In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.
Jump to page content Jump to navigation

College Board

Homepage Home > Testing > The SAT > About the Test > SAT Test Sections > Critical Reading Section

Critical Reading Section

This information refers to the current SAT and is in effect through the January 2016 test date. Get information about the redesigned SAT, which starts March 2016.

Question format, types, and content on the SAT

All critical reading questions on the SAT® are multiple-choice questions. Here is a breakdown of the question types:

Question types
# of QuestionsTime
Passage-based reading 48 Two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section
Sentence completions 19
  Total: 67 Total: 70 minutes

The content of critical reading questions falls into three general categories:

Content# of Questions
Extended reasoning 42–50
Literal comprehension 4–6
Vocabulary in context 12–16

Passage-based reading questions

Reading passages are taken from different fields, including:

  • Natural sciences
  • Humanities
  • Social sciences
  • Literary fiction

Passages often have line numbers or numbered elements that are then referenced in the questions that follow. Reading passages:

  • Range in length from 100 to about 850 words
  • Have narrative, argumentative, or expository elements
  • May be paired with related passages on a shared theme or issue

Students will be asked to:

  • Determine the meanings of words from their context
  • Show their understanding of information directly stated, including the main idea
  • Synthesize and analyze information including:
    • Identifying cause and effect
    • Making inferences
    • Understanding logic of analogies or arguments
  • Evaluate the author's assumptions and techniques

Passage-based reading sample questions are provided in the student pages of this site.

Sentence-completion questions

Sentence-completion questions measure students':

  • Knowledge of the meanings of words
  • Understanding of how the different parts of a sentence fit together logically

Each sentence-completion question presents students with a sentence that has one or more blanks, with each blank indicating that something has been omitted. The students have to choose the word(s) to complete the sentence that best fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

Sentence-completion sample questions are provided in the student pages of this site.

Reviewing critical reading concepts

The student pages on this site offers additional approaches to the critical reading questions on the SAT. Students can also take a practice test and access more practice materials at SAT Practice.

Customized Entry Pages


Go to the SAT Downloads and Materials Ordering page to view and print these and other related materials:

  • Educator Handbook for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests
  • Getting Ready for the SAT
  • Getting Ready for the SAT Subject Tests
  • A Guide for Counselors – SAT and SAT Subject Tests, U.S. edition
  • A Guide for Counselors – SAT and SAT Subject Tests, International edition


  • SAT Program for K-12
  • Phone: (888) SAT-HELP
  • International: (212) 520-8600
  • Phones are available between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday. Summer hours (from the end of June through August) are 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET). The SAT Program Educator Helpline may be reached by completing this email inquiry form.

Back to top