How to Approach "Because" Questions on the SAT Writing Section

On the SAT Writing section, some questions ask you not only to decide if a proposed edit should occur but also why. A lot of students assume that because there are two parts to each answer choice, the question itself will require twice as much time to solve. However, savvy test-takers know how to use the “Because” question structure to their advantage. They work methodically through the answer choices and use an aggressive process of elimination to arrive at the correct response.

Here are a few important steps to take when approaching Because questions:

Annotate the Purpose of the Paragraph

Start by identifying the purpose of the paragraph your question references. Focus on the non-underlined portions of the paragraph, since these sections cannot change.


Identify the Proposed Revision

Next, identify which type of Because question you’re dealing with. There are three types of Because questions on the SAT Writing section: Add, Revise, and Delete. Add questions ask if you should insert a new piece of text into a passage, Revise questions ask if you should change an underlined portion of text, and Delete questions ask if you should eliminate text from the passage.


The question above is a Delete question. Our goal, therefore, is to determine whether the underlined sentence should be kept or deleted and why.

Focus on the Reasoning

When answering Because questions, many students tend to focus on the first part of the answer choices right away. For example, in the question above, you might have found yourself debating whether to “keep” or “delete” the underlined sentence before you even looked at the “because” part of each answer choice. After all, if you can make this decision, you can eliminate two answer choices immediately, right? This is a very risky approach. After all, if you make the wrong choice, you’ll eliminate the correct answer choice without a second glance!

Instead, focus on the portion of each answer choice after the word “because”. Answer choice A, for example, says that the underlined text  “exemplifies the passage’s main point.” The main point of this passage seems to be that non-scientists and non-mathematicians can be inventors.  A reference to a famous scientist therefore does not seem to exemplify this fact. We can eliminate A. Cross off the flawed reasoning in each answer choice to narrow down your selection pool.

Err on the Side of Caution

Once you’ve eliminated all of the flawed reasoning, you’ll usually be left with two answer choices. Remember, only one answer choice can be correct. To determine which answer choice is correct, treat the question like a courtroom. Each of your answer choices must present enough compelling evidence to prove it is correct beyond the shadow of a doubt. If you find yourself making excuses for an answer choice or grasping at straws trying to defend it, chances are it’s incorrect.

Take the above example. Suppose you eliminate answers A and D and you’re left with Answers B and C. B says the text is “surprising and entertaining” while C says it “undermines the primary purpose of the paragraph.” It’s pretty difficult to argue that something is surprising and entertaining. Surprising and entertaining to whom? How do we know this was the author’s intention? Alternatively, answer C references the “primary purpose” of the paragraph, which we as readers can easily access. We already know from our first read-through that this paragraph argues non-scientists and non-mathematicians can be inventors. It’s clear, therefore, that a reference to a famous scientist and inventor detracts from this message. The correct answer is C.

Now that we know how to approach Because questions, let’s try another sample question.

Let’s start by focusing on the primary purpose of the paragraph. We know from the non-underlined portions of the excerpt that Cameron’s political beliefs are contradictory and that he also wishes to help the poor. That means he probably believes something else that wouldn’t necessarily help the poor. It looks like this paragraph is all about showing how Cameron’s political beliefs don’t exactly add up.

Next, let’s identify the proposed revision. Here, we need to decide if we should revise the current sentence by replacing it with a new portion. Before we say “yes” or “no”, however, let’s go to the answer choices and see how many we can eliminate based on reasoning alone.

Answer A says this new portion would give explanatory detail. It does seem to provide some detail (such as Cameron’s views on taxation), so we’ll leave this answer for now. Answer B says the revised portion would be more concise. This isn’t necessarily true. In fact, both text excerpts appear to be of approximately equal length. Let’s eliminate B. Answer C says the new portion would provide extraneous information. This could be true if the new text proves unnecessary. Let’s leave it for now. Finally, Answer D suggests the new portion is written in the wrong tone. Both portions sound similar in tone and voice, so we can eliminate this answer choice as well.

Now that we’re down to Answers A and C, let’s evaluate each a little more closely. Answer A references “explanatory” detail. The new text does appear to explain Cameron’s views on taxes. It tells us Cameron thinks that taxes should be reduced. We need this explanation in order to understand why Cameron’s views are contradictory. Answer C, however, suggests the new text provides “extraneous” detail. We know “extraneous” means unnecessary, extra info. However, we just established that we need added detail! Therefore, the correct answer is A.

It’s certainly understandable why some students find “Because” questions intimidating. The question structure is different, the answer choices are long, and it’s easy to begin questioning whether something should change before considering why that change would occur. However, with a few small tweaks to your approach, you can easily add this question type to your arsenal of strengths on test day.




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