Many international students looking to attend college in the United States will spend time preparing for TOEFL and the SAT. While both tests have a reading section designed to test students’ comprehension of long passages, in fact the content of the tests is very different.
The TOEFL reading test is based on academic articles. Typically, passages are about science or social studies, like art or history. Each reading will have a main idea that it wants to teach the reader about, and every paragraph will introduce some supporting or contrasting ideas related to that main topic. While test takers are not expected to completely understand and become experts on the topics they read about, the goal of the articles is to teach a concept, similar to the reading that is assigned in university courses.
SAT reading, however, tends to be more focused on the writing itself, rather than trying to explain or teach a particular idea. Though there are scientific and historical articles, there are also many literary passages. These will be selections from books, novels and biographies, and display a wide range of writing styles. Because the reader is only getting a small part of a longer story, there is not necessarily a clearly stated main idea. Instead, the reader should pay attention to the way the author uses words to express emotions and descriptions of places. Students have to put themselves in the author’s shoes to understand what the passage really wants to say.
Ultimately, reading as much as possible and building your vocabulary is a great way to prepare for both tests. But the distinctive focuses and styles of the passages make the TOEFL and SAT reading tests comparatively different experiences.