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Rhetorical synthesis | Lesson

A guide to "rhetorical synthesis" questions on the digital SAT

What are "rhetorical synthesis" questions?

On the Reading and Writing section of your SAT, some questions will provide you with a series of bulleted notes that contain related information about an unfamiliar topic. The question will then ask you to effectively use relevant information from the notes to accomplish a particular goal.
Rhetorical synthesis questions will look like this:

Rhetorical Synthesis: Example
While researching a topic, a student has taken the following notes:
  • The novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens focuses on the adventures of its title character, David Copperfield.
  • David Copperfield is considered a bildungsroman.
  • In a bildungsroman, the main character grows, learns, and changes from experience.
  • The novel Tom Jones by Henry Fielding focuses on the adventures of its title character, Tom Jones.
  • Tom Jones is considered a picaresque novel.
  • In a picaresque novel, the main character has many experiences but stays fundamentally the same.
The student wants to emphasize a similarity between the two novels. Which choice most effectively uses relevant information from the notes to accomplish this goal?
Choose 1 answer:

How should we think about rhetorical synthesis questions?

Rhetorical synthesis questions throw a lot of information at us. If we focus too much on that information, we can easily lose track of what the question is actually asking us to do.
The key to success on these questions is to start by focusing in on the goal identified in the question prompt.
If we understand how rhetorical synthesis questions are structured, finding this goal should be easy.

Question structure

Every rhetorical synthesis question has the same parts:
  • an introduction
  • a series of bulleted facts
  • a question prompt
  • the choices
Many test-takers will instinctively be drawn to the bulleted information first. However, we should instead start by reading the question prompt.
The question prompt will identify a goal for our solution sentence. For example, we might be asked to emphasize a similarity or difference, or to introduce a study and its findings, or to provide an explanation and example of some particular idea. Only one of the choices will accomplish this goal.
With this goal in mind, we can then read the bulleted information, focusing on identifying any information that is relevant to the goal. Finally, we look to the choices for a match.
Let's break down this approach more in the next section.

How to approach rhetorical synthesis questions

If we actually had to compose the answer to a rhetorical synthesis question, our job would be much harder and more open-ended. We'd need to examine the presented information closely, decide which information is most relevant, and write a clear and concise sentence of our own making.
But since rhetorical synthesis questions are multiple choice, we can avoid all that complexity and be much more systematic.
To solve a rhetorical synthesis question, follow these three steps:
Step 1: Identify the goal
Start by reading the question prompt. What does the correct choice need to accomplish?
This goal will be plainly stated. For instance, in the example item at the start of this lesson, the goal is "to emphasize a similarity between the two novels".
Step 2: Read the bullet points and identify relevant info
Read the bullet points, looking for information is relevant to the goal you just identified. Information that is relevant to the goal may be found in just one bullet point, or it may be found across several points.
Step 3: Test the choices
Some wrong choices might accurately represent information from the bullet points but fail to achieve the goal. Other wrong choices might seem to achieve the goal but are not accurately using information from the bullet points to do so.
Read through each choice. As you do, ask yourself, "does this sentence accomplish the identified goal AND accurately represent the information in the bullet points?"
If the answer is no, eliminate that option.
Step 4: Select the choice that matches
Once you've tested each answer choice, you should find that only one choice successfully accomplishes the goal defined in the question with the information provided in the bullet points. You can select that choice with confidence!

Top tips

Do two "passes" to eliminate choices!

Some find it helpful to eliminate choices in two separate "passes": for the first pass, focus on eliminating choices that don't accomplish the goal. Then, go back and do another pass, focusing on eliminating choices that don't accurately represent the information in the notes.
After both passes, there should only be one choice left: the choice that achieves the goal and accurately reflects the information provided. That's the correct answer!

Simplify the goal

The simpler you can make the goal, the easier it will be to test the choices in the first pass. For example, if the question wants to "emphasize a difference between thing X and thing Y", we can simplify our test to just "difference".
Does each choice describe "difference"? If not, we can eliminate it.
Simplifying the goal can help us eliminate a few choices very quickly. But we may have to reexamine the bulleted information to distinguish among the remaining choices.

Be strict!

Don't be generous with choices that "kind of" or "almost" accomplish the goal. If a choice doesn't completely address all parts of the goal, we can eliminate it. Details matter!

Ignore the grammar

All of the choices will be well-written and grammatically correct. Make your choice based on the information the choices contain, not how good they sound in the sentence.

Your turn

Practice: Rhetorical Synthesis
While researching a topic, a student has taken the following notes:
  • Marine biologist Camille Jazmin Gaynus studies coral reefs.
  • Coral reefs are vital underwater ecosystems that provide habitats to 25% of all marine species.
  • Reefs can include up to 8,000 species of fish, such as toadfish, seahorses, and clown triggerfish.
  • The Amazon Reef is a coral reef in Brazil.
  • It is one of the largest known reefs in the world.
The student wants to introduce the scientist and her field of study to a new audience. Which choice most effectively uses relevant information from the notes to accomplish this goal?
Choose 1 answer:

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