Reading Passages
What SAT RPs Test
RPs test specific reading skills needed to make sense of paragraphs and longer chunks of prose. You’ll be expected to:
  • Recognize the major features of an RP: topic, main idea, purpose, tone, theme, and logic.
  • Recognize the use of rhetorical devices and literary techniques, including: hyperbole, repetition, imagery and figurative language, sound patterns, rhetorical questions, idioms and clichés, irony, foreshadowing, and motif.
  • Decode unfamiliar words from context.
  • Find informational details (facts) in the passage.
  • Identify cause and effect and follow the logic of arguments.
  • Compare and contrast arguments.
Don’t worry if some of these terms look unfamiliar or confusing: we’ll cover everything in the following sections.
Passages can be either nonfiction or fiction. Nonfiction passages can be on any topic in one of three broad areas: science, social science, and the humanities. Items are never based on outside knowledge; all the information you need to answer the items is in the passage. Passages may feature a couple of unfamiliar terms related to the topic at hand, but these terms are always defined within the passage.
A major change to the new SAT is the addition of fiction passages. The good news is that pre–2005 SATs have featured fiction passages on occasion, so we have a good idea what these RPs look like. The fictional prose you will see will be straightforward and conventional and most likely concerned with issues of personal development or family relationships. Standardized tests tend to stay away from controversial topics such as war, sex, death, or politics. While some familiarity with basic literary techniques is required, the fiction sets are pretty similar to the old-style nonfiction sets.
Before we can jump into the methods you’ll use to handle RPs, there are a few essential concepts and skills you’ll need to get under your belt. Let’s take a look at those now.
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