6) Passage-based Reading: Types of Questions 1/3
Passage reading questions aren’t all the same – and knowing the types could make a big difference in your score. In this lesson, you’ll get the breakdown and some tips for using it to your advantage.
The SAT reading passage questions might look all the same at first. There’s no obvious sign that they belong to separate subtypes. But actually, each reading passage question belongs to one of three different question groups: vocabulary in context, specific, and main idea questions.
Knowing how to recognize and approach each type will help you manage your time efficiently and ultimately score the most possible points on the passage reading section.
The vocab questions, technically known as vocabulary in context questions, ask you about a word in the passage. These ones are the easiest to identify – they read something like this:
In context, ‘heading’ (line 5) most nearly means:
(C) Making for
(E) Turning towards
The phrases ‘In context’ and ‘most nearly means’ are the hallmarks of a vocabulary in context question. You’ll typically see one or two of these on each long passage, and potentially a couple on the shorter passages as well.
Vocabulary in context questions are nice for test-takers because they tend to be straightforward and pretty quick. They’re good questions to do first, as a kind of warm-up. Glance through the questions, find the vocab ones, and start there to get your brain going. But here’s the catch: you absolutely cannot just look at the question and pick an answer. Always refer to the passage first.
Do not even think about the answer choices until you go back to the passage and read the sentence that contains the original word. Get an idea of what the word means in your own terms, and then look at the answer choice and pick the one that matches.
This is key to making the vocabulary in context questions work for you. If you look back at the question, you’ll notice that all of the answer choices could theoretically be synonyms for ‘heading.’ That’s not a coincidence: the vocab questions are designed like that. Typically, the word in the passage is used in some kind of unusual way, but the answer choices include the most common synonyms. These are tempting, but they don’t describe the way the word is being used in the context of the passage, so they’re wrong answers for the question!
If you read the question, then go back to the passage, and turn to the answer choices last, you’re much less likely to get sucked into these devious trap answers.