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Essay Analysis
Please Note:
The last administration of the SAT II Writing was on 1/22/05. Beginning 3/12/05, parts of the SAT II Writing test will be included in the New SAT. You should be studying the New SAT book. Go there!
Essay Analysis
A few questions will require you to analyze the essay as a whole. Sometimes, after reading an analysis question, you’ll find that you don’t even need to glance back to the essay in order to figure out the right answer. In some cases, though, you will need to go back and reread a few sentences. This question asks about the essay in general terms:
Which sentence best summarizes the main idea of the passage?
It would be a waste of time to skim the essay again in order to figure out the answer to this question. Analysis questions that ask about the entire essay can be answered simply by relying on the quick read-through you do as the first step. If you get a general idea of the essay’s content on that read-through, you’re well equipped to answer a question like this.
The following is a different variety of question, but one that also asks you to analyze the entire essay:
The writer uses all of the following techniques EXCEPT:
(A) using concrete examples
(B) using an anecdote to illustrate his thesis
(C) discounting those who disagree with his opinion
(D) stating and then disproving a theory
(E) making reference to a work of fiction
Clearly, this kind of question does not allow you to prepare your own answer; you will have to look right to the answer choices. Before you do that, however, circle the word EXCEPT. This question is worded in a confusing way: it is asking you to eliminate all those techniques that the writer actually uses. The correct answer, therefore, will name the one technique that does not appear in the essay.
When answering this question, go back and find the lines that use the concrete examples mentioned in (A), the anecdote mentioned in (B), and so on. If you find lines that utilize the technique mentioned, cross out the corresponding answer choice in your test booklet.
Analyzing a Single Sentence
Some analysis questions will ask you to analyze one sentence. These questions will require you to go back to the essay and read the sentences before and after the problem sentence. Look at this question, for example:
Sentence 4 works to
(A) suggest a hypothetical situation
(B) ask the reader to question the usefulness of theater
(C) let the writer appear modest
(D) contradict a widely held assumption about theater
(E) reveal the writer’s confusion about theatrical productions
In order to determine the function of sentence 4, you would return to the relevant paragraph and read sentences 3, 4, and 5. Then, before looking at the answer choices, you would decide for yourself what sentence 4 works to do. If you’re having trouble generating your own answer on this kind of question, the answer choices can help you out quite a bit. If you pay attention to the language each answer choice employs, some of them will strike you as obviously wrong. Perhaps the author doesn’t sound modest at all; perhaps she’s not revealing her confusion or contradicting a widely held assumption.
Here is another kind of single-sentence analysis question:
The writer could best improve sentence 8 by
(A) admitting the flaws in his theory
(B) giving concrete examples
(C) explaining his own opinion
(D) bringing up new problems
(E) explaining modern theater
For this question it is possible to prepare your own answer first. Read sentences 7, 8, and 9, and see if you can determine the problem with sentence 8 before you look at the answer choices.
Sample Improving Paragraphs Essay
Below you’ll find a sample essay followed by six typical questions. Take a shot at answering the questions yourself before you look at the answers and detailed explanations that follow.
(1) In one scene in a short story I recently read, the main character goes back in time and happens to bring a few gold pieces back to the present with him. (2) The gold pieces turn out to be incredibly valuable. (3) This short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. (4) Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future.
      (5) My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. (6) Someone like my dad used up his allowance every week just because he wanted to collect all of his favorite players—Roy Campanella, in my dad’s case. (7) By dedicating the bulk of his weekly income to adding player after player to his collection, my father declared his dedication to the players.
      (8) Baseball is a high-grossing sport, and so baseball card collecting has become one. (9) Everyone has heard of one baseball card in its original wrapping commanding an absurdly high price, and now everyone is positive that his or her shoebox full of old baseball cards contains at least one card worth millions. (10) But if my dad had that one card, he won’t know it. (11) Way before he realized it, his mother had gotten rid of them.
1. Which sentence best summarizes the main idea of the passage?
(A) sentence 1
(B) sentence 2
(C) sentence 3
(D) sentence 4
(E) sentence 7
2. In context, which revision does sentence 3 most need?
(A) Add In point of fact at the beginning.
(B) Delete the phrase short story.
(C) Delete the words it being.
(D) Replace the comma with a dash.
(E) Replace reminded with reminds.
3. Which of the following sentences should be added before sentence 5, at the beginning of the second paragraph?
(A) But there were people who didn’t collect baseball cards with money in mind.
(B) Clearly, early capitalism is a good idea.
(C) In the collecting world, everyone has a different story.
(D) Let me relate to you my own father’s plan to garner money.
(E) Some pastimes have benefits you can’t discern at first.
4. Which of the following best revises sentence 8, which is reproduced below?
Baseball is a high-grossing sport, and so baseball card collecting has become one.
(A) (as it is now)
(B) Growing to be more and more like the sport that makes its existence possible has been baseball card collecting.
(C) They say that baseball is now a highly profitable industry, as is this pastime.
(D) Like the sport itself, baseball card collecting has become a highly profitable industry.
(E) At last, like the highly profitable industry of baseball, baseball card collecting is wholly changed.
5. Of the following, which best revises the underlined part of sentence 10, which isreproduced below?
But if my dad had that one card, he won’t know it.
(A) card, he would never realize it.
(B) card; he would never realize it.
(C) card, how could he realize it?
(D) card, my dad won’t ever realize it.
(E) card—he never realized it.
6. In the context of the paragraph, which is the best revision of sentence 11, which is reproduced below?
Way before he realized it, his mother had gotten rid of them.
(A) (as it is)
(B) Years before he realized his cards could be valuable, his mother had gotten rid of them.
(B) Years before he has realized about the cards, his mother has gotten rid of them.
(C) It was years before he realized about the cards that his mother got rid of them.
(D) His mother gets rid of the cards years before he realizes about them.
Answers and Explanations
What follows is a detailed discussion of each question and answer.
1. (D)
This is an essay analysis question that asks you about the essay as a whole. After reading the essay once, you should have a fairly good idea of its main idea. And happily, the test writers put this question first, which means you’ve just finished reading the essay and it is fresh in your mind. The only real work involved in this question is going back and reading the sentences that are mentioned by number in the answer choices. Before you do that, however, tell yourself what you think is the main idea of the essay—something like, Collecting baseball cards can turn out to be very profitable. This doesn’t have to be a finely honed sentence. It’s just a rough sketch, so that you have an idea of what you’re looking for as you tackle the answer choices.
Sentence 1 reads, In one scene in a short story I recently read, the main character goes back in time and happens to bring a few gold pieces back to the present with him. That deals with the anecdote the writer uses to introduce his main idea; it is too specific to be the main idea sentence. Eliminate it.
Sentence 2 reads, The gold pieces turn out to be incredibly valuable. This is even more specific than the first sentence. You can also eliminate (B). Sentence 3: This short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. This sounds better; at least it mentions baseball card collecting, which is the main idea of the essay. However, it sounds like a transition between the anecdote and the main thrust of the essay, rather than a summation of the main idea. Leave it for now, since it sounds better than the first two.
Sentence 4 reads, Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. This sentence sounds very much like the answer choice you generated on your own; it talks about card collecting, and it also mentions the idea that you can make money on card collecting. Sentence 4 is a better choice than sentence 3, which is a transition sentence and is not specific about the monetary benefits of card collecting.
Look at (E), just to be sure it’s not a better answer choice than (D). By dedicating the bulk of his weekly income to adding player after player to his collection, my father declared his dedication to the players. (E) is too specific; the passage’s main point is not to explain the initial reason that kids take up card-collecting, but to explain what happens years after the collection is begun.
2. (C)
Here we have a classic sentence revision question. Sentence 3 reads, This short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. If you saw right away that the problem here was with the phrase it being, great—all you need do is find the correct answer choice, (C), and move on to the next question. If you can hear the problem phrase right away, trust your ear—don’t waste a lot of time worrying that you got the answer too quickly. If you didn’t hear the problem right away, however, go through each of the answer choices and try out the suggested change.
Making the changes suggested by (A), you get In point of fact, this short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. If you don’t look at the context, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly wrong about this sentence, except perhaps that it’s a bit wordy. If you look at it in context, however, you can see that adding in point of fact is illogical: The gold pieces turn out to be incredibly valuable. In point of fact, this short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. The phrase in point of fact signals that the writer is about to elaborate on a point he’s begun in the last sentence, but sentence 3 is actually a departure from sentence 2, not an elaboration on it. You can eliminate (A).
If you make the changes suggested by (B), you get, This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. Removing the phrase short story merely makes the word this vague. It does not improve the sentence.
(C) gives you This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, an interesting facet of American pop culture. This is the correct answer choice because it removes a superfluous phrase without making the sentence ungrammatical.
(D) gives you This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze—an interesting facet of American pop culture. A dash is used to signal an abrupt transition or a new thought; however, here, the phrase that comes after the comma is not a transition or a new thought, it is an elaboration on the baseball card collecting phase, so a dash is inappropriate.
Finally, (E)’s changes: This reminds me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. This revision neither worsens nor improves the sentence. On rare occasions, you will find yourself in this dilemma: you will have two answer choices that seem to work, and you will have to decide between them. In this situation, ask yourself which answer choice makes a positive change, and which one is just acceptable. Get in the heads of the ETS people. They instruct you to choose the best answer choice; which one would they consider the best? Here, (C) is a better answer choice than (E) because it makes a needed revision to the sentence, whereas (E) just avoids making things worse.
3. (A)
This is a sentence addition question that requires a firm grasp of context. Read sentences 4 and 5: (4) Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. (5) My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything.
Remember, the right answer to sentence addition questions is almost always the one that smooths a rough transition. If you can generate your own transitional sentence and then see which answer choice matches it, great. If not, try out the suggested sentences and see which one works.
Choice (A): Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. But there were people who didn’t collect baseball cards with money in mind. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. (A) is the correct answer. It provides a smooth transition between the idea that people can make a lot of money from their collections, and the specific story of the writer’s father.
Let’s take a glance at the other answer choices.
Choice (B): Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. Clearly, early capitalism is a good idea. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. This sentence isn’t terrible, but the phrase early capitalism is strange, and sounds pretentious without meaning much. Also, it doesn’t tie together the two sentences, as (A) does.
Choice (C): Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. In the collecting world, everyone has a different story. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. This new sentence is okay, but it’s more vague than the correct answer, and once again it doesn’t do a good job of knitting together sentences 4 and 5. Also, the phrase collecting world is a little ambiguous; we’re talking about baseball card collecting, not collecting in general.
Choice (D): Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. Let me relate to you my own father’s plan to garner money. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. The problem with (D) is mainly one of tone. The writer takes a relaxed, chummy tone throughout this essay, and this new sentence has a highfalutin’, serious tone that clashes with the rest of the prose. Contrast the sentence suggested by (D), which uses the words father and garner, with sentence 5, which uses the words dad and kid. (D) is inappropriately formal.
Choice (E): Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. Some pastimes have benefits you can’t discern at first. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. As with (B) and (C), there’s not a lot wrong with this sentence besides the fact that it doesn’t do the job as well as answer (A) does. (E) relates almost entirely to sentence 5, without referring back to sentence 4 at all, whereas the correct answer refers to both in equal measure.
4. (D)
This is another classic sentence revision question. You might be able to hear right away that this sentence could be improved. The phrase has become one is vague. Preparing your own answer, in this case, can entail no more than realizing that phrase is vague, and looking for an answer choice that clears up the vagueness. Also, once you see that the sentence needs improvement, you can eliminate (A), which keeps the sentence as it is.
(B) is okay in content, but awkward in execution. The phrase baseball collecting should go at the beginning of that sentence. Placed at the end, as it is, it sounds like an afterthought and impedes understanding.
(C) changes the meaning of the original sentence; it implies that baseball has only recently become a profitable industry, which the original sentence does not.
(D) is the correct answer. It clears up that vague phrase has become one. The one is specified and called a highly profitable industry.
(E) sounds strangely melodramatic. The original sentence does not claim that baseball card collecting is wholly changed, as if a vast transformation has taken place, so neither should the revised version.
5. (D)
Here we have yet another revision question, this one asking you to revise a part of a sentence. The verb tense in the original sentence is not right. The first half of the sentence sets up a conditional sequence, but the verb is simple past tense: if my dad had and won’t know it don’t fit together. Of the answers, only (A) and (D) solve this problem. But (A) introduces a new problem by creating a mismatched pronoun. The plural they cannot act as a pronoun for the singular my dad. Choice (D) must be the right answer.
All of the other answer choices fail to fix the problem and introduce additional pronoun errors.
6. (B)
Again, a sentence revision question. The problem with the initial sentence is the phrase way before he realized it, which is extremely vague. Look at the sentence in context: (9) Everyone has heard of one baseball card in its original wrapping commanding an absurdly high price, and now everyone is positive that his or her shoebox full of old baseball cards contains at least one card worth millions. (10) But if my dad had that one card, he won’t know it. (11) Way before he realized it, his mother had gotten rid of them. In your revision, you want the vague phrase way before he realized it to be replaced by something more specific about realizing that his cards could be worth something.
Choice (B) is the correct answer. It replaces way before he realized it with the more specific phrase years before he realized his cards could be valuable.
If you didn’t initially see that (B) was correct, you could have eliminated wrong answers. Answer (A) can be eliminated, since you know there is something wrong with the sentence. (C) has a tense problem; since everything in the sentence is happening in the past tense, he has realized should be he realized, and has gotten rid of them should be got rid of them. (D) is awkward, and difficult to follow. (E) has a tense problem, like (C); his mother gets rid should be his mother got rid. She got rid of the cards in the past, not in the present.
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