Your reading speed can make or break your SAT reading score. The reading SAT requires you to read each page-long passage in about 3-4 minutes* while fully absorbing the context and meaning of the passage. The first passage, often fiction, is often the easiest passage to read and understand, but the reading SAT also requires students to read and understand social science papers, historical speeches, scientific studies, and dual passages in that time limit. It’s one of the most important skills to gain, but takes the most time to improve.
* 3-4 minutes if you want to spend 8-9 minutes on the questions, for a total of 12 minutes per passage. If reading takes you 5 minutes, but questions only take you 7 and you get a perfect score, good on you. Find what ratio works and stick with it.
1. Get a book
There’s no getting around it. The number one way to raise your reading speed is to read. Students who read for fun often find themselves finishing the reading SAT a little early while their classmates struggle. So, how does someone who doesn’t read regularly start?
The trick is to find a book that’s interesting to you. It doesn’t have to be highly rated or educational or popular; it just has to be interesting to you. As long as it’s in English and not written in a heavy dialect (I’m looking at you, Huckleberry Finn and Flowers for Algernon), it’ll be a helpful book to read. A well-researched thriller about a smuggler carrying out a moon heist? Artemis by Andy Weir, sounds great. A gritty book based on the author’s life growing up poor with wonderful-yet-terrible parents? The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, wonderful. A book about burps and farts? Gulp by Mary Roach. They’re all perfectly valid. If none of those seem interesting, try using our guide on finding an interesting book to read.
Then, get the book and read it.
2. Read Every Day
After you get a book to read, you have to read it. Read it every day, even that just means opening it up, reading a sentence, and then closing it. That counts. Make it into a habit. Read right before you go to bed, or on the bus to school. You just have to read a little bit every day, and you’ll be finishing your book before you know it. After you finish that book, find another one. The practice reading something you care about, and want to pay attention to is great way to practice absorbing less interesting passages. Practicing on something you like will make the SAT much easier when the reading passages come around.
Getting lost in a book you like helps you improve your reading speed (so you can get to the next exciting part), your reading comprehension (so you can understand what’s going on), and your reading stamina (so you can power through past cliffhangers). It’s the best way to improve your reading skills, but you do have to do it every day. Set an alarm and do it.
3. Practice the SAT
Now that you’re actually reading and practicing those reading skills, you need to put them to use on the SAT. Still keep reading every day, but now it’s time to start reading the passages as well. The SAT tests deep reading, so don’t skim, and you’ll want to jot down notes and underline as you read. Pick a passage that looks somewhat tricky, and read it all the way through, taking your time, and making sure you know exactly what’s going on in every paragraph. Then answer the questions. Do this for all the passages in the reading section. The goal here isn’t to recreate actual SAT testing conditions, but calibrate your brain to the SAT wording and its tricks. Spending time really taking apart the SAT reading passages to understand how they’re structured helps in the long run.
In the end, if you find an interesting book, read every day, and spend some time taking the test apart, your reading speed should increase significantly!
That’s it! I hope you start reading as soon as possible! Seriously, do it. If you want more SAT and ACT prep advice sure to join our mailing list for a free 27-item checklist and 30-day free SAT email course.