SAT Language: Guide to Adding Details & Strengthening Arguments
tl;dr To do well on the SAT Language & Writing section, familiarize yourself with the three key skill groups: Grammar Conventions, Word Choice & Passage Flow, and Adding Details & Strengthening Arguments. For the latter, know that relevance is key when determining whether to add/delete a sentence, and to look for the best reason "because..." when answering the question. Additionally, learn to identify topic, transition, and conclusion sentences, as well as how to support a claim with evidence. With these tips, you'll be sure to ace the SAT!
Skills to Know for SAT Language and Writing Section
The SAT Language and Writing section exists to test your abilities in three broad skill groups:
- The first skill group, which we'll call "Grammar Conventions," demands technical knowledge on areas like punctuation usage, sentence structures, and verb tenses 🛠️
- The second skill group, which we'll call "Word Choice & Passage Flow," asks test-takers to pay close attention to diction and passage content and to correct sentences that are riddled with errors on redundancy, misplacement, and wordiness.
- The third skill group, which we'll call "Adding Details & Strengthening Arguments," requires critical analysis as it prompts test-takers to evaluate whether a sentence should be added or deleted, give supporting examples related to a highlighted sentence, and choose the most logical introduction or conclusion to a paragraph ✏️
Be familiar with all three of them to feel prepared for the Language & Writing section of the SAT 👏
Quite frankly, "Adding Details & Strengthening Arguments" is more challenging to master than the other two skills because it is less technical and more open-ended, and time-consuming. Lucky for you, this article is a deep dive into the various question types you'll encounter in this third group. Remember, you'd want to be familiar with the battlefield you'll be fighting on ⚔️ if you want to be the king of the hill!
Pit Stop 1️⃣ : Determining the Relevance of a Sentence
Growing up, I used to be one of those students who groaned whenever a test was free-response and not multiple-choice. Why? Because you'd have to back up your answer with a reasonable explanation 😩
On the SAT, you'll encounter situations where a writer is considering adding (or deleting) an underlined sentence. In fact, these questions are straightforward in asking something along the lines of: "Should the sentence be kept or deleted?" or "Should the writer add this information/make this addition here?"
🚨 Here's a sample question from Khan Academy:
Practice Problem #1
The most popular theory of how the Moon formed states that a large object struck the Earth and sent a large amount of the Earth’s crust into space. This material eventually cooled and formed the Moon. 1️⃣ Findings reveal that the Moon is mainly composed of silicate minerals and is deficient in iron. The lack of iron on the Moon, as compared with Earth, suggests that it was formed from the outer crust of the Earth, which contains much less iron than its core.
1️⃣ At this point, the writer is considering adding the following sentence:
Evidence to support this theory comes from studies of rock samples recovered from the Moon.
Should the writer make this addition here?
A. Yes, because it clarifies the connection between mineral composition and the theory of the moon's formation.
B. Yes, because it reinforces a claim that the writer makes earlier in the paragraph.
C. No, because it blurs the paragraph's focus by introducing information that isn't clearly explained.
D. No, because it does not give enough detail about the kinds of rock samples that were studied.
When tackling these types of questions, your job, in a nutshell, is:
- Determine whether to add/delete a sentence (YES or NO) 🤔
- Determine the BEST REASON WHY ("BECAUSE…") 🤷
That's where relevance comes in. Relevance is the determining factor on whether we'll say YES or NO for #1 (to add/delete or not to add/delete). Focus on answering #1 first before looking at the reasons for #2 so that you'll be working with two options and not four. Fewer options equals better!
Here are some pointers you can use when checking for (ir)relevance:
- Look at the previous sentence/phrase, then at the sentence/phrase in question. Does the sentence in question reference any of the key terms/words/phrases in the previous sentence?
- Example: Dunkin' Donuts is a popular spot for adolescents to dine in downtown Boston, yet Starbucks is a close second. Ranked 4 out of 59 coffee-and-doughnut brands, Dunkin' Donuts is not only renowned locally but also nationally. Relevant sentences SUPPORT and FURTHER DEVELOP the point developed in the first half of the sentence/first sentence by staying on-topic.
- Notice how Starbucks isn't mentioned in the first part of the first sentence? That's how you know it's irrelevant!
- Irrelevant sentences INTERRUPT the point developed in the first half of the sentence/first sentence by jumping to another topic 🤸♀️
- Relevant sentences SUPPORT and FURTHER DEVELOP the point developed in the first half of the sentence/first sentence by staying on-topic.
That solves #1! Let's now move on to #2: the "why YES (or NO)?", aka. the "because…" part. At this point, you should be choosing between two answers 💬
One way to approach this is to read the given and surrounding sentences and identify their functions. Is the given sentence:
By identifying the function of a sentence (or two), you're one step closer to getting the certain correct answer on the "why" part of the question. The reasons above do not comprise an exhaustive list of the SAT "because..." reasons, but they should translate to at least one reason given by an answer choice. For example, if you thought that Sentence X should be deleted because it is repetitive, your answer will most likely be "Yes, because it repeats information that has been previously provided." 🏁
Here are some other tips by other reputable SAT prep sites:
💡 Khan Academy Tips
"Focus on immediate context! The proposed addition will always seem somewhat on topic. It may introduce background information or a viewpoint that's in contrast with the main focus of the passage. But we're not just adding the sentence to the passage—we're adding it at a specific location within the passage.
Read the sentences around that specific location. Does the new information belong here? Or is it only loosely related to this part of the passage? Does it interrupt another discussion or flow of ideas? Considering these questions will help us decide if the writer should make the addition."
💡 The College Panda Tips
"The most common reason by far for not adding/deleting something is irrelevance. If the question asks whether to add a given sentence and your answer is no, the reason will likely be that it blurs the paragraph's main focus or supplies irrelevant information, so gravitate towards that answer choice first.
The three most common reasons for adding something are defining a term, offering specific examples, and adding supporting detail to a claim. As you go through practice questions, familiarize yourself with what these questions and answers actually look like so that you develop an intuition for how they're tested."
Now that we know how to navigate these questions, it's time to reveal the answer to the sample question above! 😌
ANSWER: (A). Read the sentences that came before AND after the 1️⃣ mark. Why is the information in the sentences after 1️⃣ important? Precisely because the mineral content of moon rocks is the EVIDENCE (mentioned in the underlined sentence) for the THEORY (a concept introduced in the first few sentences). The sentence the writer is considering adding actually helps in clarifying the connection between the THEORY and the FINDINGS on the composition of the moon 🎉
Pit Stop 2️⃣: Introduction, Transitioning, Concluding, Voila!
Another angle of "Adding Details & Strengthening Arguments" that the SAT Language & Writing section will throw questions at you from is the usage of keystone 🔑 sentences: topic, transition, and conclusion sentences. What exactly are they, though?
TOPIC SENTENCES introduce a paragraph, offering a general overview (or preview) of the paragraph that you'll be reading shortly.
TRANSITION SENTENCES serve as "gateways" 🌉 between sentences before and after them by mentioning key terms or words from both areas!
CONCLUSION SENTENCES wrap up 🎀 a paragraph, sometimes with key terms or words that hint at the following paragraph!
Moving on to the next question: what are some common ways for the SAT to ask you questions regarding these cool, snazzy sentences? You might be asked to:
Unlike Relevance (Pit Stop #1) questions, you'd want to read the ENTIRE paragraph to understand the context of the question and the choices from BEGINNING to end. Remember, your goal here is to find the best transition sentence (regardless of whether it's at the beginning, middle, or end) that blends well with the entire paragraph. 🎯
❗ Here's a sample question from Khan Academy:
Practice Problem #2
How can happiness be contagious? Some researchers think one of the most likely mechanisms is empathic mimicry: people unconsciously copy the facial expressions, body language, and other behaviors of those around them, often with remarkable speed and accuracy. This can cause people, through a kind of neural feedback, to actually experience the emotions associated with the particular behavior they are mimicking. In other words, if someone else smiles, then we are likely to smile in response, and the act of smiling can actually make us happy!
Which choice best introduces the paragraph?
A. NO CHANGE
B. Is it impolite to copy the behavior of those around us?
C. Can research reliably identify what makes people happy?
D. Can people lie with their facial expressions?
Don't feel discouraged by the paragraph's length! Read each sentence slowly and take note of possible key details. Let's take a closer look: Some researchers think one of the most likely mechanisms is empathic mimicry: people unconsciously copy the facial expressions, body language, and other behaviors of those around them, often with remarkable speed and accuracy. KEYWORDS/IDEA: someone smiles = we smile in response, smiling makes us happy
KEYWORDS/IDEA: people copy facial expressions, behaviors......
This can cause people, through a kind of neural feedback, to actually experience the emotions associated with the particular behavior they are mimicking.
KEYWORDS/IDEA: people, neural feedback, emotions, mimic
In other words, if someone else smiles, then we are likely to smile in response, and the act of smiling can actually make us happy!
Based on our notes, we can start eliminating choices:
- Choice (A) is still a-okay as the idea of happiness being contagious is explicitly referenced in the last sentence. No extraneous details, either.
- Choice (B) can be eliminated. The passage DOES mention behaviors (sentence 2), but it DOES NOT mention the notion of politeness (or impoliteness) at all.
- Choice (C) can be eliminated. The passage discusses the mechanisms of emotions, but it DOES NOT focus on sources of happiness. Instead, it focuses on the transferability of happiness.
- Choice (D) can be eliminated. The passage DOES mention facial expressions (sentences 2 and 4), but it DOES NOT mention neither the concept of a lie nor the act of lying.
To make it official, the correct answer is (A). See how reading the entire passage actually worked to our advantage when we did the Process of Elimination strategy?
🚨The other key takeaway from this exercise is to immediately get rid of answers that have details that were not mentioned or discussed in the passage 🚨
❗ Let's try one more, again courtesy of Khan Academy:
Practice Problem #3
Beloved U.S. painter Grandma Moses began her career at the age of 78 in the year 1938. Moses enshrined in her work bits of folk song and folklore, old traditions, and images and myths from her life. At first glance, these quaint themes might seem at odds with the tastes of a sophisticated twentieth-century audience. But Moses’ renewal of nineteenth-century themes gained popularity with an American public that was struggling to cope with World War II-era social and geopolitical challenges. Her success paralleled and reinforced that of other artists of the time who depicted American life in a nostalgic light, such as Norman Rockwell.
The writer wants a conclusion that states the main claim of the paragraph. Which choice best accomplishes this goal?
A. NO CHANGE
B. Moses would sustain a successful career as an artist until 1960, when she died at the age of 101.
C. Rather than focus on art that reflected their volatile present moment, her audience could briefly escape to a simpler time.
D. At the same time, artists like Edward Hopper were approaching subjects of American life with a more melancholy realism.
ANSWER: (C). Don't get deceived by the idea that the main claim = topic sentence. Not always! (A) and (D) are incorrect because they introduce previously unmentioned artists (Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper). (B) is incorrect because it focuses too much on a small detail of Grandma Moses' life. Again, the introductory sentence isn't always going to be your main claim. Besides POE, identifying the main claim early on (Moses' quaint themes based on MYTHS, FOLKLORE, and OLD TRADITIONS) and connecting it to (C)'s ESCAPE FROM THE PRESENT will also help you get to the correct answer! ✔️
Pit Stop 3️⃣: Innocent 'til Proven Guilty—Finding Supporting Evidence 🔎
To make things enjoyable on the last leg of this article, let's play detective 🕵️ This case is different from Pit Stop #2. Instead of having to figure out an appropriate topic, transition, or conclusion sentence based on the main claim, our new objective is to now support the main claim with evidence… based on the content of a given paragraph. We're relying on your attention to detail here, recruit!
As always, example time (thanks, College Panda)!
Practice Problem #4
Normally, we think of plants as static beings that do not move and feed only from soil nutrients. However, thanks to evolution, many types of plants have developed animal-like traits that separate them from their conventional image. There are over 600 species of carnivorous plants documented all over the world. Among these, cape sundews are some of the most fascinating because of their sticky tentacles that wrap up prey.
Which choice best gives a supporting example of the statement made in the previous sentence?
A. NO CHANGE
B. tropical pitcher plants, also known as monkey's cup, are a vital source of water for the monkeys that drink from them.
C. the Portuguese dewy pine requires a certain soil composition to reach the jungle canopy.
D. cobra plants have balloon-like chambers and long tubes hanging from them.
Like Pit Stop #2, you should do a quick scan of the entire paragraph after recognizing the prompt as a Supporting Evidence-type question. Upon a first glance, the question is already giving us an awesome hint; that is, look at the statement in the previous sentence:
There are over 600 species of carnivorous plants documented all over the world.
- KEYWORD/IDEA: carnivorous plant
Based on our notes, if the underlined sentence is a supporting example, then it should be an example of a carnivorous plant based on its description! Let's look at the choices. 🌱
- Choice (A) is still in the game. Sticky tentacles 🐙 wrapping prey? Sounds carnivorous to me! Let's keep looking, though.
- Choice (B) is a no-go. "Carnivorous" doesn't really mesh well with having a symbiotic relationship with water-drinking 💦 monkeys.
- Choice (C) can also be eliminated. Its description discusses more about the plant's maintenance than its consumption habits.
- Choice (D) must go as well. Although it is named a COBRA 🐍 plant and its feature can be carnivorous, we need more explicit details similar to that of choice (A)'s.
To seal the deal, the correct answer is choice (A)! The key takeaways are:
- Get rid of off-topic and irrelevant answers
- Take note of the main claim you're trying to connect with the supportive example.
In this case, it's the "carnivorous" part that makes choice (A) stand out from all the other options despite all of them being plants.
❗Let's try one last example (again, courtesy of College Panda)
Practice Problem #5
Technological advances in robotics have made it inevitable that robots will increasingly be a part of our household life, beyond the dishwashers that clean our silverware and the cash registers that calculate our change. But even our jobs are at risk. Research by the BBC shows that 35% of our current occupations could be done completely by machines within the next 20 years. We may soon see drones delivering packages in our neighborhoods and administering shots at the doctor's office.
Which choice gives a second supporting example that is most similar to the example already in the sentence?
A. NO CHANGE
B. the video games that run on our computers.
C. the solid foundations on which our houses are built.
D. the air conditioners that regulate the temperature.
Again, let's take a look at the preceding sentence as hinted by the question:
- Technological advances in robotics have made it inevitable that robots will increasingly be a part of our household life, beyond the dishwashers that clean our silverware and the cash registers that calculate our change.
- KEYWORD/IDEA: technological advance, robotics, household life
Wanna handle it from here, detective? My pleasure. Don't take a peek at the answer until you get it 🕵️
Aaaaaand that wraps up the "Adding Details & Strengthening Arguments" group of the SAT Writing & Language section! Now that you've familiarized yourself with the format of these questions, you shouldn't be too astonished by the prompts of any of the three pit stops you visited here 🏹