Where Do the SAT Reading Passages Come From?

We are all curious to know where the College Board pundits get their abstruse excerpts from and how they manage to surprise and bamboozle even the brightest of the kids and the most earnest of the bookworms. This blog doesn’t claim to know all the answers but strives to unlock some of the mysteries, so read on…

History-of-Reading-passage1Evidence-Based Reading: Passages and their Sources – a short history 

The Evidence-Based Reading section on the SAT by and large includes passages chosen from topics such as literature, History or Social Studies, Science, and US Founding documents. The move towards “more meaningful” passages happened during the recent overhaul that SAT underwent to align the content more closely with the curriculum of the high school studies in the US and also to contain texts that were of great importance to the U.S historical purview or general scientific know-how.

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The passages used in the Reading Test are thus bona fide texts chosen from high-quality, previously published sources. This includes excerpts from a variety of non-fiction as well as fictional texts published during the course of U.S history. These passages are akin to the passages found in expert sources such as Project Gutenberg, the National Archives, and other publications from the U.S. government and news media, which possibly are believed to be included in the source list of the reading passages of the question writers for the New SAT.

Some of the historical documents are taken from what is known as the Founding Documents and the Great Global US-FoundingConversations. The Founding Documents are those manuscripts that were engendered and written by the Founding Fathers of America as they saw the rise of the United States as a nation. These documents include the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution of America and so on.

The Great Global Conversations are, as the name suggests, “conversations” that happened between nations upon topics that decided the policies and the governance of America as well as its relation with the other nations of the world. Speeches or texts by Abraham Lincoln or by authors in the global arena voicing their take upon topics such as freedom, justice, or liberty, are examples of such conversations that happened during the period of formulating the nation.

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The excerpts taken from Literature are from classic American literature inclusive of pieces such as Slaughterhouse-Five by Voltaire Candide Vonnegut Jr., The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

origin-of-species-SATThe Passages that fall under the science category are taken mostly from journals and research papers that were published from 1960’s onwards. “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin (1859), which is an account of the evolution of species by natural selection and “The Character of Physical Law” by Richard Feynmann (1965), which is an elegant exploration of physical theories from one of the 20th century’s greatest theoreticians, are two such examples.

The passages bordering on social issues and great men and women who impacted the formulation of the American society as we know it knows are the ones broadly classified under Social Studies. “Confessions” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782) wherein Rousseau establishes the template for modern autobiography with this intimate account of his own life and “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” by Frederick Douglass (1845), a vivid first- person account when, for the first time, the voice of a slave was heard in mainstream society are two such examples that had major bearings on the social front during those eras.

Art, biography, culture, environment, journalism and politics are some of the topics which fall under the broadened categories of the sources from which the passages for the revised SAT are drawn.

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