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David Recine

SAT Reading Multiple Choice Strategies, Part 3: Structure of Writing Questions


So far we’ve looked at multiple choice strategies for SAT Reading questions based on the information in the passage, Multiple Choice Strategies In Sat Reading: Implicit And Explicit Information, and the vocabulary in the passage, Multiple Choice Strategies In Sat Reading: Vocabulary Questions.

Next we’ll look at strategies for choosing the right answers in SAT Reading questions that test your knowledge of the structure of writing.

The idea that knowledge about writing is necessary for the reading portion of the SAT may seem a little strange at first, but let’s think about this: SAT Reading asks you some questions about author attitude, author intent and the purpose of the passage as a whole. In order to understand what a writer was feeling, thinking and trying to do when they put together a passage, you need to think like a writer.

To look at how “thinking like a writer” can work as a multiple choice strategy, we’ll go through some questions based on a passage that’s adapted from my own college writing, specifically an article I wrote for my university newspaper during my sophomore year of college.


SAT Passage:

Biomechanics—the adding of robotic parts to living organisms—is often thought to be pure science fiction, with no real-life applications. Nonetheless, actual science has recently provided us with a real-life bio-mechanical device. In the non-scholarly media, it has gained the name “roborat.”

The technology is surprisingly simple, involving three radio-controlled electrodes and (of course) a rat. Rats sense touch through sensors in their whiskers. These sensors help steer them away from obstacles. The region of the rat’s brain responsible for these sensations is the somato-sensory cortex. Two electrode patches are implanted in the cortex, one to stimulate the right set of whiskers, and one to stimulate the left. Activated by remote controls, these patches steer the rat in one direction or the other. The third electrode is placed in the rat’s medial forebrain bundle (MFB). The MFB is believed to be an emotional controller, responsible for the senses of motivation and reward in rats. This electrode is activated via remote when the rat is successfully steered to its destination, providing the rat with a biochemical reward for its success.

Currently, scientists are investigating the potential utility of this new biomechanical technology for humanitarian purposes. Roborats are being developed for use in on rescue missions, bringing food and provisions to people trapped beneath rubble.

Although potential benefits to rescue missions are highly touted by proponents of roborat development and use, there are concerns that this technology is unethical or could be abused. Some fear that larger animals could be forced into use as minesweepers, or that birds could be used for domestic spying, the dropping of small bombs, and other harmful activities. Others fear the implications for free will in animals and even humans. “Are we going to see people who are terrorists or people who are soldiers programmed to do things they wouldn’t normally do?” asks Art Caplan, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s center for Bioethics.

No, say Dr. Sanjiv Talwar, the leader of a robotic rat research and development project at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. Talwar asserts that the rats remain able to make their own decisions if need be. He reports that the rats will flinch and turn away from obvious danger even when steered in such a direction. “Our animals were completely happy and treated well and in no sense was there any cruelty involved,” Talwar claims.

Talwar expounds the importance of his research, saying “Rats have native intelligence which is a lot better than artificial intelligence.” However, some would disagree. Among Talwar’s detractors is Dr. Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue. Murphy’s research center designed and worked on the robots that combed through the rubble of the recently-attacked World Trade Center. Murphy points out that roborats could become easily distracted by external stimuli common at disaster sites, such as the smell of smoke or rotting garbage. Rats also can only go out to a site for about an hour at a time, while robots can last seven to twelve hours. Moreover, rubble could easily interfere with a roborat’s remote transmitting system. Rescue missions also often require long falls or exposure to hot and fiery places roborats may be unable or unwilling to go. Murphy further notes that the range of broadcast for roborats cannot exceed 1700 feet, placing numerous limitations on the use of this technology at large disaster sites.


SAT Question

The author’s main purpose of quoting Art Caplan and Robin Murphy is to

A) provide a counter-argument to the idea that robotic rat technology is wholly beneficial and ethical.
B) establish that roborat technology impacts both the physical and emotional sensations experienced by rats.
C) present alternate suggestions for animal species that could be merged with this new technology.
D) confirm the relationship between artificial electric impulse and sensations generated from within an animal’s brain.

In questions like this, selecting the correct answer is not simply a matter of looking for information that is “right” or “wrong,” according to the text. Every piece of information in the answer choices is consistent with the text. The passage provides counter-arguments to Talawar’s optimistic assessments of the new technology, indicates that biomechanical technology can influence physical and emotional brain responses, states that that artificial electronics can cause these responses, and suggests that animals other than rats could be controlled electronically.

So the real trick is not to determine what the author did or didn’t write, but to understand how writing works. With an awareness of the logic of written English, you can see why the author chose to include the specific ideas referenced in the question: ideas from a bioethicist and a developer of purely robotic, non-biological rescue devices.

A quick skimming of the paragraphs containing the words of Caplan and Murphy shows that these two scientists have concerns that robotic rat technology may be unhelpful and even harmful. This points to answer (A) as the correct one. A quick comparison of answers (B) through (D) to the words of Caplan and Murphy further shows that the ideas in (B), (C) and (D) are not connected to Caplan and Murphy’s perspectives in any clear way. So (A) can be selected as the correct answer, only (A) fits in with the logic of the passage’s structure.

Now, to thoroughly check each answer choice, you’d have to carefully reread almost the entire passage, since the answer choices themselves connect to many different parts of the reading. This is where thinking like a writer comes in handy. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to fully check all of the info in the answers, simply looking at the parts of the essay that reference Caplan and Murphy can give you an almost certain idea of what the answer is, provided you’re able to seize on the author’s reasons for always placing Talawar’s views right next to the views of the other two scientists. Talawar acts as an immediate counter to Caplan’s ethics concerns and Murphy acts as a counter to Talawar’s optimism about roborat technology. Someone with an astute knowledge of the writing processes for academic arguments would be able to spot a counter-argument very quickly, selecting answer (A) and ruling out the other answers with reasonable certainty.


About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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