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Text structure and purpose | Lesson

A guide to "text structure and purpose" questions on the digital SAT

What are "text structure and purpose" questions?

On the Reading and Writing section of your SAT, some questions will present a short text for you to read. The question will then ask you to identify the main purpose or overall structure of the text.
Text structure and purpose questions will look like this:

Text structure and purpose: example
The following text is from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1910 poem “The Earth’s Entail”.
No matter how we cultivate the land,
Taming the forest and the prairie free;
No matter how we irrigate the sand,
Making the desert blossom at command,
We must always leave the borders of the sea;
The immeasureable reaches
Of the windy wave-wet beaches,
The million-mile-long margin of the sea.
Which choice best describes the overall structure of the text?
Choose 1 answer:
Choose 1 answer:


How should we think about text structure and purpose questions?

Text structure and purpose questions are all about seeing past the surface of a passage. Instead of just what a text says, these questions dig into why and how the text says it.
Since these questions might ask about purpose or structure, let's look at each in turn.

Purpose

Purpose is the why behind the passage. Why did the author write it? What did they want to accomplish? What’s the point?
A text's purpose can often be framed using active verbs that demonstrate the goals of the author. Some examples include
  • to explain ______
  • to illustrate ______
  • to criticize ______
  • to argue ______
  • to introduce ______
The author wants you to have a particular experience when you read their writing. Maybe they want to help you understand a new concept, or maybe they want to convince you of something. What were your takeaways from reading the text? Chances are, those takeaways are closely related to the text's purpose.

Structure

Structure is how a passage works to achieve its purpose. How does the text flow from one idea to the next? Where does the author place particular emphasis?
A text's structure can often be described as a sort of motion, following the focus as it shifts from one place to another.
Separating a text's structure from its content can be difficult, but it often helps to consider how the ideas within the text relate to one another. Do they disagree? Does one idea cause or build upon another? These relationships create a shape for the text which serves to support the goals of the author.

How to approach text structure and purpose questions

To solve a text structure and purpose question, consider following these steps:
Step 1: Identify the task
The first thing you should do is glance at the question to see if it asks about "overall structure" or "main purpose". While structure and purpose are closely linked, you may find it helpful to read the passage while focusing on just the one the question asks about.
Step 2: Summarize the text
Read the passage closely and summarize the ideas you encounter. Try to boil the whole text down to one or two simple points. You already know whether the question asks about structure or purpose, so keep that in focus as you form your summary.
Rephrasing things in your own words will give you a strong understanding of what the passage is about, and this is the first step to understanding the why and how of the text.
Step 3: Test the choices
Compare your summary to each of the choices. While a summary isn't exactly the same as a structure or purpose, you should find a significant resemblance.
A text's purpose will include reference to the main ideas in the passage. A text's structure will often be made obvious by a straightforward summary.
One of the choices should jump out as the most clearly linked to your summary. You can select this choice with confidence!

Top tips

Stay specific

Don't stray beyond the focus of the text. Eliminate choices that describe a purpose or structure that introduces information not directly addressed in the passage. Likewise, avoid choices that shift or blur the purpose of a text by emphasizing details that aren't a central focus.

Be strict

Choices in structure questions often break the text into two parts. Make sure the description of both parts of the text is accurate. If a choice correctly describes the first part of the text, but doesn't feel quite as accurate for the second part, eliminate that choice. Every part of the answer needs to accurately describe the text.

Lean on transitions

Transitions like "however" and "therefore" contribute significantly to the structure of a text by showing how one idea flows into the next. Take note of any transition words you encounter while reading; these can be very helpful when trying to map out the structure of the text.

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