SAT Writing: Supporting Evidence and Examples

If topic, conclusion, and transition sentences are the glue, then statements and their supporting evidence, examples, and details are the meat. Last chapter, we talked about choosing the right transitions that lead smoothly to and from certain statements and details. In this chapter, we'll talk about the statements and details themselves and how to choose the right ones.

Whereas previously, we dealt with questions like

Which choice most effectively sets up the information that follows?

Now we're dealing questions like

Which choice provides information that best supports the claim made by this sentence?

It's like we're going in reverse. Instead of setting up the claim, this chapter deals with supporting it. Other questions of this type will look like the following:

  • Which choice gives a second supporting example that is most similar to the example already in the sentence?
  • Which choice best supports the statement made in the previous sentence?
  • Which choice most logically follows the previous sentence?
  • At this point, the writer wants to further reinforce the paragraph's claim about.... Which choice most effectively accomplishes this goal?
  • Which choice results in a sentence that best supports the point developed in this paragraph?
  • Which choice provides the most specific information on...?
  • Which choice gives an additional supporting example that emphasizes...?

So how do we handle these types of supporting evidence questions? Let's illustrate the steps with an example:

A liberal arts education is no longer viewed as a practical one. More and more students are choosing majors that lead directly to employment: engineering, computer science, and business. What was once touted as a well-rounded curriculum to develop culturally literate members of society is now denounced as inapplicable to the workplace. Companies have found that graduates from liberal arts schools—especially those with philosophy, history, and language arts degrees—require more training in order to be effective once they're hired. In light of these findings and trends, many liberal arts programs are expanding their offerings to include more professional development courses, positioning themselves to be more relevant to whatever career paths their students choose to follow.

Which choice results in a sentence that best supports the point developed in this paragraph?

B) tend to eat lunch and go to outings as a group.
C) express their opinions more openly and eloquently during meetings.
D) possess a wide array of technical skills they've developed outside of school.

1. Underline or work out in your head the claim that you're trying to support

Whatever you're trying to support, whether it be a claim, statement, or point (they're all the same thing), you have to figure out what it is. Sometimes it's as simple as reading the previous sentence, which spells it out for you. Sometimes, it's spelled out in the question! In these cases, don't be lazy—underline it. Other times, you'll have to jump back to the topic sentence or infer the main point from the entire paragraph, in which case you should formulate the main point in your own words.

A main point, however, is NOT a one word answer like "napping" or "pandas." A main point is a sentence or phrase that expresses an argument or opinion. For example,

"Napping during work is good for the productivity of the employees."

"Pandas are rare creatures that we need to save from extinction."

Keep this in mind when you're figuring out the main point yourself. Make it a complete sentence.

Lastly, do this before you look at the answers. Especially on the tougher questions, you don't want the answers to sway your idea of what the paragraph's main point is. If you come up with it independently, you can be that much more confident in choosing an answer that supports what you have in your head.

In our main example, the main point is well expressed by the topic sentence, "A liberal arts education is no longer viewed as a practical one." An even better version might be one you come up with yourself:

A liberal arts education is not seen as useful for jobs today.

2. Eliminate answers that are off-topic

If the question asks for a reinforcement of a claim about the safety of nonorganic food, don't choose answers dealing with organic food. And don't choose answers dealing with all crops in the United States. Choose an answer specific to nonorganic food.

In our example, answer B is off-topic. Eating lunch and company outings aren't really related to the discussion of job performance and liberal arts degrees.

Answer D is also off-topic because it shifts the focus away from the usefulness of what students learn in a liberal arts school to what they learn "outside of school."

3. Eliminate answers that are on-topic but don't support the point

On these questions, remember that you're not trying to add tangential facts or another claim. You're supporting a point. So just because a passage deals with napping doesn't mean any answer related to napping will be the right one. For example, if the main point is that napping during work boosts productivity, an answer that mentions what time most employees nap at is on-topic but not on-point. Instead, the right answer might state, "Employees who take naps meet their deadlines more often." This is on-topic and on-point.

In our example, answer C is on-topic but doesn't support the point we came up with in step 1. In fact, it counters the point. Remember that the main point is that a liberal arts education is not helpful for today's jobs. Answer C implies that it is, in fact, helpful, at least in meetings.

The correct answer is A, which clearly relates to the topic of job performance and supports the point that a liberal arts education is not as useful as others are for today's jobs.

  1. 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?

    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.

  2. A widespread legend states that food that has fallen to the ground may still be eaten, provided that it is picked up within a few seconds. The underlying reason is that bacteria does not have enough time to cling on to food in such a short amount of time. However, scientific evidence now shows that these claims may just be wishful thinking rather than valid assertions. Instead of taking the risk, we should just eat food from our plates.

    Which choice best supports the statement made in the previous sentence?

    B) Experiments have shown that carpets are the least conducive to bacteria on dropped food.
    C) A peer-reviewed study showed that food that had been on the floor had more bacteria, regardless of the contact time.
    D) Food poisoning can cause severe illness in people with compromised immune systems.

  3. There are scientific ways to get the most out of studying according to recent studies. There is evidence that study sessions work better when they are done in small short chunks, rather than in one marathon ten-hour session. Too many students are afraid to split up their schedules because they're afraid of forgetting what they've read, but what they don't realize is that study sessions in place of sleep can result in a 20% drop in attention levels.

    Which choice results in a sentence that best supports the point developed in this paragraph?

    B) the brain needs time to process information before it can retain it.
    C) routine is the best way to establish a habit in the mind.
    D) rote memorization is not as effective as doing practice tests.

  4. Technological advances in robotics have made it inevitable that robots will increasingly be a part of our household life, beyond the dish washers 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?

    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.

Want more questions? Our SAT Writing Advanced Guide and Workbook contains over 500 additional practice questions (grouped by topic) and 3 practice tests.

  1. A
  2. C
  3. B
  4. D