How long should I take to Read the Passage?

How long should I take to read the passage is one of the most frequently asked questions. And the answer is, of course, it depends.

The SAT Reading section has 5 passages with 52 questions to be completed in 65 minutes. If we strictly go with the math, this means you have 13 minutes per passage and question set.

But, don’t do that.

How to take the right amount of time to read the passage

Some passages are easier and more straightforward than others. Ideally, you want to read the passage that is easiest in the least amount of time, giving you extra time to read the passage that is hardest.

Often, students find the Social Science and Science passages the easiest. I suggest you flip through the Reading section and identify the topics of the passages you have been given. For example,

  • Excerpt from Pride and Prejudice–Literature
  • How supermarkets are arranged to encourage buying–Social Science
  • Frogs as indicator species–Science (Double Passage)
  • The Rights of Labor by John Llewellyn Lewis –Global Conversation
  • Advancements in Mag-Lev Trains–Science

Now imagine that you are pretty confident about Supermarkets, Frogs and Mag-Lev Trains. Try to complete these 3 passages in 10-11 minutes each. So, now you have 32 to 35 minutes left for the remaining passages. Next, tackle the one you feel more comfortable with, and try to complete it under 15 minutes, so that you have 17 to 20 minutes for the last and most difficult passage. This order allows you to complete the most questions that you have the greatest chance of getting correct first.

Frequently, students start with the Literature passage and get bogged down in it, taking 15 minutes (or more). Then they panic and rush through some of the easier passages and questions, often making careless errors. By doing the easier passages first, you can relax a little bit about the time.

For Weak Reading Students

If you find that you cannot complete 5 passages within 65 minutes, or that you frequently find yourself rushing, TRY THIS. Identify the easiest passages for you. Can you get perfect on a single passage if you have 20 minutes? If so, complete 3 of the 5 passages, giving yourself 15-20 minutes for each passage–BUT ensure you are absolutely correct for each answer. Then choose your favorite letter among a,b,c,d and choose all of that letter for the remaining 2 passages. Don’t choose randomly; pick the all Bs or Cs. As you improve, you can try this technique with 4 passages and just give Global Conversation all Ds (or Bs).

For Example

Imagine we completed College Board Test 5 using this technique and I chose all As for the Literature and Global Conversation passages.

  • Passage 1–Literature 2/11
  • Passage 2–Global Conversation 3/10
  • Passage 3– Science 9/10 (oops we made 1 mistake)
  • Passage 4–Social Science 10/10
  • Passage 5–Science 11/11
  • Total 35/52=290/400

Always Time yourself and be Strict when Practicing

Regardless of the technique you are using, practice with a time limit. If you get too used to taking an extra minute (or 5), it will be harder to complete everything on the real test within the time limit.

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