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Text Structure and Purpose — Worked example

Learn the best way to approach a text structure and purpose question on your SAT. Purpose is the why behind the passage, and structure is how a passage works to achieve its purpose. It helps to summarize the text in your own words. While a summary isn't exactly the same as a structure or purpose, it should still help you get to the correct choice. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [David] Hey, test takers. I'm looking at this Writing and Language question from the SAT, and I'm gonna go through it with you. But if you'd like to take a first whack at it yourself, go ahead and pause your video now. Okay, now, let me show you how I would do it. I'm gonna gently skip over the passage and zoom in on that question stem right there. Which choice best states the main purpose of the text? And that stem tells me we are looking at a text structure and purpose question. These questions will ask us to do one of two things, either to identify the purpose of a given passage, essentially why did the author write the piece? Or in other words, what's the point? Or to identify the structure of the passage. Essentially, how does the author move between ideas to achieve their purpose? Purpose questions ask us, what is the author trying to accomplish? So strategies for these questions, whether they're structure or purpose questions, follow the same approach. First, cover the choices. We recommend this first step on these questions to make sure that we take the time to make a good prediction without being influenced by the glittery objects below. Next, identify the task, which is as simple as reading the question stem to figure out if you're looking for structure or looking for purpose. And then go ahead and read the passage with that task in mind. If you're looking for purpose, think about what the author is trying to accomplish. And if you're looking for structure, think about how the sentences connect with one another. Next, summarize and rephrase the passage in your own words. Boil that summary down to a short idea because you're going to test that summary against the choices. So let's return to the question. First, I'll cover up the choices so as to not bias our thinking over much. Next, identify the tasks. So we know from this question stem down here that we're looking for the main purpose, right? So as we go through the passage, let's try to answer that why question. Why does this passage exist? What is it doing? So let's read that passage. Some studies have suggested that posture can influence cognition, but we should not overstate this phenomenon. All right, let me underline that. Here's the point. I can expect the rest of the passage will be telling me why we shouldn't overstate that phenomenon. It's what the rest of the passage will be doing. It's backing up this statement. Alright, case in point. In a 2014 study, Megan O'Brien and Alaa Ahmed had subjects stand or sit while making risky simulated economic decisions. Standing is more physically unstable and cognitively demanding than sitting. Accordingly, O'Brien and Ahmed hypothesized that standing subjects would display more risk aversion during the decision-making tasks than sitting subjects did, since they would wanna avoid further feelings of discomfort and complicated risk evaluations. But O'Brien and Ahmed actually found no difference in the groups' performance. Okay, so let's summarize. The author kicks off by saying that some studies suggest that posture, sitting or standing, can influence cognition, like thinking clearly. But then it says, "Hold up, not so fast. We should not overstate this phenomenon." And then the author shares an experiment where it turned out that the subject posture made no difference at all on their ability to evaluate complex questions. That's the author telling us explicitly, "Hey, this example proves my point. There are no easy answers on this posture-cognition relationship." So let's sum this up and recycle some language from the main claim in the passage. The study shows why we shouldn't overstate the phenomenon or shouldn't jump to conclusions. All right, don't jump to conclusions. And I'm going to use this prediction as I head into the next step. Now, let's uncover the choices and let's test her idea which choice best states the main purpose of the text, which is don't jump to conclusions. I forgot to put the end quotations on there, there we go. Don't jump to conclusions. Okay, so let's test each choice against that. The text A presents the study by O'Brien and Ahmed to critique the methods and results reported in previous studies of the effects of posture on cognition. Nothing in the text critiquing or criticizing the methods of previous studies that's just an off-hand reference in the first line about the results. I think we can safely eliminate this one. Okay, choice B. The text argues that research findings about the effect of posture on cognition are often misunderstood, as in the case of O'Brien and Ahmed's study. This also isn't talking about something that's present in the passage. There's no references to misunderstandings. Choice C, the text explains a significant problem in the emerging understanding of posture's effects on cognition and how O'Brien and Ahmed tried to solve that problem. First of all, this doesn't match our prediction and it doesn't reflect what's in the text either. There's no explicit suggestion that O'Brien and Ahmed's study is trying to solve a problem. I'm gonna leave this in and check out D before crossing this out for sure, but I gotta say this feels a bit off. Let's move on to D. So choice D. The text discusses the study by O'Brien and Ahmed to illustrate why caution is needed, okay, when making claims about the effects of posture on cognition. So yes, okay. Now, here is a choice that matches our prediction of don't jump to conclusions. Caution is needed when making claims about the effects of posture. This is 100% our answer. Okay, I'm going to eliminate C, circle D. In this question, the other choices all referred to ideas that stretched or distorted the information presented in the text, which leads me to my top tip for purpose questions. Be strict. Choices that describe new information not present in the passage can be safely eliminated. You shouldn't have to tie yourself in a knot to justify an answer choice, you know? Like choice A, in this example, mentioned the methods and results of previous studies. And that's tricky because the passage did mention results, but crucially, it didn't mention methods. A choice can feel mostly right, but a single wrong word or phrase can knock it out of the running. It's gotta be completely accurate if it wants to be your answer. Good luck out there, test takers. You've got this.