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Command of evidence: textual (literary) — Worked example

Learn the best way to approach a literary command of textual evidence question on your SAT. Start by identifying the claim, then restate it in your own words, then find the best support in the choices. Remember, the answer needs to fully match your claim, not just partly! Created by Corey Kollbocker.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Let's give this question a try. "Ghosts of the Old Year" is an early 1900s poem by James Weldon Johnson. In the poem, the speaker describes experiencing an ongoing cycle of anticipation followed by regretful reflection: blank. Which quotation from "Ghosts of the Old Year" most effectively illustrates the claim? Okay, if you'd like to give this one a try on your own before I teach you some specific strategies for this question type, please feel free to pause the video now. Cool, let's move on together. Now we are asked to effectively illustrate a claim, that is, we're being asked to back up an argument with evidence from a text. And that means that this is, say it with me, a command of textual evidence question, very good. Okay, so these questions introduce a claim about a text. Your job is to identify that claim, that argument, and find the evidence that most strongly supports it. It's not a text that you need to be familiar with. The question contains all the context that you need. So you may or may not know who James Weldon Johnson is, but any preexisting knowledge here isn't relevant or necessary. You'll encounter a couple of these on test day. The texts that these questions ask about might discuss a scientific experiment or, like this question, they may ask you about a work of literature, like a novel or a poem. Questions that focus on literature passages ask you to think like you're writing an essay for English class and you wanna pull a quote from the text to support your argument. In this case, though, they give us the argument and our job is to find the best support. Let's talk strategy real quick and then we'll return to the question and put that strategy into practice. The question will introduce a central claim or argument and it'll be stated very clearly, so you won't have to go digging for it, but that's your first job, identify the claim. Once you do that, create a test phrase by restating that claim in your own words. Doing this will give you control of the idea and allow you to see it restated differently. Ideally, this test phrase will be as short and sweet as possible. Once you've got your own words version of the claim, test it against the choices. Whichever choice matches your test phrase will be the answer. Let's put this into practice with our example question. So we're looking for an ongoing cycle of anticipation followed by regretful reflection. There's just not a lot of other text to look at here. This is the claim that we need to find support for. It's the only sentence in the question that isn't just a straightforward description of what the poem is, so let me just take that and restate it very simply. Looking forward, smiley face, looking backward, sad face, anticipation, then regret, that's our test phrase. Simple, straightforward, gets the job done, I don't even have to use letters. Now, let's take that test phrase to the choices. Looking forward, smiley face, looking backwards, sad face. Okay, choice A. "The snow has ceased its fluttering flight, "The wind sunk to a whisper light, "An ominous stillness fills the night, "A pause, a hush." There might be a sense of looking forward here. Everything's quiet and still as if something might be about to happen, but that's not explicit and there's no regret, no sad face, no sense of looking back. I don't think this one's it. Choice B. "And so the years go swiftly by, "Each coming, brings ambitions high, "And each departing leaves a sigh "Linked to the past." Okay, so we've got ambitions high, which is our sense of looking forward, but we've also got each departing leaves a sigh linked to the past, which feels very much to me like bummed about last year or looking backwards, sad face. I think this is our answer. On test day, I'd select it and move on, but let's make sure there's not one stronger option lurking somewhere in the choices. I feel pretty good about this one, though. Choice C. "What does this brazen tongue declare, "That falling on the midnight air "Brings to my heart a sense of care "Akin to fright?" This one mentions fear, which might be a type of anticipation, but not the happy kind. And I don't see any looking backward at all. Not it. Choice D. "It tells of many a squandered day, "Of slighted gems and treasured clay, "Of precious stores not laid away, "Of fields unreaped." This is definitely backward looking regret, right, fields unreaped, a harvest not realized, right, but no forward looking anticipation, so this is not it either. So B is our answer. It supports both the looking forward excitement part of the claim and the looking backward regret part. Now let's talk through a couple of top tips for questions like these. Top tip number one, be specific. You are looking for an answer choice that supports the claim in the question step, nothing more, nothing less. So any choices that introduce a new idea can be eliminated. We don't need evidence for anything else. Top tip number two, be strict. Anything that feels like it's almost evidence for the claim is going to be too weak to be the answer For example, the correct choice in the question we just discussed very directly and strongly supports the claim. It was the only choice that both explored the ideas of anticipation and regret at the coming of a new year. Some of the choices in the question were about just regret or just anticipation. The answer needs to be all right, not just partly right. Good luck out there, test takers. You've got this.