Is it possible to improve a critical reading score on the SAT?

I often hear the misconception that a critical reading SAT score cannot be improved, and while it is true that empirical evidence shows average score gains to be minimal (5-10 points), I managed to improve my reading score by 80 points.

So how did I improve my reading score?

I read — a lot! And, I started the project with a rock-solid foundation in reading. Without that base, no amount of test prep could have saved me.


Tip: There is no shortcut to learning vocabulary.

Even though vocabulary isn’t specifically tested on the new SAT, understanding words in context is critical for answering the reading passage questions.

The Matthew effect in reading (i.e. the rich get richer) is inevitable with vocabulary. According to research, you need to know 90-95% of a text’s words to understand what you are reading.

Tip: More general knowledge can vastly help a critical reading score.

Research shows that background knowledge helps with comprehension. For example, a student who already knows about Descartes and dualism* will process a passage much faster and more accurately than a student who is unfamiliar with the topic – even if their decoding and strategy skills are identical.

*Click to read these Descartes and dualism reading passages from the 2010 PSAT my son took, as well as the College Board’s explanations of the answers.

Here is a related post, if you would like more information about improving on the critical reading section.

The SAT Yellow Brick Road

You can sign up for a  series of tailored emails that will lead you step-by-step through the entire SAT process:

1) Parent Series

2) Student Series

Each series also includes links to SAT resources and articles that I highly recommend.