SAT Test Prep

CHAPTER 4
CRITICAL READING SKILLS

Lesson 5: Connecting the Questions to the Passage

Think of Your Own Answer First


After answering the three key questions for yourself, attack the SAT questions by following these steps:

1. Read each question carefully, covering up the answer choices for now.

2. Translate it into a “stand-alone” question, if possible.

3. Formulate your own answer to the translated question.

4. Choose the best match among the choices.

This strategy takes advantage of the work you’ve done answering the key questions, and keeps you from getting “talked into” wrong answers that only look good.


For instance, a question such as “The passage suggests that most people do not notice bias in the media because …” can be translated into the openended question. “Why [according to this author] don’t people notice bias in the media?” Answer this question on your own, then find the best match among the choices.

Know the 6 Question Types

1. Purpose questions ask why the author wrote the passage or used some particular word or lines, as in “The reference to the ‘tragedy’ (line 16) primarily serves to….” These questions usually contain key phrases such as “in order to” or “primarily serves to.” To tackle these questions, first remind yourself of the purpose of the whole passage, and then of the paragraph, then of any line references.

2. Central idea questions ask you to summarize the central idea or make an inference based on the author’s position, as in “Which of the following is the best title of this passage?” or “With which of the following statements would the author most likely agree?” To tackle these questions, remind yourself of the central idea before checking the choices.

3. Secondary idea questions ask you to identify the main ideas of individual paragraphs rather than of the passage as a whole, as in “The ‘problems’ mentioned in line 56 are those of …” or “The third paragraph suggests….” To tackle these questions, reread the specified lines—sticking to the specified lines and perhaps the sentence before—and summarize them before checking the choices.

4. Tone questions ask you about the attitude of the author or the tone of particular characterizations. To tackle tone questions, pay attention when the author is being funny, critical, condescending, or objective.

5. Word or phrase in context questions ask you what a particular word or phrase means in the context of a sentence. To tackle these questions, reread the specific sentence, translate the given word into your own word, and compare this to the choices.

6. Structure or device questions ask you about the relationship between paragraphs or the author’s use of such devices as anecdotes, authoritative references, statistics, metaphors, counterexamples, and such. To tackle these questions, pay particular attention to such devices as you read analyses or arguments.

Check the Line References


Always carefully reread any words or lines the question refers to, with the question type in mind. For instance, if the question is a “purpose” question—using a phrase such as “in order to”—reread the words or lines asking, “What purpose does this word, phrase, or reference have in this discussion?” If it is a “secondary idea” question—using a word such as “suggests,” “represents,” or “means”—reread the words or lines asking, “What does the author mean by that?”


Use the “Sandwich Strategy” to Find the Answer


Unlike questions on other SAT sections, CR questions do not go in order of increasing difficulty. Rather, they follow the order of the passage. Generally, the first questions are about the beginning of the passage, and the last questions are about the end of the passage. Use the “sandwich strategy” to answer questions without line references. For instance, if question 23 does not contain a line reference, but question 22 refers to line 15 and question 24 refers to line 25, then the answer to question 23 is probably “sandwiched” between lines 15 and 25!


Concept Review 5: Connecting the Questions to the Passage

1. What are the four steps to effectively attacking SAT CR questions?

2. What does it mean to translate SAT CR questions into “stand-alone” questions?

3. Why is it important to translate SAT CR questions into “stand-alone” questions whenever possible?

4. Translate each of the following questions into a “stand-alone” open-ended essay question:

a. “The author’s attitude toward the opposition (line 42) is one of …”

b. “The garden has become important to the author because …”

c. “The last paragraph suggests that Davis is motivated by …”

d. “The author refers to the freedom of estuary birds in lines 1–2 in order to emphasize the fact that …”

e. “The author uses the term solid (line 16) primarily in order to …”

5. What is the “sandwich strategy”?

6. How should you attack a question that contains the phrase “in order to”?

SAT Practice 5: Connecting the Questions to the Passage

The following is an excerpt from a recent book by two science writers on the evolution of human intelligence.

1. The primary purpose of this passage is to

(A) examine a problem

(B) compare human behavior with bird behavior

(C) disprove a theory

(D) suggest an alternative

(E) analyze a phenomenon

John R. Skoyles and Dorion Sagan, Up from Dragons. © 2002 McGraw-Hill. Reprinted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

2. The passage refers to the “freedom” of estuary birds in lines 1–2 in order to emphasize the fact that

(A) birds are more physically free than humans

(B) something is not as it appears

(C) scientists do not yet understand how birds move in flocks

(D) the coordination of birds in flight is distinctly different from the coordination of human political movements

(E) birds do not appreciate the complexity of their actions

3. By saying that soldiers do not march “as individuals” (line 36), the authors suggest that the soldiers

(A) are compelled to march through coercion

(B) must obey the orders of their superiors

(C) react as a part of an organized whole

(D) lack leadership skills

(E) are reluctant

4. Klee and Kandinsky (lines 60–61) are mentioned as examples of

(A) artists whose works are closely related

(B) people who do not act as individuals

(C) men whose followers may form distinct groups

(D) those who belong to a privileged group

(E) individuals who express prejudice

5. On the whole, the authors’ attitude toward group behavior is one of

(A) ambivalence

(B) disdain

(C) admiration

(D) skepticism

(E) fear

6. The “psychology” mentioned in line 72 is closest to the mindset of

(A) an orchestra conductor working to perfect a performance

(B) a scientist studying the nature of cooperation

(C) a football player trying to become a productive member of a team

(D) an artist seeking isolation in which to work

(E) an ideologue trying to inspire hatred of an enemy

Answer Key 5: Connecting the Questions to the Passage

Concept Review 5

1. (1) Read each question carefully, covering up the answer choices for now, (2) translate it into a “stand-alone” question, if possible, (3) formulate your own answer to the translated question, and (4) choose the best match among the choices.

2. A “stand-alone” question is one that can be answered without needing to look at multiple choices. It should be phrased like an open-ended essay question, such as “What is the tone of line 35?” rather than “The tone of line 35 is best characterized as….”

3. Translating and answering the question as a “stand-alone” question helps you to avoid the most common “traps” in SAT Critical Reading questions. Many of the choices will sound good because they are “true” in some sense but in fact do not answer the question. (More on this in Lesson 8.)

4. a. What is the author’s attitude toward the “opposition” in line 42?

b. Why has the garden become important to the author?

c. What motivates Davis, according to the last paragraph?

d. What is the author trying to emphasize by mentioning the freedom of estuary birds in lines 1–2?

e. Why does the author use the term “solid” in line 16?

5. The “sandwich strategy” shows you where to look when a Critical Reading question does not contain a line reference. Because the questions follow the order of the passage, the answer usually can be found between the line reference in the previous question and the line reference in the next question.

6. The phrase “in order to” indicates that the question is asking you to determine the purpose of the passage as a whole or the purpose of some part of the passage. To tackle purpose questions, first remind yourself of the purpose of the passage overall, then of the purpose of the specific paragraph, and then of the purpose of the specific word or reference.

SAT I Practice 5

1. E This passage analyzes (examines closely) the phenomenon of group behavior, first in terms of birds flying together, then in terms of human beings acting as teams, and then in terms of human group identification. This passage is not focused on a “problem” because group behavior is often depicted as a positive thing, particularly in the first three paragraphs, so choice (A) is incorrect. Since the passage discusses birds only in the first couple of paragraphs, (B) must be incorrect. Also, since no alternative to a situation or refutation of a theory is presented, (C) and (D) cannot be right.

2. B The authors begin with a question: “Where can freedom be found?” and a rhetorical answer: “Perhaps in a flock of estuary birds?” This leads us to believe that the author might use the example of birds flying as an example of “freedom.” However, the paragraph (and the passage as a whole) goes on to suggest that bird flight is not as “free” as it seems and often typifies group behavior.

3. C The example of the marching soldiers follows the examples of the estuary birds, the chorus line, the jazz band, and the basketball team. All of these examples reinforce the common theme of group behavior being an organized whole.

4. C The sentence says that “The reason you belong to one group rather than another may be no more than a preference for abstract artists, Paul Klee rather than Wassily Kandinsky.” This means that those who like the art of Klee might form a distinct group from those who like Kandinsky.

5. A The authors indicate the positive benefits of group behavior in the first three paragraphs, then its “darker side” in the last two paragraphs. This is an example of ambivalence, in which the authors are not saying that group behavior is always good or always bad.

6. E According to the passage, the “psychology” mentioned in line 72 is the mind-set by which people become blind “to the humanity we share with ‘them’” (lines 70–71) and which leads to scourges such as “‘ethnic cleansing,’ genocide, racial prejudice, and global terrorism” (lines 73–75). Therefore, it is closest to the mind-set of an ideologue trying to inspire hatred of an enemy.