The SAT has two components: Math and Verbal.  The former is self-explanatory, but the latter is a combination of the old SAT’s writing and reading sections.  You can find our guide on how to excel on the Math section here.  This post is dedicated on acing the Verbal section of the SAT.


Since being remade in 2016, the verbal component has a variety of new topics.  The primary difference is that each question will be rooted in a passage. You can expect five passages total.  One will offer you some an excerpt from World or US Literature, two will be historical writings and the last two will be scientific.  You can expect eight different types of questions across this section.


The first type is a test of your vocabulary.  Unlike the old exam, you’ll have context clues for the definition of each word, rather than having to know them in a vacuum.  However, building your vocabulary is still immensely helpful because you’ll be able to more quickly identify a word’s meaning, saving time for more difficult questions.  The second type is recognizing the purpose of the passage. What is the author getting at? Are you satirizing people with whom they disagree? Are they trying to methodically build an argument using the scientific method?  So on and so forth. Part of this skill is pinpointing the author’s style or perspective. You’ll also be asked to perform a similar task, but on a smaller portion of the passage. You’ll be given a set of lines and asked to explain how they fit into a larger schema.  Similarly, the test will make you subjectively decode various phrases. It’s important to note here that each question has only one correct answer, you won’t be asked to choose the “most correct” one. On an even more micro level, you’ll have to state the purpose of small phrases within the passage.  Lastly, you’ll be asked a series of paired questions about the author’s intent and how you came to identify it. This section is particularly treacherous because if you fail the first part of the pair, you’re unlikely to get the second one correct. Many of these questions require a scaffolding set of skills thus it’s easy to prepare for each of them collectively.


In an effort to more closely resemble the ACT, the SAT has added a scientific reasoning skills to its verbal component.  The questions range from interpreting a graph or other visual representations of data. You aren’t expected to have any prior knowledge about the subject matter, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.  The critical reasoning skills that you use for the other types of questions will serve you well here.


Aside from taking practice exams and trying individual sections, the best way to study for the SAT’s verbal component is to become an avid reader.  Who woulda thunk it? Try to read something you find interesting for 20 minutes everyday from a variety of sources. Your reading doesn’t have to be from some high-minded long-dead political philosopher, but it should challenge you.  In high school, I was a huge fan of the online music magazine Pitchfork. And, as loathe as I am to ever admit to reading hipster hagiographies, the website really did improve my vocabulary. In the past couple years, I’ve come to really appreciate online news outlets like Politico, Vox and The Atlantic.  Finding your own set of reading materials is the first step to improving your SAT Verbal score.


You should read actively as part of your preparation.  If you see a word that you don’t know, write it down and record its dictionary definition alongside it.  Think about how the author is forming their argument and whether you find it compelling. It often helps to write a bulleted summary of the article afterwards.  


Ivy Admissions is full of readers who love to consume all sorts of interesting books from a variety of disciplines.  We love to pass out reading recommendations to our students and discuss them afterwards. We also can’t understate the benefit that practice tests will confer.  There’s nothing like taking an exam under testing conditions to really diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. One of the most important skills we teach our students is how to speed read so they can comprehend lengthy, complex passages without sacrificing accuracy.  Reading thoughtfully and analytically isn’t just a recipe for success on the SATs, it will make you successful in college and the workforce. We’re teaching our students skills and engendering a love of reading which will help them long after they’ve taken standardized test.  What other college consultancy does that?