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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:

Rhetorial Synthesis: Example
While researching a topic, a student has taken the following notes:
  • Maika’i Tubbs is a Native Hawaiian sculptor and installation artist.
  • His work has been shown in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Germany, among other places.
  • Many of his sculptures feature discarded objects.
  • His work Erasure (2008) includes discarded audiocassette tapes and magnets.
  • His work Home Grown (2009) includes discarded pushpins, plastic plates and forks, and wood.
The student wants to emphasize a similarity between the two works. 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 ignore all the details at first and to focus 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 focus on 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. In fact, if we’re short on time but are focused on the identified goal and explore the choices, we can often answer rhetorical synthesis questions without ever reading the bulleted information.

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 works".
If you find yourself confused by the stated goal, you can get some more context by reading the bulleted information. But you won't need to understand all those details to be able to complete the next step.
Step 2: Test the choices
All of the choices will present a grammatical sentence that accurately represents information from the bullets. This means we don't need to determine whether or not the sentences contain errors. We only need to focus on the goal.
Read through each choice. As you do, ask yourself, "does this sentence accomplish the identified goal?"
If the answer is no, eliminate that option.
Step 3: 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. You can select that choice with confidence!

Top tips

Simplify the goal

The simpler you can make the goal, the easier it will be to test the choices. 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 complete goal to distinguish between 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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