The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is one of two standard college entrance exams you can take. Over 2 million prospective college students who graduated high school in 2020 took the exam, making it the widest entrance exam in the United States.

The exam is comprised of two main subjects’ math and evidence-based reading and writing. Yet, each section has its own way of studying and preparing. If you are looking for tips and tricks on how to ace the verbal section of the SAT, then you have come to the right place. But if you’re looking for SAT math-specific study strategies then we have those as well by looking at our ultimate SAT math guide.

If you are a below-average reader or simply do not score high in your literature or English language classes do not worry, you will find the best study strategies to get an above-average SAT verbal score here.

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The SAT Verbal Format

The verbal portion of the SAT exam is made up of two sections timed at a total of 1 hour and 40 minutes. First, you will take the reading test, followed by the evidence-based writing and language portion, and an optional 50-minute essay.

SAT verbal
The 2016 revision of the SAT made the essay portion optional, yet many colleges/universities still require it. (Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash)

The first section on the SAT is the reading section made up of 52 questions and timed at 65 minutes. This section mainly focuses on how you retain information, your reading comprehension, and how well you use the information that was given.

Questions are all multiple choice and based on passages that are given to you during the test. Passage topics consist of current and social events, science passages with data sets for interpretation, and humanities passages.

The second section is the writing and language section consisting of 44 questions and given 35 minutes to answer them. This subsection asks the test taker to improve and edit passages that have deliberate errors specifically for the test.

Prospective college students will be asked to read passages while trying to find mistakes, errors, and the best way to fix them. The essence of this section is to test your proofreading skills and your ability to spot and correct problems, which are skills that you have learned in high school and will need to truly succeed in college.

Questions asked on the evidence-based reading and writing portion of the new SAT will also fall into any of eight categories:

  1. Ability to Understand the Context of Vocabulary: Questions will be asked to test if you can understand the context of a word within a passage. Words that are questioned are usually used in uncommon ways in the given passage.
  2. Analyzing and Interpreting Data: These questions typically ask you to interpret key graphs and data sets with an answer that best supports or least supports the data given. The passages for these questions are typically science-based short scripts and are testing your ability to interpret science-based evidence.
  3. Author’s Perspective, Writing Style, and Tone: In this category, you will usually be asked to identify the author’s overall writing perspective, tone, attitude, style, and or voice. Your ability of reading comprehension is the main focus of these questions.
  4. Big Picture Recognition: Questions in this category will usually ask what the overall meaning of the passage is trying to convey, inform, review, contradict, prove, hypothesize, or distort. Questions will blatantly ask you the main purpose of the passage with multiple choice answers to follow.
  5. Considering All Implications: Every article, script, passage, etc. as is taught has various meanings, which is what the questions under this category are testing. Recognizing not just the big picture, but also the little details in a passage is the main objective of these questions.
  6. English Conventions: Something to also consider is that the verbal section measures a student’s ability to express ideas the best way while understanding standard English conventions of sentence structure, punctuation, and word usage.
  7. Evidence Support: This category of questions is a new skill to the revised 2016 SAT. Questions typically come in sets with the first question asking about the passage and the second asking where you found your evidence and referencing it in your answer.
  8. Functionality of Sentences or Phrases: Questions in this category will point out specific sentences and or lines in the passage while asking what the author's primary implications are for the overall passage.
SAT study resources
Local libraries are great sources for SAT prep books and resources. (Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash)

Study Strategies for Reading + Writing Sections

The new SAT verbal section can be conquered with a few strategies and flexed skills. You do not need to have a high reading level to score high. Hard work, repetition, and dedication are just a few key skills you need to ace this section with flying colors.

For the reading and writing sections, you have to come prepared that all questions asked will be in reference to a short passage that in turn needs to be read. Being a fast reader will come with its advantages in this section. But a few simple study strategies, when mastered, will give you the same speed as a reading pro.

  • When reading a passage, do not focus too much on the vocabulary used. Knowing complex words does not give you a huge advantage, but reading comprehension and interpretation do.
  • A simple strategy to reading the passage faster is not reading all of it. Read the first and last paragraphs initially, then start reading the questions. The first and last paragraphs will help you quickly know the introductory and conclusion context.
  • Once you’ve read the first and last paragraphs start reading the questions. If necessary, the rest of the passage can be read if the question poses context from the body of the passage.
  • If a passage includes graphs or data sets, try to answer the questions by only analyzing the data and skipping the passage. If you feel you cannot answer the questions from just the information given in the graph, try to get adequate information from just skimming through the passage.
  • Scientific reasoning should also be practiced and kept in your study rotation. The new revised SAT has a few questions that will test your grasp of logical and scientific reasoning.

Vocabulary Study Breakdown

Now that you have a grasp on the reading and writing section, let’s move on to vocabulary strategies. Since the SAT was revised in 2016 the vocabulary used in the exam is not as high a priority as it was on other exam revisions. But that does not mean the SAT won’t ask you grammar and complex vocabulary questions.

The difference to the new SAT is that the exam now focuses less time on obscure vocabulary words and more on words with multiple meanings. This change puts a stronger strain on understanding word meaning within a context, instead of word complexity and definitions.

SAT verbal
Reading various books, magazines, newspapers, etc. will allow you to be familiar with words in different contexts/topics. (Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash)

Start reading articles from multiple publications and pertaining to various subjects. By reading articles you will not only start learning new words, but you will also be attributing context and meaning toward the word. A few publications that are great — The New York Times, The New Yorker, NY Times Book Review, Fashion Magazine (i.e. Vogue, Paper, GQ), The Economist, Slate, Vanity Fair, Wired, National Geographic, Psychology Today. These publications will give you a plethora of articles on diverse topics within history, literature, science, politics, and current events.

If you think that more study prep is needed past these strategies or you need more budget-friendly study resources, there are countless resources online, at your local library, or through online communities of private tutors like Superprof.

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Denise

A California desert-native who has a passion for baking from scratch, reading 1950-era novels, listening to soul/jazz, and learning about different cultures through travel.