In my last post on multiple choice strategies for the SAT, I looked at SAT Reading questions that require you to “think like a writer,” getting inside the mind of a passage author and correctly identifying author attitude, intent, and purpose.
In this post, we’ll look at strategies for a section of the SAT where getting into a writerly frame of mind is even more important than it would be in Reading. The Writing and Language section is all about writing and includes a number of questions where test-takers need to actively make writing decisions regarding a passage.
In SAT Writing and Language, you must understand how writing is structured, logically and progressively. You’ll be asked to place, include or omit details, based on topical relevance to the passage and how well the information fits into a given part of the passage. Below, we’ll look at an SAT Writing Passage adapted from the College Board’s set of free practice tests for the new SAT. The passage will be followed by a sample question written just for this blog. The official questions for this passage can be found on pages 19-21 of this official test booklet.
Whey to Go
Greek yogurt—a strained form of cultured yogurt—has grown enormously in popularity in the United States since it was first introduced in the country in the late 1980s.
From 2011 to 2012 alone, sales of Greek yogurt in the US increased by 50 percent, while other food industries reported either increases or decreases in their sales, depending on the type of food being sold.  The resulting increase in Greek yogurt production has forced those involved in the business to address the detrimental effects that the yogurt-making process may be having on the environment. Fortunately, farmers and others in the Greek yogurt business have found many methods of controlling and eliminating most environmental threats. Given these solutions as well as the many health benefits of the food, the advantages of Greek yogurt are greater than the potential drawbacks of its production.
Which choice provides the most relevant detail?
A) NO CHANGE
B) percent, possibly because of portrayals of Greek yogurt as glamorous in popular media.
C) percent, greatly outperforming sales of more traditional forms of yogurt.
D) percent, generating profit for shareholders of publicly-traded companies that make and sell Greek yogurt.
Questions like this ask you to make decisions regarding style and content development in a passage. Selecting the correct answer from your four choices isn’t a matter of content knowledge about Greek yogurt or the memorization of any other kinds of academic facts. Instead, to eliminate incorrect answers quickly and correctly you must have an intuitive “feel” for how a writer can connect relevant ideas together at the sentence, paragraph, and even passage level.
When approaching this kind of Writing question, the first thing you should do is look at the original phrasing. Sometimes “NO CHANGE” really is the right answer, so you should check the first answer option, which is always “NO CHANGE” on this question type, before you check any other choices.
It’s pretty easy to see that the original wording does not correctly develop the topic of the passage with relevant focused details. The reading focuses on the Greek yogurt industry and the practices within the industry. The profit margins of other food industries is not mentioned anywhere else in the paragraph, beyond the sentence in question. So (A) is out, you’ll want to make some kind of change.
(B) seems like it might be correct. After all, portrayals of Greek yogurt in the media could be a form of product placement, which would be in keeping with the paragraph’s focus on Greek yogurt industry practices. However, the paragraph seems to focus more on environmental industry practices than advertising ones, and it’s also a bit of a stretch to assume media exposure of Greek yogurt actually is advertising, as there is no mention of product placement as an advertising tool of Greek yogurt makers.
So let’s look at (C). This doesn’t seem too far off-topic, after all, this added detail is still talking about yogurt, just not Greek yogurt. Still, the third answer choice is the only mention of traditional yogurt in the whole passage, making it a potentially incorrect selection.
To find out if (C) really is the best answer, we should double-check (D). (D) seems pretty relevant on the surface, but there are some problems with this answer choice. The focus of the passage is on increased production of Greek yogurt, with an eye on the potential environmental and health impacts of producing Greek yogurt in greater amounts within the United States. The passage does not discuss increased Greek yogurt sales as they relate to the profitability or stock value of food companies. So this actually is fairly off-topic.
Now, let’s revisit (C) again. The mention of non-Greek yogurt really does work in this passage, because this article argues that Greek yogurt production poses unique environmental challenges. Indicating that much more Greek yogurt is being made compared to regular yogurt bolsters the claim that the environmental impact of Greek yogurt is uniquely significant. If regular yogurt production has not increased in recent years, then its manufacturing processes can’t have created any new or special environmental concerns. The potential for a change in environmental impact is much more likely with Greek yogurt, because it has seen a significant boost to its recent level of production.
Thinking through all these different details and weighing their relevance can be time consuming and mentally exhausting, if you’re not familiar with the thought processes behind writing. So to sharpen your skills at these writerly multiple choice strategies for the SAT Writing and Language exam, be sure to do a lot of practice writing yourself and be sure to read the work of other writers critically. In practice reading sessions, consciously noting how writers construct their arguments, and catch lapses in relevance when they occur in things you read.