Pacing for the New SAT Reading Test

We won’t beat around the bush. There’s a lot to read on the new SAT Reading test. And if you aren’t careful with balancing your time between reading and question answering, you very well might find yourself in a panic when the proctor announces 5 minutes left. So let’s talk about how you can learn to pace yourself appropriately.


Time per question on the Redesigned SAT Reading Test

On average, you have one minute and fifteen seconds to answer each question on the SAT Reading test, but this includes reading time. The time you actually have per question will depend on exactly how long the passage is, how complex the passage is, and how fast of a reader you are.

Time per passage on New SAT Reading

Since everyone reads at a different pace and some passages are denser than others, it’s better to think about the approximate time you can spend per passage rather than per question. With 65 minutes for the whole Redesigned SAT Reading test, this means you have 13 minutes per passage for each of the 5 passages if you pace evenly. So check your watch after each passage and make sure you are roughly on track. Don’t panic if you are a little bit over; some passages might take you longer than others, but try to make up the ground as you go.


Time to spend reading each SAT Reading passage

The trick to conquering the SAT Reading section is finding the perfect balance between reading time and question-answering time.  This is going to vary based on the individual, but in an ideal world you want to have enough time to carefully read and understand the passage and enough time to answer each question thoughtfully.

For most people, this is easier said than done. But you should definitely figure out whether you are wasting too much time trying to understand every morsel of what you read or whether you are reading too quickly and thus wasting too much time re-reading or simply getting answer questions wrong because you blew through the passage in a mad sprint.


How to Balance Your Reading Time and Question Answering Time on SAT Reading

To help you figure out your pattern, we suggest that once you become familiar with the test, you spend at least one practice section carefully noting your time both for reading the passage and for answering questions.

Don’t change your natural pace or worry about the overall time limit for the passage! Just jot down how long it took you to read the passage and then how long it took you to answer the questions for each one. If you are taking the SAT under regular time, you should ideally be finishing the total test within 60 to 65 minutes. If you finish much under that, then you aren’t using your full time to read passages or answer questions carefully. If you finish in much more than that, then you might need to make some decisions about increasing your reading time, skipping some questions, or even skipping an entire passage so you can be more careful on the ones you do do. (Of course, always make sure to bubble in guesses for everything: NO PENALTY FOR INCORRECT ANSWERS on the new SAT. Happy dance!)

For more on SAT pacing, check out Magoosh’s SAT study guide!



  • Kristin Fracchia

    Dr. Kristin Fracchia has over fifteen years of expertise in college and graduate school admissions and with a variety of standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, with several 99% scores. She had a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, an MA degree from The Catholic University, and BA degrees in Secondary Education and English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park. She was the recipient of the 2013 Excellence in Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Club Fellowship from the University of California, Irvine. She’s worked as a high school teacher and university professor, as an independent college and graduate school admissions counselor, and as an expert tutor for standardized tests, helping hundreds of students gain acceptance into premier national and international institutions. She now develops accessible and effective edtech products for Magoosh. Her free online content and YouTube videos providing test prep and college admissions advice have received over 6 million views in over 125 countries. Kristin is an advocate for improving access to education: you can check out her TEDx talk on the topic. Follow Kristin on LinkedIn!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

2 Responses to Pacing for the New SAT Reading Test

  1. Abdelrahman April 30, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi,i am abdelrahma  i just wanted to ask if the strategy of reading first and last lines of each paragraph is correct or wrong and can i read the whole passage and answer all the questions in the given time 

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 9, 2016 at 2:12 am #

      Hi Abdelrahma,

      We recommend that you read the entire passage rather than only the first and last lines. Both main idea and detail questions can require information from the entire passage, not just the first or last sentences. And yes, with practice, you should have time to read the whole passage and answer all of the related questions in a given section of the exam 🙂

      Hope this helps!

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