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Conquer the SAT "Evidence Question"

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For my students studying for the SAT, no question tends to consistently frustrate on the Reading Section as much as the dreaded Evidence Question does! And because this special question type is usually linked to another question, you can easily have 12-18 of these in a single Reading section. Here’s how to quickly identify this question type, avoid the common pitfalls, and get it right!

Identifying Evidence Questions

The first step to understanding this problem type is to immediately recognize it. Simple, right? Well, once you know how to pick it out, it absolutely is. Here’s the template:

14. Blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah?

A) Lines 4-6 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

B) Lines 7-11 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

C) Lines 12-13 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

D) Lines 45-49 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

 

Without reading actual words, can you see the syntax that this question has? It’s a Reading question with numbers in every answer choice, first of all! All the numbers begin with the word “Line.” There’s then a set of parenthesis, which contains quotation marks, a couple words, ellipses, more words, and finally, more (closing) quotation marks.

Now, if we take another step back, we will notice something else…

14. Blah blah, blah blah blah previous question?

A) Lines 4-6 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

B) Lines 7-11 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

C) Lines 12-13 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

D) Lines 45-49 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

Did you catch that? This evidence question (like most of them) actually links and works in conjunction with the question before it! Questions 13 & 14 are actually a question set! If you answer them together—the way I’m going to show you to do it—you get two correct answers for the work of only one question...and a whole bunch of helpful hints about the actual answers.

Not too shabby, huh? It certainly makes it worth your while to know how to ace this question type.

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Avoiding the pitfalls of the Evidence Question

The issue most students have with Evidence Questions is that they answer the first one first, then go onto the next question, realize too late it’s an Evidence Question, and try to figure out which excerpts from the text made them figure out the answer to the previous question. The problem is, if you already answered the previous question, how are you going to go back in time to figure out which sentence clued you into that fact? Add to this the issue that you were blindly answering the first question in the pair, possibly having to reread or scour the entire passage to find it and waste valuable time! Especially since the Evidence Question TELLS YOU which four sentences in all the passage you’ll find your answer! Basically, the test-takers TOLD YOU where to look to get BOTH questions right. Don’t waste these valuable clues! Recognizing the Evidence Question right off the bat will save you time AND the potential for error.

 

Here’s how to rock the SAT Evidence Question!

1. Before you read the passage, glance at the questions for any that are Evidence Questions. DO NOT READ THEM. Just notice the syntax and acknowledge it’s an Evidence Question.

 

2. If the Evidence Question has “previous question” in it, you know it’s a 2-question set. STAR both of the questions. It should look like this:

*13. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah?

A) Blah blah blah

B) Blah blah blah

C) Blah blah blah

D) Blah blah blah

*14. Blah blah, blah blah blah previous question?

A) Lines 4-6 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

B) Lines 7-11 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

C) Lines 12-13 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

D) Lines 45-49 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

 

3. Answer those starred questions as pairs, NOT individually.

Use whatever reading strategy you normally use on the section or passage. When you get to a starred question, you read it and ask yourself this question about it: is this looking for a specific answer or is this an open-ended question? Examples of questions with specific answers are “According to the passage, what does Kelly most fear about Rebekkah?” or “What happens immediately after the star implodes?” Examples of questions with open-ended answers are “Kelly thinks Rebekkah is…?” or “According to the passage, what is true about Soviet satellite countries?” 

Based on whether it's specific or open-ended, you'll answer it in one of two ways. I'll demonstrate both.

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4. If the question clearly has one correct answer, you’ll pretend the answer choices to the second starred Evidence Question are the answer choices to your question.

Like this:

*13. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah?

A) Blah blah blah

B) Blah blah blah

C) Blah blah blah

D) Blah blah blah

*14. Blah blah, blah blah blah previous question?

A) Lines 4-6 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

B) Lines 7-11 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

C) Lines 12-13 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

D) Lines 45-49 (“Blah blah…blah blah”)

So, you’ll read the first question, read the answer choices of the second question, and answer the second question in the pair. Then—and only then!—you'll summarize the quote in the answer you've chosen for the second question.

Here's the payoff: that will be the answer to the first question. For free. In a snap. 

One of the answers in the first question will match the quotation you've selected as the right answer for the second question. That's the right answer. And you didn't have to go wading back through the passage to find it. 

In this example, you’d read #13, read #14’s answer choices, answer #14, THEN answer #13.

 

5. If, on the other hand, the first question in the set is an open-ended one, we’d change things up just a little.

You’d still read the first and then read the answer choices of the second. But this time, you go back to the first question with that information. Based on only the four pieces of evidence in the second question's answer choices, which of the answer choices in the first question fits? If all you knew were those four sentences, what would the answer to the first question be? If those four sentences were about what Kelly thinks about Rebekkah, for example, what aspect are they focusing on? That's your answer.

Now you have to go back and answer the second question, right? So which of the four sentences in the second question's answer choices mentioned the element that you've identified in your answer to the first question? 

So in our example, you’d read #13, read #14’s answer choices, answer #13, THEN answer #14. Make sense?

 

Learning to recognize Evidence Questions gives you a leg up.

This question type is tricky, and no mistake: that's why the test makers use it, and it's why my students who grasp this technique make great gains in their scores. Evidence Questions can represent up to a third of the entire reading section: nailing them makes a HUGE difference in your score. If you can learn to see this type of question coming, it is worth your while to learn my technique for answering them. It saves you time, and gives you a way to avoid errors. And all you have to do is understand the way this type of question works, and actually take the hints the questions themselves are handing out.

If you need me to walk you through this technique (it's one among many that I teach my students based on my detailed work with the tests!) in person or on Skype, I'd be happy to. Reach out to me here and let's make sure you have every advantage possible going into test day.