SAT Secret 24: Solving Expression of Ideas questions

SAT Secret 24: Solving Expression of Ideas questions

Expression of Ideas: The Writing and Language Test

Questions that fall within the “Expression of Ideas” category focus on three broad elements:

  • Development questions ask you to refine the content of a passage to achieve the writer’s purpose
  • Organization questions require you to improve the structure of a passage to enhance logic and cohesion
  • Effective Language Use questions ask you to revise text to improve written expression and to achieve the writer’s purpose

In this three-part series of articles, we will look at these elements in greater detail, and share some strategies about how to approach them!


Development questions on the Writing and Language Test get to the heart of what the writer is trying to express. When you answer a Development question, you’ll be looking for ways to enhance the writer’s message by clarifying the main points, adding or changing supporting details, sharpening the focus, and — in some passages — using data from informational graphics such as tables, graphs, and charts to make the passage more accurate, more precise, and generally more effective. There are four different kinds of Development questions:

  • Proposition: Add, revise, or leave unchanged thesis statements, topic sentences, or claims – in other words, the “main ideas” of a passage or paragraph.Example: “Which choice best introduces the main topic of the paragraph?” [Solve it]Read the paragraph in question, say in your own words what the point is, and select the choice that best introduces that point. Process of elimination can help with these.
  • Support: Add, revise, or leave unchanged evidence that supports a passage’s points or claimsExample: “Which choice most effectively sets up the information that follows?” [Solve it]Look at the information the question is referring to. Review the sentences before and after, and even the topic sentence of the paragraph. Select the choice that most clearly introduces the following sentence, and supports the point of the paragraph.
  • Focus: Add, revise, leave unchanged, or delete material on the basis of relevance to the purpose (e.g., deleting an irrelevant sentence) These questions ask you to consider a new sentence that the writer wants to add or delete at a particular point in the passage.Example 1: “The writer is considering adding the following sentence . . . should the writer make this addition here?”Example 2: “The writer is considering deleting the following sentence . . . should the writer make this deletion here?”[Solve it]Your job is to decide whether the sentence should be kept or deleted, and why. Step 1: Say in your own words the function of the sentence being considered. What is the point of the sentence? What does it do?Step 2: Take a look at the topic sentence of the paragraph, and remind yourself of the point of the paragraph. Step 3 Review the sentences on either side of the sentence under consideration. The sentence might add relevant information to the passage, or it might blur the focus by being slightly off-topic, irrelevant or redundant. Does it fit? Then keep it! Is it off topic? Delete it! But make sure you keep it or delete it for the right reason!
  • Quantitative information: Use data from informational graphics (e.g.: tables, graphs, charts) to enhance the accuracy, precision, and overall effectiveness of a passage.Example: “Which choice most effectively represents the information provided in the table?”[Solve it]One way to do it: Look at the choices one by one, and compare them against the graphic to see if they are accurate. Only one will be a statement that is supported by the graphic.


Some Expression of Ideas questions require you to improve the structure of a passage to enhance logic and cohesion – in other words, organize it. Here are some examples:

  • Logical sequence: Make sure that material is presented in the most logical sequence.

In these questions, sentences in a paragraph will be numbered. You will be asked to change the placement of an existing sentence or add a new sentence in the order that makes the most sense given the context of the passage.Check out this Tips & Strategies article for more on how to approach these questions.

  • Introductions, conclusions, and transitions: Improve the openings and closings of paragraphs and passages and the connections between and among information and ideas in a passage. Example 1: Which choice best concludes the passage? Example 2: Which choice provides the best transition to the topic of paragraph 3?Example 3: Which choice best introduces the topic of paragraph 2? [Solve it]Conclusion questions: Remind yourself what the passage is about: 1) Review the title of the passage 2) Say in your own words what the point of the passage is. Then, select the choice that best reflects that and ties it up. Don’t introduce new information.Paragraph Introduction and Transition questions: Read the first and last sentences of the paragraphs before and after the transition. Then, again, using your own words, sum up the point of each paragraph. Best transition answers will smooth the transition and include a little of both paragraphs’ points! Best introduction answers will usually make a claim that is supported by evidence in the rest of the paragraph.

Effective Language Use:

These questions ask you to revise text to improve written expression and to achieve the writer’s purpose.

  • Precision: Making word choice more exact or appropriate for the contextExample: …As Kingman developed as a painter, his works were often compared to paintings by Chinese landscape artists dating back to CE 960, a time when a strong tradition of landscape painting emerged in Chinese art. Kingman, however, vacated from that tradition in a number of ways, most notably in that he chose to focus not on natural landscapes, such as mountains and rivers, but on cities. . . .A) NO CHANGEB) evacuatedC) departedD) retired[Solve it]All four of the tested words have something to do with “leaving,” but only one of them makes good contextual sense. It’s not “vacated” — the version already in the passage — because while you might vacate, or leave, a place, you wouldn’t “vacate” from a tradition. Similar problems occur if you try to use “evacuated” or “retired” in that context. Only “departed” (choice C) has both the correct general sense and says what it means to say. “To depart from a tradition” is an expression that means “to vary from” or “to diverge from” a tradition.
  • Concision: Make word choice more economical by eliminating wordiness and redundancy. Example: Sometimes language can be repetitive, duplicative, and say the same thing more than once.A) repetitiveB) wordy and verbose C) redundant and repetitiveD) overly wordy and full of repeated repetitions of the same words used over and over again.[Solve it]The correct choice is A. Don’t get fancy. Keep it simple! Sometimes this repetitiveness will be in the underlined portion of the passage itself, but other times you’ll have to recognize that the writer made the same point elsewhere in the sentence or in the paragraph – in these cases, the correct choice might be to delete the entire thing for the sake of simplicity and clarity.
  • Style and tone: Make word choice consistent with the overall style and tone of a passage.Example: “Which of the following best maintains the style and tone of the passage?” [Solve it]The correct choices to these questions will match the tone of the rest of the passage. If the tone of the passage is academic, scientific or formal, then the answer won’t be informal or slangy. If the tone of the passage is more friendly or casual, then the answer will share that easygoing friendliness. 😉
  • Syntax: combining sentences to improve the flow of language or to accomplish some particular rhetorical goal.Example: . . . During his career, Kingman exhibited his work internationally. He garnered much acclaim. . . Which choice most effectively combines the sentences at the underlined portion? A) internationally, and Kingman also garnered B) internationally; from exhibiting, he garneredC) internationally but garneredD) internationally, garnering
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