's John Miller at the office or Bill Clinton attending a political fundraiser, communications is important in everything we do.
The majority of research is centered around conflict communication. There is definitely a strong desire to learn the proper steps to be taken to
20 maintain a cool, rational process. I believe the increase in interest in communications can be traced to the Cuban missile crisis.
Our research has made great strides in a relatively short period of time. We now know that it sometimes truly is more effective to have a spokesperson with a robotic, or monotonous if you will tone. This type of 25 spokesperson is often most effective in crisis situations because their relative lack of emotion can signal that heads are remaining cool and problems are being dealt with effectively. This was illustrated wonderfully by the U.S. military spokespeople during the first Persian Gulf war.
While we have studied military communications, we have most of our work 30 in the area of business communications. We now regularly consult companies on how to conduct job interviews. We have learned that most interviewers make up their minds about a job candidate within the first 5 minutes of the interview. We have also discovered why this is and we will tell companies what is productive and counterproductive about these
35 interviews and hiring managers. We also conduct work on how to handle other business issues such as earnings releases and product recalls.
Communication specialists do have a sense of power and many people will argue it is a grave misuse of power. When someone has enough
40 power over behavior, the argument can be raised that it is a grave abuse of power

1.) The word "ignite" in line 3 means to

(A) tolerate

(B) set on fire

(C) place

(D) incinerate
(E) celebrate

2.) What is the speaker's main point in lines 5 through 8?

(A) Many falsely consider communications to be unethical.

(B) Bill Clinton would have never enjoyed much success if he had not been an effective communicator.

(C) People act like animals.

(D) The students are taught in an ethical manner.
(E) Communications is a fulfilling discipline to teach.

3.) It can be inferred from lines 14 through 16 that

(A) The famous psychologists should have been communications specialists.

(B) Communications is a multi-disciplinary field.

(C) Interpersonal relationships are important to not only communications professionals.

(D) There were no famous psychologists who examined communications issues or they would have been mentioned by name.
(E) Communications is important in everything we do.

4.) Based on lines 24 through 26, which situation would not be effectively communicated by a compassionate style of spokesperson?

(A) military training accident

(B) scientific discovery

(C) jury decision

(D) declaration of war
(E) charitable contribution

5.) The tone of this passage as a whole can be best described as

(A) satirical

(B) elegiac

(C) soporific

(D) informative
(E) persuasive

SAT Test Critical Reading Answers

Please, please, please don't tell us that you actually read the entire SAT critical reading passage. If you did, you need to review our critical reading tips and advice page. Come on, that was actually painful for us to write, it shouldn't have been very exciting to read!

In all honesty though, the SAT passages are often times a bit more interesting. Do not use the test time to read these though. If, by some weird chance, you become captivated by a passage, you can read more about the passage's material after the test on your time.

1.)  C.  This is one of the "vocabulary" questions we told you about. Hopefully, you were able to very quickly eliminate choice B. As you will recall, we told you that the correct answer to a vocabulary type question in the SAT critical reading section is never as obvious as its primary meaning.

2.)  E.  The author is giving reasons why he/she enjoys teaching. Choices A and D are mainly secondary points raised in this three-line argument. Choice C is a poor literal interpretation of one secondary point and choice B is not even referred to until much later in the passage -- which you should not have known when you answered this question because you were not supposed to read the passage first.

3.)  B.  Choice E is too general in its wording. Choice D is in out in proverbial right field. It is an answer choice you can easily eliminate. (Just be sure not to spend your valuable SAT test taking time determining why it is wrong.) Choice A is too far a leap to be an inference and it is worded a little more strongly than most of the correct SAT critical reading questions you will see. 

So, what about choice C you ask? Choice C is also incorrect because it is NOT inferred, it is actually stated in the passage. This is a common mistake we see test takers make on the SAT. 

4.)  D.  Did you read the line above and below the one referenced? If so, this should not have been too difficult. If you are the spokesperson announcing to the public that war has been declared, you would not want to sound compassionate. According to the passage, you would want to sound monotonous in your tone. The relative lack of emotion can signal that heads are remaining cool and problems are being dealt with effectively. The passage goes on to state on lines 23 and 24, "This was illustrated wonderfully by the U.S. military spokespeople during the first Persian Gulf war."

5.)  D.  The speaker's tone is informative. Too many straight-forward facts are given for this passage to be persuasive, although the speaker is enthusiastic about the topic. Elegiac means sorrowful and soporific means to make someone sleepy. Despite any good arguments for this, it was clearly not the fictitious speaker's intention.

Hopefully, you were able to answer the fifth question based on your research for the first 4 questions. Remember to always do these tone questions last. It is in your best time management interests to do so.

SAT Critical Reading Section--The SAT Critical Reading Section is supposed to test reading comprehension skills. But don't worry - even the most apprehensive reader can do well on it.

SAT Critical Reading Breakdown--67 questions (48 multiple-choice and 19 sentence completion); 70 minutes total: Two 25 minute sections and one 20-minute section; Score on a 200 to 800 point scale.

Passage-Based Reading--Students will be asked to answer 48 multiple-choice questions based on short and long passages.

Sentence Completions--Students will be presented with an incomplete sentence and be asked to finish it with the correct word or words.