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Should you read the SAT Critical Reading passages before trying to answer the questions, or should you save yourself all the time and hassle of reading what is usually a fairly dry and boring reading assignment, especially if you are not a fast reader?

Some visitors might scoff at this post, but I saw this morning that somebody had visited my site after asking Google this exact question and I really want to provide a straight, quick, and definitive answer:

Yes – you must read the SAT Critical Reading passages!

I know it seems like you don’t have enough time to finish, but you can’t just skip the reading section of the test.

My advice is to build your SAT vocabulary far in advance, use a good note-taking strategy and read the passage for comprehension the first time. There are a few more subtleties that might help a little bit but there is no substitute for a clear understanding of what the passage is saying.  

On the SAT, read for comprehension of:

The Topic

What is the reading passage mainly about?

The Main Character (if the reading is fiction)

What is the main character like as a human being? How does he or she relate to other characters in the passage? Friendly, shy, cruel, or what?

The Author’s Viewpoint on the topic (if the reading is non-fiction)

Where does the author stand on the central issue, and why?

The Tone of the Passage

Is it sarcastic, honest, nostalgic, whimsical, or what?  

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Is it possible to get a perfect score on the SAT without actually doing the reading?

Someone in the back of the classroom chimes in: “But I heard of someone who took the whole SAT test and got a perfect reading score and they said they didn’t read the passages at all!”

Well, there are some professionals who can answer SAT questions fairly accurately without reading the passages; heck, I think I could do alright after all the practice problems I’ve done.

However, the SAT Reading is designed to test deep comprehension of the passage as well as critical thinking (I’ll let you decide how “effective” they actually are at this). This means that students who try to answer the questions without reading the passages, or without a fairly clear understanding of the passage, are just going to be throwing SAT points down the drain.

With all the confusing and contradictory SAT advice and tips out there, I can understand exactly why someone might ask this question.

But again – reading the SAT passages in the Critical Reading section is non-optional. And hey, if you’re like me, sometimes you’ll even be interested in the topic of the passage. And that can make things a little easier. Good luck!

Further Reading:
How Can I Read Faster?
The Art of Skimming on the SAT and ACT
Improve Your SAT Reading Score by Taking Notes
SAT Critical Reading Tips: How to Finish On Time
How to Get a Perfect 800 on the SAT Reading Section

Additional Resources:
Conquer SAT Vocabulary Video Course

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