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SAT Self-Study Resources: Critical Reading (Part 2/4)

This is Part Two of a resource guide for those ambitious students who have decided to take matters into their own hands and self-study for the SAT. The books cost money. The rest is free and readily available on the internet.

This guide has four parts to it: General Info/Intro, Critical Reading (this!), Writing, and Math. I will present each part in its own separate post. As you can see, this is a work in progress!

Did I forget something? Let me know by leaving a comment or sending an email!

Before I continue, I urge you to peruse my general/intro post on the SAT. It includes resources such as the Sparknotes Test Prep website and will help you build solid test-taking technique across each section of the SAT. The resources I list below only build on the info from that post. Okay? Okay!

The Critical Reading Section of the SAT contains two distinct question types:




In my experience, most students get sentence completion questions wrong due to limitations in their vocabulary. While it is true that the SAT reuses several words from test to test, it is also true that it is impossible to accurately predict which words will appear come test day. I therefore recommend that in addition to practicing a few different test-taking strategies with these question types, that students also spend some time studying vocabulary words and learning Greek and Latin word parts (namely roots and prefixes) as they go along. I recommend that students create and review flashcards, and I believe that regularly reading high-level material will only improve¬† a person’s vocabulary (among other benefits).

  • Direct Hits

I am a huge fan of the Direct Hit books written by Larry Krieger. Direct Hits Core Vocabulary of the SAT: Volume 1 is a great starter, while Direct Hits Toughest Vocabulary of the SAT: Volume 2 is a worthy addition. These books work well because they include fun and interesting blurbs to help readers learn words in context. The books also emphasize important word parts every now and again, and recycles key words to help readers retain them more quickly.

Buy from Amazon.com

Direct Hits, Volume 1

Buy from Amazon.com

Direct Hits, Volume 2

  • Internet

Writing flashcards by hand increases word retention more so than solely studying with electronic flashcards. However, if you are in a bind then you can certainly create or study SAT-related vocab flashcards online. For example, this set features Direct Hits words!

If it helps you to approach vocab as though it were a game, check out Vocabulary.com. If you want to test your vocab chops and help a good cause, then you should visit the Free Rice website. Warning:  you may find yourself addicted.

Similarly, there are countless resources online to help students learn roots/prefixes, including pre-made electronic flash cards and website lists. This one includes fun visuals. I caution students not to get too wrapped up in studying word parts. Usually, it’s easiest to learn new word parts while you learn new words.

And finally, SilverTurtle’s SAT Guide and FamilyEducation.com feature a few handy sentence completion tips and practice questions for you to try.


Reading Comprehension on the SAT has a pretty bad reputation, because it can be quite tricky. It can also take a long period of time and practice for a student to achieve any noticeable point increase. In my opinion, actively reading journals and newspapers will help a student improve his or her score on this part of the test. Many people specifically recommend reading op-ed sections.

Of course, there are other things you can do to boost your score. Reading high-level material alone will not necessarily help you gain points. In my opinion, each test-taker must develop his or her own approach to reading comprehension passages and questions. I do not think that any singular approach works for everyone. So take all advice with a grain of salt, and practice different techniques until you find a rhythm that works best for you.

  • Books

Test prep books frequently receive criticism for their departures from the real SAT. Test prep companies hire writers to create questions that mimic those found on the SAT, but oftentimes these writers create content that falls short of the real thing. This critique is more or less true in every section of the SAT, but it is glaringly apparent when test prep company writers try to emulate reading comprehension passages and questions. My advice? Practice, practice, practice with whatever general aid you have chosen and especially with the Blue Book.

However, one worthy book is Outsmarting the SAT by Elizabeth King. This book is written in a refreshingly friendly tone, and the author offers useful advice on all sections of the SAT. The one downside (and why I would not recommend it alone for general prep) is that it does not provide much practice. Nonetheless, the author’s advice on reading comprehension is very smart and may work well for you.

Buy from Amazon.com

Outsmarting the SAT

  • Internet

College Confidential forum user Noitaraperp penned a post on an effective way to “attack” the reading comprehension section. This approach many not work for everyone, but it has been lauded by many.

SAT Ninja wrote a series of helpful posts that you should check out. They are fairly detailed and offer some sound advice.

FamilyEducation has a basic yet informative run-down of the Reading Comprehension section, complete with advice on strategy.

If you poke around the Ultimate SAT Verbal Blog, then you will find some valuable advice on the reading comprehension section. You should check out this useful page, in addition to following the “SAT Reading Strategies” tag, the “SAT Reading Tips” tag, and the “SAT Reading Passages” tag (yes there is overlap, but I wanted to be thorough).

Finally, the author of PWN the SAT has hinted that he plans on adding more content related to the reading comprehension section. Here is a link to the blog’s “Reading” tag.

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