Digital SAT: How to approach the new question type on the Reading and Writing section

Reading and Writing passages on the digital SAT are considerably shorter than those on the paper version, but many of the questions remain essentially the same: students still encounter questions testing main idea, primary purpose, punctuation, and vocabulary, although the format of some of these questions has changed slightly.

However, the dSAT has also introduced an entirely new type of "rhetorical synthesis" question: one that requires test-takers to review a fictitious set of student notes and respond to a question about how to best organize a response based on the notes.

For example, students might see a question such as this:

While conducting research for an upcoming assignment, a student took the notes shown below:

  • Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary painter and performance artist.
  • Her work has been exhibited in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Paris, and London, and other places worldwide.
  • A large number of her works feature polka dots.
  • Her installation I’m Here, but Nothing (2000-2008) was made up of a room that contained a few furnishings and had walls covered with hundreds of glowing polka dots.
  • Her floating work Guidepost to the New Space (2015) featured a serious of rounded, bright red “humps” covered in white polka dots.

1. The student’s aim is to highlight the similarity in the two works. Which of the following best uses the information provided in the notes to accomplish this goal?

A) I’m Here, but Nothing incorporates polka dots on the walls of a room; Guidepost to the New Space, on the other hand, uses polka dots on rounded shapes.

B) Similar to many of Kusama’s other works, both I’m Here, but Nothing and Guidepost to the New Space include polka dots; I’m Here, but Nothing incorporates them on walls, and Guidepost to the New Space incorporates them on rounded “humps.”

C) Kusama’s work, which frequently makes use of polka dots, has been exhibited in many locations worldwide.

D) Kusama exhibited I’m Here, but Nothing from 2000-2008 and Guidepost to the New Space in 2015.

So, how should you approach these questions?

Focusing on the goal provided in the question prompt will be vital. In this case, you’re asked to choose the answer that highlights the similarity in the two works, so check to see whether each answer does this.

Note that while choice A mentions that both works incorporate polka dots, it uses the phrase “on the other hand”—a phrase used to show a contrast rather than a similarity—to link the content of the two works. Therefore you can eliminate choice A.

Choice B emphasizes that both works use polka dots, thus highlighting a similarity, so keep choice B.

Note that choice C contains a true statement, as the notes do indicate that Kusama’s work has been displayed worldwide, but the answer choice doesn’t fulfill the goal provided in the question itself; it doesn’t highlight a similarity between the two works, and therefore is not the correct answer.

Choice D similarly contains a true statement but doesn’t indicate how the two works are similar and is also incorrect.

The correct answer is choice B.

As you work these questions, just remember to search for the answer that most literally accomplishes the goal provided, and you’ll find that only one answer works!

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Lisa Mayo

About Lisa Mayo

Lisa is an authority in the test prep field, with more than 17 years of experience teaching students how to succeed on college admissions exams. Lisa has tutored students preparing for SAT, ACT, PSAT, ISEE, SSAT, GMAT, TOEFL, GRE, LSAT, and AP exams. Her students have attended some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S., including the Ivy League schools. Lisa has also contributed to numerous published works on standardized test preparation.

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