SAT Secret 5: Understanding your “Command of Evidence” subscore

SAT Secret 5: Understanding your "Command of Evidence" subscore

What is Command of Evidence?

Your “Command of Evidence” subscore on the SAT is based on your performance on specific questions from both the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. A total of 18 questions — 10 from the Reading Test and 8 from the Writing and Language Test — contribute to the Command of Evidence subscore. These questions are designed to see whether you understand how authors make use of evidence to develop and support their claims and points.

Why does evidence matter?

Command of Evidence questions on the SAT are designed to help you practice a critically important skill.In college, in the workforce, and in life in general, you’ll find that you frequently need to use evidence to create or defend an argument, or to evaluate the validity of someone else’s argument. Journalists, politicians, scientists, business leaders and other change-makers use evidence to make their ideas compelling, their points clear, and their claims convincing. Authors can change people’s minds about something or persuade them to take a particular action through the use of evidence.Types of evidence:

  • Information
  • Ideas
  • Facts, figures and statistics
  • Dates
  • Direct quotations from experts
  • Details and events
  • Word choice to signal a point of view
  • Characterizations

One way to think about it: Evidence helps you defend the explanation you might give for how you reached a decision, or how you arrived at a particular interpretation of a situation or text. Consider the following examples:

  • “I think the author supports clearer labeling on food because …”
  • “I support the use of smartphones in school because …”
  • “The narrator seems to feel sympathy for the main character because …”
  • “I decided to eat the last banana because …”
  • “He stopped drinking soda because …”

What should follow “because” in each of these examples is evidence — the “how I know it” part of the statement. Your argument will be a lot more convincing if you can back up your claim with something more than a vague gut feeling! Arguments are everywhere! That’s why the SAT puts so much emphasis on learning how authors back up their arguments with evidence. TOP TIP: Think Like an Author As you approach all of these questions and tasks, try to start thinking like an author. Answering such questions as “What information in the passage is being used to support the author’s interpretation?” and “How relevant is this information to the passage as a whole?” is critical to getting a good Command of Evidence subscore on the SAT.

The Reading Test

There are three types of questions that address command of evidence on the SAT Reading Test: 1. Determine the best evidence:

  • All-in-one variety: Determine which part of a passage offers the strongest support for a conclusion that the question provides

Example: “Which of the following provides the best support for the author’s conclusion that goldfish make better pets than do stick insects?”

  • 2-of-2 Variety: Command of Evidence questions are often connected to the previous question. The first question in the pair will ask you about a claim in the passage, and the second will ask you what text from the passage offers the strongest support for the answer to the previous question.

Example: “Which of the following provides the best support for the answer to the previous question?”[Q: How should I approach these questions?]Begin by answering the first question to the best of your ability: always remember that the answer will have evidence to back it up! The question will ask you to make a “reasonable conclusion” or inference, and you’ll have to use textual evidence, not just a gut feeling. Find actual parts of the passage that support your answer! Now, move on to the evidence question: it’s just asking you to explain how you know the answer to the first question is correct. If you selected the choice that had evidence to back it up on the first question, then the evidence question should match up!Should I try to do the second question in a pair first?
This is not a helpful approach, because it can slow you down and confuse you. If you approached the first question correctly – that is, you selected a choice that you could back up with evidence – then the answer to the second question often follows naturally. That said, sometimes when you look at the choices in the second question, it can make you reconsider your answer to the first one. That can be OK. Maybe rereading particular parts of the passage made something more clear, or drew your attention to a crucial detail you missed the first time. Don’t second-guess yourself endlessly, but occasionally it can be a good idea to rethink an answer based on new information. 2. Interpret data presented in informational graphics:

  • Locate particular information in tables, graphs, charts and infographics
  • Draw conclusions from the data
  • Make connections between the data and the information and ideas in a passage.

Example: “Which of the following statements best describes the connection between the data in the table and the author’s conclusion about rainbows?”TOP TIP: What’s the story? Try to “read” graphics and draw conclusions just like you read and interpret written texts. Ask yourself: Is there a title? What is being measured? What do the x- and y-axes represent? What are the units? Is the data telling a story?TOP TIP: Your Own Words To ensure you’ve adequately understood the diagram, state in your own words what the graph is showing. This can prevent you from getting side-tracked by an answer choice that looks good, but isn’t actually supported by the graph.3. Understanding how an argument uses (or doesn’t use) evidence:

  • Consider how an author makes (or fails to make) use of supporting information, such as facts, figures, and quotations, to develop claims
  • Identify what type of evidence the author relies on most heavily (personal anecdotes or survey results, for example)
  • Determine what evidence in the passage supports a particular claim
  • Decide if a new piece of information (such as a research finding) would strengthen or weaken an author’s case

Example: “Which of the following findings, if discovered, would most strengthen the author’s argument in favor of net neutrality?”TOP TIP: Prediction – Your Own Words The first step on questions like these is to make sure that you know what the argument actually is. Say it in your own words just to be sure, then predict – in your own words – what sort of proof could make that argument stronger. If you have some idea of the kind of answer you’re looking for before you read the choices, then you’ll have an edge when you start ruling out bad choices using process of elimination.

The Writing and Language Test

You’ll find two types of questions on the Writing and Language Test that count towards your Command of Evidence subscore:1. Interpreting data presented in informational graphics:

  • Use data in infographics when you’re revising passages to make the passage more accurate, clear, precise, or convincing.
  • Revise a passage to correct an error in the writer’s interpretation of a table

Example: “Which choice completes the sentence and accurately reflects the information from the graph?”TOP TIP: Follow the instructions It can be helpful to make sure that you underline the part of the question that the answer needs to do – in this case, *accurately reflect the info in the graph.” The other choices might all sound fine grammatically, but the task here is not to select the choice that sounds best! Your job is to select the choice that tells the same story the graph is telling.2. Improving a passage’s structure, support, and focus:

  • Revise passages to make authors’ central ideas sharper
  • Add or revise supporting information, such as facts, figures, and quotations
  • Add accurate and relevant information in support of a claim
  • Replace a general description with precise figures
  • Eliminate information that’s irrelevant or that just doesn’t belong at a particular point in a passage.

Example: “Which choice most effectively sets up the information that follows?”TOP TIP: Follow the instructions Don’t just read the choices and choose the one that sounds best! If the task is to “set up information that follows,” then your first step is to take a look at the information that follows, and select a choice that sets it up. If the question asks you to make a “general description more precise”, then the answer will be the choice that does exactly that. Don’t be distracted by choices that sound the smartest or the most well-written – every choice in questions like these is likely to be fine grammatically.

Command of Evidence and The SAT Essay

Although your score on the optional Essay does not contribute to your Command of Evidence subscore, the Essay’s Analysis score is based heavily on skills related to Command of Evidence questions. The SAT Essay task is to analyze how an author builds an argument using evidence, reasoning, stylistic or persuasive elements, or other techniques to persuade readers. If, for example, you claim that the author relies heavily on appeals to emotion, you will have to use evidence from the passage to support that claim! TOP TIP: Practice the Essay to improve your Reading Score! Another good reason to take the SAT Essay is that while you prepare, you’ll be practicing many of the skills you need to do well on multiple-choice Command of Evidence questions!

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