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Understanding your "Command of Evidence" subscore

What does the SAT "Command of Evidence" subscore measure?

What is Command of Evidence?

Your “Command of Evidence” subscore on the SAT is based on your performance on specific questions from both the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test.
A total of 18 questions — 10 from the Reading Test and 8 from the Writing and Language Test — contribute to the Command of Evidence subscore.
These questions are designed to see whether you understand how authors make use of evidence to develop and support their claims and points.

Why does evidence matter?

Command of Evidence questions on the SAT are designed to help you practice a critically important skill.
In college, in the workforce, and in life in general, you’ll find that you frequently need to use evidence to create or defend an argument, or to evaluate the validity of someone else’s argument.
Journalists, politicians, scientists, business leaders and other change-makers use evidence to make their ideas compelling, their points clear, and their claims convincing. Authors can change people’s minds about something or persuade them to take a particular action through the use of evidence.
Types of evidence:
  • Information
  • Ideas
  • Facts, figures and statistics
  • Dates
  • Direct quotations from experts
  • Details and events
  • Word choice to signal a point of view
  • Characterizations
One way to think about it: Evidence helps you defend the explanation you might give for how you reached a decision, or how you arrived at a particular interpretation of a situation or text.
Consider the following examples:
  • “I think the author supports clearer labeling on food because ...”
  • “I support the use of smartphones in school because …”
  • “The narrator seems to feel sympathy for the main character because ...”
  • “I decided to eat the last banana because …”
  • “He stopped drinking soda because …”
What should follow “because” in each of these examples is evidence — the “how I know it” part of the statement. Your argument will be a lot more convincing if you can back up your claim with something more than a vague gut feeling!
Arguments are everywhere! That’s why the SAT puts so much emphasis on learning how authors back up their arguments with evidence.
Top tip: Think like an author! As you approach all of these questions and tasks, try to start thinking like an author. Answering such questions as “What information in the passage is being used to support the author’s interpretation?” and “How relevant is this information to the passage as a whole?” is critical to getting a good Command of Evidence subscore on the SAT.

The Reading Test

There are three types of questions that address command of evidence on the SAT Reading Test:
1. Determine the best evidence:
  • All-in-one variety: Determine which part of a passage offers the strongest support for a conclusion that the question provides
Example: “Which of the following provides the best support for the author’s conclusion that goldfish make better pets than do stick insects?”
  • Paired variety: Command of Evidence questions are often connected to the previous question. The first question in the pair will ask you about a claim in the passage, and the second will ask you what text from the passage offers the strongest support for the answer to the previous question.
Example: “Which of the following provides the best support for the answer to the previous question?”
2. Interpret data presented in informational graphics:
  • Locate particular information in tables, graphs, charts and infographics
  • Draw conclusions from the data
  • Make connections between the data and the information and ideas in a passage
Example: “Which of the following statements best describes the connection between the data in the table and the author’s conclusion about rainbows?”
Top tip: Identify "the story" Try to “read” graphics and draw conclusions just like you read and interpret written texts. Ask yourself: Is there a title? What is being measured? What do the x- and y-axes represent? What are the units? Is the data telling a story?
Top tip: Use your own words To ensure you've adequately understood the diagram, state in your own words what the graph is showing. This can prevent you from getting side-tracked by an answer choice that looks good, but isn't actually supported by the graph.
3. Understand how an argument uses (or doesn’t use) evidence:
  • Consider how an author makes (or fails to make) use of supporting information, such as facts, figures, and quotations, to develop claims
  • Identify what type of evidence the author relies on most heavily (personal anecdotes or survey results, for example)
  • Determine what evidence in the passage supports a particular claim
  • Decide if a new piece of information (such as a research finding) would strengthen or weaken an author’s case
Example: “Which of the following findings, if discovered, would most strengthen the author’s argument in favor of net neutrality?”
Top tip: Make a prediction using your own words The first step on questions like these is to make sure that you know what the argument actually is. Say it in your own words just to be sure, then predict—in your own words—what sort of proof could make that argument stronger. If you have some idea of the kind of answer you’re looking for before you read the choices, then you’ll have an edge when you start ruling out bad choices using process of elimination.

The Writing and Language Test

You’ll find two types of questions on the Writing and Language Test that count towards your Command of Evidence subscore:
1. Interpreting data presented in informational graphics:
  • Use data in infographics when you’re revising passages to make the passage more accurate, clear, precise, or convincing.
  • Revise a passage to correct an error in the writer’s interpretation of a table
Example: “Which choice completes the sentence and accurately reflects the information from the graph?”
Top tip: Follow the instructions It can be helpful to make sure that you underline the part of the question that the answer needs to do—in this case, accurately reflect the info in the graph. The other choices might all sound fine grammatically, but the task here is not to select the choice that sounds best! Your job is to select the choice that tells the same story the graph is telling.
2. Improving a passage’s structure, support, and focus:
  • Revise passages to make authors’ central ideas sharper
  • Add or revise supporting information, such as facts, figures, and quotations
  • Add accurate and relevant information in support of a claim
  • Replace a general description with precise figures
  • Eliminate information that’s irrelevant or that just doesn’t belong at a particular point in a passage.
Example: “Which choice most effectively sets up the information that follows?”
Top tip: Follow the instructions Don’t just read the choices and choose the one that sounds best!
  • If the task is to set up information that follows, then your first step is to take a look at the information that follows, and select a choice that sets it up.
  • If the question asks you to make a general description more precise, then the answer will be the choice that does exactly that!
Don’t be distracted by choices that sound the smartest or the most well-written—every choice in questions like these is likely to be fine grammatically.

Command of Evidence and The SAT Essay

Although your score on the optional Essay does not contribute to your Command of Evidence subscore, the Essay’s Analysis score is based heavily on skills related to Command of Evidence questions.
The SAT Essay task is to analyze how an author builds an argument using evidence, reasoning, stylistic or persuasive elements, or other techniques to persuade readers. If, for example, you claim that the author relies heavily on appeals to emotion, you will have to use evidence from the passage to support that claim!
Top tip: Practice the Essay to improve your reading score! Another good reason to take the SAT Essay is that while you prepare, you’ll be practicing many of the skills you need to do well on multiple-choice Command of Evidence questions!

Want to join the conversation?

  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Christopher Piper
    Should I take the essay even if it is optional?
    (21 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Sarah
      If a college, university, or other program you plan on applying to recommends or requires it, yes!
      If you're not sure where you'd like to apply, yes! It's better to leave doors open than to close them.
      If you're a strong writer and want colleges to know, yes!

      If you hate writing essays and the you aren't applying anywhere that recommends or requires the essay, probably not!
      If you've already gotten a high score on the ACT with writing that you're comfortable sending places, probably not!
      (66 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user blank
    I have constantly got a score around the high 500's for reading. Other than studying what I have got wrong, what else can I do?
    (11 votes)
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    • duskpin sapling style avatar for user manvi
      While you're reading anything (even just for fun) pay attention to what you're reading, and why the author might be doing certain things throughout his/her writing. This will allow you to get a better understanding of whatever you're reading. This is basically what's tested on the SAT.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user marygracejoy03
    For the math part of the test, when I was little I was home-schooled and my mom didn't properly educate me in mathematics (or anything for that matter) so I don't have a foundation in math most kids do. Do you have any tips for me on things I should specifically focus on so I don't fail the math section?
    (8 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Emmanuel Glona
    In both my reading and writing test, I am not a fast reader therefore, time always catch up with me in them. Sometimes, I will not even answer any of the questions, just because I spend all the reading the passage to understand it. Please, can I get some strategies or tips that will help me to do well.
    (3 votes)
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    • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Lin Gh.
      First of all, don't try to understand every single word on the passage. I'm not a native English speaker, and I feel many passages are above my level. However, I just skim through the passage and try to get the main idea.

      Reading SAT questions don't ask questions about the passage in too much detail.
      (13 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user zaidjaria25
    I have given about 15 practice tests. Even after practicing so hard, I am not able to score more than 1500. I want some tips how I could score 1600 on my October SAT.
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user caronjogu14
    what is the highest score you can get??
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Haziq Afzal
    I am unable to improve my writing an language score what should I do? sometimes I get half of the questions wrong. I have read all the grammar rules, the punctuation rules etc.
    (8 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Sancia John
    I am taking the SAT 2 years from now but I scored poorly on the PSAT how much time every day should I practice?
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • duskpin seed style avatar for user Melissa Smith
    What is an easier way to understand the passages?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Adreauna
    Is the evidence part really important?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user