Reading Comprehension Re-Defined: identification and connecting of evidence
As a high school student, you have four more chances to use the current SAT essay format before the big change comes in March of 2016! Four chances to do what, exactly? Write a response to the current SAT prompt that allows for significant personal anecdote - even impressionistic responses that showcase a student’s grasp of written English language. Come March, all that changes.
Beginning in March 2016, the new essay will require textual analysis, focusing on comprehension and analysis of an extended text (the optional SAT essay provides 50 minutes for reading, analysis and writing), rather than a response to a single question.
Naturally, the reading selections will differ from test to test, but the redesigned SAT will provide essentially the same task: explain how the author of the passage builds his or her argument.
Here are some suggestions about how to approach this redesigned English reading and writing task:
1. Understand the challenge:
More akin to analytical Advanced Placement questions about reading, the new essay component will have no room for either personal anecdote or personal opinion about some general issue. Rather, a student will have to demonstrate understanding of an argument and its development by an author. Students can offer their opinion of how well the author achieves his or her goal, but only when they support their opinion with textual evidence, not personal preference.
2. Know what the word “evidence” really means:
This may sound self-evident, but it’s not. Many students simply do not currently receive English class training for the sort of textual analysis required for the redesigned SAT essay. Can you explain how an author uses facts and examples to support his central thesis? Lack of reading among students is the culprit. Buck the trend! Start work on analytical skills now with virtually any passage you read!
3. Show how an author uses particular evidence:
Today’s younger readers are less engaged than ever in the process of reading. Texting has replaced careful perusal in extended reading. Yet, the ability to distinguish an author’s meaning and intention remain crucial in real life in virtually every form of academic and business endeavor, let alone in the ever-complex world of American political life. This new test seeks to determine how well students can discern the links of intention and argument in an author’s words. Be prepared to find and report evidence.
4. Write clearly and concisely:
To communicate your analysis, you’ll write in paragraph form where a strong topic sentence introduces body test. Neither add fluff nor repeat the same phrases or words unnecessarily.
The body of a paragraph naturally elaborates on the topic sentence. Use the paragraph as a vehicle for each piece of evidence that you find and discuss. Include relevant quotations from the source material, and explain the importance of each piece of evidence. The paragraphs should combine into a growing, persuasive argument that unfolds step by step, leading to a reasoned conclusion.
5. Use the fifty minutes:
The essay is a draft document, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you have no time at all to review and correct mistakes in grammar, syntax (word order) and English language usage. They, too, will matter in the overall scoring. So, leave time to review your work.
The new SAT essay will be scored using criteria based upon reading comprehension, building an argument, and use of language. More complex than the current essay, the new test writing format will provide greater challenge than ever before.