How Do You Answer SSAT Reading Comprehension Questions?

Home > SSAT Test > SSAT Reading >

Success with reading comprehension questions requires both speed in reading and efficiency in answering questions.

Two important techniques that you must master are:



Skimming is a form of speed-reading that is useful for extracting the main idea and supporting details from a reading selection. As you skim a passage, pay special attention to the first and last sentences or paragraphs. The purpose of skimming is to locate the topic sentence, the main idea, and some of the major supporting details. This overview of the location of information within the passage will help you to answer the more difficult inference questions quickly.


Scanning is a method of looking for specific information without truly reading but by looking for key words. The following six steps will help you answer reading comprehension questions.

Six Steps for Reading Comprehension: Getting it Right

Read through the questions quickly. This will guide your reading by showing you what information you will be expected to find. Skip over the answer choices for now.

Read the passage.

Answer vocabulary questions first. Find the answers by scanning the passage.

Answer detail questions next. Pick a key word or two from the question itself and scan the passage until you find it. The sentence in which the word appears probably contains the answer to the question.

Answer main-idea questions by reading the first and last sentences of the passage.

Leave inference questions and other more difficult question types for last. Skim the passage. Eliminate choices that are obviously wrong. Take your best guess.

What Do Smart Test-Takers Know?

Reading comprehension questions can eat up your time very quickly. Check out these tips for smarter solutions.

You Only Have Time to Read Each Passage Once

Because there's only time to read each passage once, you'll want to answer every question that you can about the passage before moving on. If you skip a question and try to come back to it later, you might have to reread the whole passage to find the answer and you'll be out of time. Guess if you have to, but finish all the questions that you can.

Everything You Need to Know Is Right There in Front of You

The introductory paragraph and the passage have all the information you'll need to answer the questions. Even if the passage is about the price of beans in Bulgaria or the genetic makeup of a wombat, don't worry. It's all right there on the page.


Reading comprehension takes a lot of time, but there is a way to go faster. Read the questions first so you know what to look for as you read the passage. Then you won't have to read things twice to find the information you need.

The Passages Are Supposed to Be Unfamiliar

In order to put all candidates on a level playing field, test-makers choose obscure reading passages. ISEE passages focus on social science, natural science, and the humanities; SSAT passages focus on these subjects as well as fiction. Either way, you probably have not seen the reading material before, and it doesn't matter. Remember, you're not being tested on your knowledge of the topic but on how well you:

? Figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word from its context

? Determine what an author means by noting certain words and phrases

? Understand the author's assumptions, point of view, and main idea


Don't let unfamiliar topics throw you. There's no need to worry whether you know anything about a topic in a passage. The answers are based on the information in the passage, not on your knowledge or experience.

Passages That Interest You Are Easier for You to Work On

If there's a choice, it's best to start with the passage that's more interesting to you, whether it's fiction, a science article, or whatever. If the style appeals to you, you will probably go through the passage more quickly and find the questions easier to deal with.

It Pays to Be an Active Reader

Since you've already scanned the questions, you know what to look for as you read. When you find these points, use your pencil to underline or circle them. You'll be able to find them easily when you need them to answer the questions.


Complete one passage at a time. Answer all the questions for the passage you have just read before moving to another passage. There is no time to go back and read again.

Details Can Bog You Down

Remember, you don't have to understand every bit of information. You just have to find the information you need to answer the questions. Don't waste your time on technical details or on information that the questions don't ask for.

What's True Is Not Necessarily the Answer

What does that mean? It means that a certain answer choice may be perfectly true, but it might not be the correct answer to the question that's being asked. Read carefully—and don't be fooled!

You Can Solve Vocabulary-in-Context Questions by Plugging in Choices

For vocabulary-in-context questions, plug the choices into the original sentence and don't be fooled by the obvious synonym.

The Answer to a Main Idea Question Is Neither Too General Nor Too Specific

For a question about the main idea or the author's purpose, look for an answer choice that states it. Don't be too general or too specific.


True doesn't mean correct! Be sure that the answer you mark is the answer to the question that is asked.

The Answer to a Main Idea Question Is Often in the First or Last Paragraph

Look in the first or last (or both) paragraph of the passage for answers to main idea/author's purpose questions.

You Have to Read Between the Lines

When a reading comprehension question asks for something the author has suggested, implied, or not stated directly, you have to use the information in the passage and draw your own conclusions. Read between the lines to see if the author has given any hints that would lead you to the correct answer.

More Information