Writing Strategy Questions
Writing Strategy Questions
Writing strategy involves improving the effectiveness of a passage through careful revision and editing. Frequently, strategy questions will ask you to choose the most appropriate topic or transitional sentence for a paragraph. Almost as frequently, you will have to choose the best option for strengthening an argument by adding information or evidence. In other questions, you may also have to choose which sections of an argument can be deleted. You will also have to identify the purpose of a passage—its audience or its message—in other strategy questions.
The following strategy topics are covered in this section:
  1. Transitions and Topic Sentences
  2. Additional Detail and Evidence
  3. Big Picture Purpose
Transitions and Topic Sentences
These questions ask you to figure out the best way to open or conclude paragraphs within a passage. Here’s an example of a strategy question:
      Victorian novelists were often
concerned with issues of character, plot,
and the Victorian social world. Dickens’s
novels, for example, were several-
hundred-page-long works documenting
the elaborate interweaving of his
      Their “modernist” novels tended
47. The writer wishes to begin
Paragraph 3 with a sentence
that strengthens the focus of
the paragraph, while providing
a transition from Paragraph 2.
Which of the following would
be the best choice?
A. In the early twentieth
century, novelists began to
reject the Victorian emphasis
on social context and look for
a new focus for the novel.
B. Victorian novels ended with
the Victorian era.
C. In the early twentieth
century, novelists further
developed this emphasis on
characters’ inner lives.
D. World War I significantly
affected British culture in
the twentieth century.
to focus on the characters’ inner lives,
which they depicted through a stylistic
technique called “stream of
consciousness.” Several of the best-
known modernist novels were written
in this stream-of-consciousness
Question 47 asks you to choose a sentence that will simultaneously serve as a topic sentence (“a sentence that strengthens the focus of the paragraph”) for Paragraph 3 and as a transition sentence between the two paragraphs (“while providing a transition from Paragraph 2”). In order to answer this question correctly, you need to understand what the two paragraphs are saying. We suggest that you reread Paragraph 3 first. By developing a good sense of what that paragraph says, you can eliminate answer choices that clearly do not work as topic sentences. After you’ve eliminated any choices, make sure that you understand Paragraph 2. From the remaining choices, you can identify the best transition sentence.
Done that? We hope that you immediately eliminated choices B and D from your list of possible topic sentences. Choice B talks exclusively about the Victorian novel, making it an inappropriate topic sentence for a paragraph on modernist novels. Choice D doesn’t talk specifically about novels at all. Its focus is World War I, which is not mentioned elsewhere in the paragraph. So now you’ve narrowed the selection down to A and C. These sentences have similar constructions, but they say radically different things: choice A claims that twentieth-century novelists rejected Victorian ideas, while choice C claims that they embraced and developed Victorian ideas. In order to figure out which one of these claims is true, you need to have read Paragraph 2 in addition to Paragraph 3. Paragraph 2 tells you that Victorian novelists were primarily concerned with the social world. In Paragraph 3, you discover that modernist novelists were primarily concerned with characters’ thoughts and inner lives. Thus Paragraph 3 describes a change in novel writing that occurred between the Victorian era and the early twentieth century. The correct answer to the question is A.
The example above is fairly typical of transition and topic sentence questions you will encounter on the English Test. Sometimes you’ll be asked to select only a topic sentence or only a transition sentence from the answer choices. Those questions are usually less complex than the example above because you have to perform one fewer step. You may also be asked to choose a concluding sentence for a paragraph. These questions are similar to transition questions because a good concluding sentence tends to be one that easily and sensibly makes the transition to the next paragraph.
Additional Detail and Evidence
These questions ask you to flesh out a paragraph by selecting the answer choice that provides the best additional detail or evidence. For example,
      Their “modernist” novels tended
to focus on the characters’ inner lives,
which they depicted through a stylistic
technique called “stream of
consciousness.” Several of the best-
known modernist novels were written
in this stream-of-consciousness
48. The writer wishes to add
information here that will
further support the point made
in the preceding sentence.
Which of the following
sentences will do that best?
F. Today, this style is not as
popular as it once was.
G. However, there are many famous
early twentieth-century works
not written in this style.
H. Joyce’s Ulysses, for example,
was written in this style, and
it is widely considered one of
the most important books of
the century.
J. Ford’s The Good Soldier,
although less read today, is a
great example of this style.
This question asks for additional information to support the point of the preceding sentence (“Several of the best-known modernist novels were written in this stream-of-consciousness style”). To answer this question correctly, you need to understand the point being made, so read the sentence carefully. You should be able to eliminate choices F and G immediately. Choice F talks about the popularity of this style among contemporary authors—an issue that the preceding sentence does not address. You can eliminate choice G almost immediately because it starts with “however,” which indicates that it is going to make a statement that attempts to contradict, not support, the previous point. Now you’ve successfully limited the answer choices to H and J. Both would provide the paragraph with an example of a stream-of-consciousness work. The key to deciding which of these sentences is correct lies in the preceding sentence, which talks about the “best-known modernist novels.” On the one hand, choice J tells you that The Good Soldier is “less read today” and also, presumably, less well known. On the other hand, choice H tells you that Ulysses is “widely considered one of the most important books of the century.” This statement suggests that the novel is famous, so choice H is the best answer to the question.
Big Picture Purpose
On each English Test, you’ll probably encounter a few Big Picture Purpose questions. These questions always come at the end of a passage. We call them Big Picture Purpose questions because they ask you to look at the big picture and identify a passage’s main point, intended purpose, or intended audience.
These questions in many ways resemble some of the questions on the Reading Test. BPP questions do, after all, test your comprehension of the passage—and comprehension is also what the Reading Test assesses. Because these questions test your overall comprehension, they are difficult to prepare for outside the context of a whole passage. Therefore, we suggest you prepare for these questions by studying our Reading Test chapter.
Before you start flipping through the book, we’ll give you an idea of how these questions look on the English Test. They will often be phrased like this:

Suppose the writer has been assigned to write an essay explaining the development of the British novel from 1799 to 1945. Would this essay successfully fulfill the assignment?

The answer choices to these questions come in two parts: the first part will respond either “No” or “Yes” to the question, and the second part will give an explanation for this answer. For example,
A. No, because the essay restricts its focus to the American novel from 1850 to 1945.
B. No, because the essay omits mention of famous poets.
C. Yes, because the essay focuses on the novel’s birth in the eighteenth century.
D. Yes, because the essay describes changes in novel writing from the end of the French Revolution to the end of World War II.
Without reading the entire passage, you’re probably unable to answer a definite “No” or “Yes” to this question, but you can eliminate an incorrect answer or two because of irrelevant or nonsensical explanations. In this example, you can immediately cross off choice B because the explanation calls for a discussion of famous poets in the essay. Famous poets, however, do not necessarily belong in an essay on the novel’s development. You can also cross off choice C. It claims that the passage successfully fulfills the essay requirements because it discusses the novel’s birth in the eighteenth century. However, the assignment calls for a discussion of the novel starting in 1799 (the end of the eighteenth century), so choice C cannot be correct. By reading and understanding the passage, you’ll be able to choose from the two remaining answers. If the passage indeed focuses on the American novel, choice A is correct, and the essay does not succeed; if the essay describes the novel from the end of the French Revolution (1799) to the end of the World War II (1945), choice D is correct, and the essay does succeed.
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