If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Command of evidence: textual | Lesson

A guide to "command of evidence: textual" questions on the digital SAT

What are "textual evidence" questions?

On the Reading and Writing section of your SAT, some questions will introduce a claim about an unfamiliar subject. The question will then ask you to identify the piece of evidence that most strongly supports that claim.
Textual evidence questions will look like this:

Textual evidence: Example
Jan Gimsa, Robert Sleigh, and Ulrike Gimsa have hypothesized that the sail-like structure running down the back of the dinosaur Spinosaurus aegyptiacus improved the animal’s success in underwater pursuits of prey species capable of making quick, evasive movements. To evaluate their hypothesis, a second team of researchers constructed two battery-powered mechanical models of S. aegyptiacus, one with a sail and one without, and subjected the models to a series of identical tests in a water-filled tank.
Which finding from the model tests, if true, would most strongly support Gimsa and colleagues’ hypothesis?
Choose 1 answer:

How should we think about textual evidence questions?

There are two types of textual evidence questions, and we need to think about each type a little differently.

Scientific evidence

In these textual evidence questions, a hypothesis will be presented about a subject in science or social science, usually in the context of new research or experimentation.
We won't need to rely on any previous science knowledge: everything we need will be contained in the short passage. Our task is to interpret the researchers' hypothesis, identify the research outcome that would support that hypothesis, and then select the choice that offers that outcome.
This task should remind you of your science classes, in which you've likely needed to confirm or refute a hypothesis based on the outcomes of an experiment.

Literary evidence

In these textual evidence questions, the passage will make an argument concerning a particular literary work, like a poem or novel. The choices will then offer a set of quotations from that literary work.
We don't need any previous knowledge of the literary work under discussion. What we will need is the ability to evaluate whether the content of each quotation serves as direct evidence for the argument identified in the question.
This task should remind you of your English classes, in which you've likely needed to pull quotations from a text to support your arguments in an analytical essay.
While these two types of questions might seem quite different, the skills we need to succeed on them, and our approach to finding the answer, should be quite similar for both.

How to approach textual evidence questions

To solve a textual evidence question, consider following these steps:
Step 1: Identify the argument
Every textual evidence question, whether scientific or literary, will introduce a central argument for the question. It might be a research hypothesis, or it might be an interpretation of a literary text, but either way it will be clearly stated. Your first job is to identify that argument and draw it out from the text.
For instance, in the example question at the start of this article, you can identify the following hypothesis: "the sail-like structure running down the back of the dinosaur Spinosaurus aegyptiacus improved the animal’s success in underwater pursuits of prey species capable of making quick, evasive movements".
Step 2: Create a test phrase
Once you've identified the argument you want to support, you should rephrase that argument in the simplest terms possible.
For example, consider that hypothesis about Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. The claim is that a sail would help the dinosaur hunt quick prey while underwater. You could simplify that as follows:
Sail on back = quicker underwater movement
The best choice will make this same argument.
Step 3: Test the choices
Read each choice while keeping your test phrase in mind. Does the choice say something different than the test phrase? If so, eliminate that choice.
Once you find a choice that makes the same argument as your test phrase, you've found the answer. You can select that choice with confidence.

Top tips

Stay specific

Don't stray beyond the focus of the passage. Eliminate choices that broaden or blur the argument you're meant to be supporting. And look out for small twists and turns that make a choice seem relevant when it actually changes the focus of the argument.

Be strict

Remember, we're looking for the strongest and most direct evidence. If a choice "almost" or "kind of" feels like evidence, you can likely eliminate it. If you need to connect too many dots to make the evidence match the argument, then it's probably not strong evidence.

Your turn

Textual evidence: Literary
“Mr. Cornelius Johnson, Office-Seeker” is a 1900 short story by Paul Laurence Dunbar. In the story, the narrator describes Mr. Cornelius Johnson’s appearance as conveying his exaggerated sense of his importance: ______
Which quotation from “Mr. Cornelius Johnson, Office-Seeker” most effectively illustrates the claim?
Choose 1 answer:

Want to join the conversation?