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The SAT Reading Test: Rhetoric

Details about Rhetoric on the Reading Test

What is rhetoric?

One definition of the word rhetoric is “the study of writing or speaking.” Rhetoric questions on the Reading Test assess how well you understand the choices that authors make as they structure and develop their texts to convey meaning.
A note on the images in this article: all Reading Test items will be associated with a passage, but the passages are not included here. Each question pictured is just one example of how items in that category can look.
Some sub-topics within rhetoric:

Analyzing word choice.

Questions will ask you to determine how specific words or phrases or the use of patterns of words and phrases creates meaning and tone in the passage.
An image of an Analyzing Word Choice question which says:
The authors' use of the words "exact", "specific", and "complement" in lines 47-49 in the final paragraph funcitons mainly to A) confirm that the nucleotide sequences are known for most molecules of DNA. B) counter the claim that the sequences of bases along a chain can occur in any order. C) support the claim that the phosphate-sugar backbone of the authors' model is completely regular. D) emphasize how one chain of DNA may serve as a template to be copied during DNA replication.

Analyzing text structure.

Questions focus on the overall structure of a text and on analysis of the relationship between a particular part of the text (e.g., a sentence) and the whole text.
An image of an Analyzing Text Structure question which says:
Which choice best describes the developmental pattern of the passage? A) A careful analysis of a traditional practice B) A detailed depiction of a meaningful encounter C) A definitive response to a series of questions D) A cheerful recounting of an amusing anecdote

Analyzing point of view.

Questions will ask you to determine the point of view or perspective from which a passage is told, or identify the influence this point of view or perspective has on content and style.
An image of an Analyzing Point of View question which says:
On which of the following points would the authors of both passages most likely agree? A) Computer-savvy children tend to demonstrate better hand-eye coordination than do their parents. B) Those who criticize consumers of electronic media tend to overreact in their criticism. C) Improved visual-spatial skills do not generalize to improved skills in other areas. D) Internet users are unlikely to prefer to reading onscreen text to reading actual books.

Analyzing purpose.

Questions will ask you to determine the main purpose of a text (typically, one or more paragraphs).
An Analyzing Purpose question which says:
The main purpose of the first paragraph is to A) describe a culture. B) criticize a tradition. C) question a suggestion. D) analyze a reaction.

Analyzing arguments.

Questions will ask you to analyze arguments for their content and structure.
An Analyzing Arguments question which says:
The central claim of the passage is that A) educated women face a decision about how to engage with existing institutions. B) women can have positions of influence in English society only if they give up some of their traditional roles. C) the male monopoly on power in English society has had grave and continuing effects. D) the entry of educated women into positions of power traditionally held by men will transform those positions.
You will not need to know these types of questions by name for the test, but this list gives you an idea of some of the question types you will encounter.
Want to practice your rhetorical analysis skills? Start here!


This article was adapted from the following sources:
“SAT Practice Tests” from The College Board.

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