This week’s tip is a follow-up to last week’s tip – Wear One Hat at a Time. I discussed that there are two types of questions in the SAT/ACT grammar section – Mechanics of Writing (grammar) and Rhetorical Skills (organization/style/structure). A strong test taker should answer the grammar questions first and THEN go back and answer the organization/style/structure questions. These questions revolve around the MAIN IDEA. The strategy is to skim the passage quickly, thinking about the following three questions: What is the author’s point? What is the paragraph(s) about? What is the structure? Note the topic sentence, the details, and the concluding sentence. Below is a more in-depth look at what these questions ask and how to answer them:
Types of organization/style/structure questions:
1.Ordering sentences or paragraphs
2.Choosing the best introduction or conclusion
3.Choosing the best transition word or phrase
Ordering sentences or paragraphs
If a question asks you to reorder sentences or paragraphs to present the most “logical” order, you are looking for two main areas: 1. chronology or 2. coherence.
Chronology usually involves a passage working through a biography of a person’s life starting with childhood and ending with death, so you want to make sure a paragraph about his/her college years does not appear at the end. Sometimes, chronology questions will be about putting seasons, dates, or other things with a clear order in line.
Coherence means that every sentence should follow from the previous one in terms of how it builds on content- think of puzzle pieces.
Choosing the best introduction or conclusion
In order to answer these types of organization questions correctly, it’s important that you review the main idea of the paragraph and make sure you pick an option that best accomplishes two things:
- summarizes the main idea of the paragraph
- connects to what comes before and after it (this means the previous paragraph and the current paragraph if we are talking about an intro sentence, and the current paragraph and following paragraph if we are talking about a concluding sentence.)
Be wary of answer choices that are too broad or too narrow: the ones that seem to encompass more than what the paragraph talks about or only give one specific detail.
Choosing the best transition word or phrase
For transition questions, you need to pick an answer choice that best communicates the relationship between the two sentences. One way to handle this is to use the answer choices and see if they fit. For example, if there is a thought reverser, are the two sentences saying contradicting things? If not, eliminate that choice. However (note the transition word!), if you are having trouble deciding what transition word is a thought-reverser, thought continuer, etc. then temporarily put a blank in the sentence where the transition is supposed to go, ignore the answer choices, and try to come up with your own connection.