How to answer “supporting evidence” questions

If you’ve looked at the redesigned PSAT or SATs, you’ve probably noticed that the reading section now includes a number of “supporting evidence” sets — that is, pairs of questions in which the second question asks which lines provide the best “evidence” for the answer to the previous question.

The first thing to understand about these questions is that they are not really about “evidence” in the usual sense. Rather they are comprehension questions asked two different ways. The answer to the second question simply indicates where in the passage the answer the first question appears.

So although paired questions may look very complicated, that appearance is deceiving. The correct answer to the first question must appear in one of the four sets of lines in the second question. As a result, the easiest way to approach these questions is usually to plug the line references from the second question into the first question.

Thus a question set that looks like this:

The author of Passage 1 indicates that space mining could have which positive effect?

A) It could yield materials important to Earth’s economy.
B) It could raise the value of some precious metals on Earth.
C) It could create unanticipated technological innovations.
D) It could change scientists’ understanding of space resources.

Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

A) Lines 18-22 (“Within . . . lanthanum”)
B) Lines 24-28 (“They . . . projects”)
C) Lines 29-30 (“In this . . . commodity”)
D) Lines 41-44 (“Companies . . . machinery”)

Can be rewritten like this:

The author of Passage 1 indicates that space mining could have which positive effect?

A) Lines 18-22 (“Within . . . lanthanum”)
B) Lines 24-28 (“They . . . projects”)
C) Lines 29-30 (“In this . . . commodity”)
D) Lines 41-44 (“Companies . . . machinery”)

Then plug in each of the answers (making sure to read a little before/after for context as necessary) to see which set of lines provides the answer to the first question. When you find the lines that meet this criterion, you have the answers to both questions.

Note that in order to apply this strategy effectively, you must know that “supporting evidence” questions are coming. I would strongly suggest that you look through all the questions before you start working through them and simply bracket all of the “evidence” pairs so that you don’t get caught off guard.

To be clear, this is unlikely to be the best approach for every single paired question set; there will probably be situations (especially those involving paired passages) in which it is faster/easier to answer the questions in order. If you are a strong reader, you will need to decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis.

If you struggle with these questions and/or find them confusing, however, there’s a good chance that working this way will help keep yourself on track.