Of all the pieces of advice I have for the Writing portion of the digital SAT, this is probably my #1, and it’s particularly important because it involves a new question type.
Whereas the paper-based post-2016 exam featured ACT knock-off “rhetoric” questions asking test-takers whether a given piece of information should be revised, added to, or deleted from a passage, the digital version has scrapped these items and replaced them with a much more complicated-looking type of question involving sets of bullet points representing notes that a “student” has taken about a topic.
Based on the material released by the College Board, it appears that this will be a very common question type: second in frequency only to questions involving transitional words and phrases, and potentially appearing as many as four or five times in a given module.
After working through a few of these questions, bouncing back and forth between the bullet-pointed information and the answer choices, occasionally losing track of exactly what I was supposed to be looking for and getting lost in a thicket of information, I had a classic “duh” moment: the questions themselves told me what type of information the correct answer had to contain—it was unnecessary to even look at the bullet points at all.
In this regard, “notes” questions are effectively the same as “specific focus” questions on the ACT, just with a bit more padding: although they are technically asked in relation to a passage, the context is for all intents and purposes irrelevant. All that matters is whether you can identify the key word or phrase in the question—what is being emphasized, presented, or introduced—and match it to the corresponding term(s) in the right answer. The language in some SAT questions is a bit more sophisticated, and the answers longer, but they basically work the same way. (I point this out for anyone who may need to take both the ACT and the digital SAT.)
Once I figured that out, I was able to answer most of these questions in a matter of seconds. A handful of times I had to read very carefully, but in some instances it was as simple as matching a word like “difference” or “compare” in the question to one like “whereas” or “however” in one of the choices.
They were—and I do not use this term lightly, given its history in relation to the SAT—trick questions.
For example, look at the following question. (Note: I didn’t want to run afoul of CB copyright restrictions, so I’m using one of mine, from the sixth edition of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar). I mean that literally: do not read it, just look at it.
Pretty complicated, right?
But when you pare it down to the essentials, it’s actually asking this:
Variety of materials = diverse set of media. It’s literally that simple.
You can treat pretty much every single “notes” question this way, leaving you considerably more time to devote to other questions that genuinely require more thought.
Or you could just take a nap until the next module.