Paired passages are a staple of SAT Critical Reading and have recently been introduced on ACT Reading. Although they look intimidating, these passages don’t have to be any more difficult than regular passages.

You can drastically simplify things on paired passages if you work with each passage individually. Read the first passage, then answer all the questions that address that passage alone. These questions will usually be grouped together. Then read the second passage and answer all the questions that address that passage alone. Finally, tackle the questions that ask about both passages.

By breaking the passages and questions into separate groups, you reduce the total amount that you must mentally juggle at any given time. In addition, you’re more likely to answer passage specific questions correctly because the information you need will be more fresh in your mind. This can also save you from burning valuable time since you won’t have to revisit the passage as frequently.

SAT Critical Reading ACT Reading Paired Passages


After you finish reading the second passage but before answering the questions for that passage, pause and ask yourself how the two passages relate to one another. If you use annotations, consider jotting this down in a few words. One or more of the questions will ask about how the passages relate, and you’ll be less likely to fall for trap answers if you’ve already articulated the relationship yourself.

Here are some common relationships to be on the lookout for:

  • The passages present opposing views on a topic.
  • The passages discuss the same general topic but focus on a different aspects of that topic or use very different styles to discuss it.
  • One passage provides an example of something discussed in the other passage.
  • One passage provides an explanation for something discussed in the other passage.

By looking for these relationships and working with only one passage at a time, you’ll both increase your score and reduce the difficulty level of paired passages.