Strategies for Evidenced-Based Reading Questions

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You must return to the passage to answer some SAT and ACT Reading questions, but you never want to return to the passage without a purpose, especially for evidence-based reading questions.

These reading section strategies will help you use the passage effectively so you can return to the passage with a purpose (and therefore spend less time per question), use line references to your advantage, and answer those “supporting evidence” SAT Reading questions correctly.

How to Return to the Passage with a Purpose

Let’s start with how to decide if you should return to the passage to answer a question.

The key here is that you do not want to rush back to the passage. You only want to return to the passage if you know what you are looking for or if you know where you need to look. 

So when you read a question, first confirm – in your own words – that you understand what it is asking. Then see if you can answer the question in your own words.  

If you cannot, then determine if a look through the answer choices might allow you to eliminate some choices. In other words, maybe you don’t know what the answer is but you know what it is not

Then – before you go back to the passage – restate in your head what you are answering or what you are looking for… then return to the passage and efficiently find your answer! 

Remember, you only want to return to the passage if you know what you are looking for or if you know where you need to look. 

How to Use Line References to Your Advantage

Sometimes a question will include a line reference. The temptation is to immediately go to this place in the passage and re-read. But instead, follow the same protocol as before: rephrase the question, try to answer in your own words, eliminate any choices that you can, then return to the lines referenced in the question with a clear purpose – what are you looking for?  

For example, let’s say the question asks, “The main purpose of lines 7 through 9 is…” Well, in order to answer the main purpose you must also think about the purpose of the passage as a whole. You’re not going to read lines 7 through 9 and the rest of the passage, but you may read a line or two above or below lines 7 through 9 to better understand these lines with respect to the rest of the passage. 

So, yes, line references tell you where to look, but you must still know what you are looking for before you return to the passage.   

Line references tell you where to look, but you must still know what you are looking for before you return to the passage.   

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SAT Reading Supporting Evidence Questions

Many students struggle with the dreaded “which line best supports your previous answer” questions on the SAT Reading section. And these questions can be tricky. But there is a way to approach them.  

Supporting evidence questions come in pairs, in which the second question asks for the best evidence for your answer to the first question. When you come across these questions, first you must decide if you are answering the questions in order or in reverse order.  

When you come across these questions, first you must decide if you are answering the questions in order or in reverse order.  

In other words, say you read a question that asks 

“According to the author, the viewer’s relation to Pollock’s art could be described as being?” 

And the following question is 

“Which of the following excerpts from the passage provides the best evidence for your answer to the previous question?”  

Answering the two questions in order:

If you can answer the viewer’s relation to Pollock’s art in your own words or eliminate enough answer choices to select an answer without going back to the passage, then answer the first question first.

Now you just have to decide which excerpt supports your answer. So you go to the passage and read the excerpts given to you as options and you ask yourself the question: “does this describe the viewer’s relation to Pollock’s art?” Since you already know the answer, you already know what the excerpt is supposed to support. So you are looking for text from the passage that could be rephrased into the answer you selected.

Answering the two questions in reverse order:

If, on the other hand, you’re unsure of how to answer the first question, then you want to look at the second question first. Use the answer choices as clues for where to look in the passage; read a little above and a little below the given excerpt and ask yourself the question: “does this describe the viewer’s relation to Pollock’s art?”  

You will know when you have found the correct support from the passage because it will contain the answer! If you can answer the question based on what you read, then answer the second question first. Then use this to answer the previous question.  

Strategies for Evidence-Based Reading Questions

The takeaway here is that you need to see if you can first) answer the question without returning to the passage and second) see if you can eliminate answer choices without returning to the passage. 

Then if you do need to return to the passage, do it with a purpose by clarifying what you are looking for or where in the passage you need to look. 

Remember to read a bit above and below line references to better understand them with respect to the rest of the passage.

And, finally, when finding the evidence for the previous question ask yourself “can you answer the question based on what you read?” If this is the correct support from the passage then it will contain the answer!   

You can practice for the ACT and SAT Reading section with passages, questions, and animated videos that teach you how to own the Reading section in our ACT and SAT study courses. Learn more at www.olive-book.com

Further reading:

How to Ace the SAT Reading Section
How to Ace the ACT Reading Section
Why You Should Read for Fun
4 Reading Strategies for Slow Readers

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