SAT Reading

Literal Translation Questions

Literal translation or comprehension questions are phrased in the following ways:

  • The author’s discussion of antibiotics indicates that...
  • The author claims which of the following is a longstanding tradition?
  • Which reaction does Watson have to the statement in lines x-y?

You can use these steps to attack these questions:

  1. Read the question and focus on the key words you are likely to find in the passage
  2. If line numbers are not given, look over the passage to find those key words
  3. Predict an answer
  4. Eliminate three wrong answers to arrive at the right answers
  5. The answer must be true according to the passage

In short, the correct answer will be a simple paraphrase of part of the passage. The answer will rarely use the exact same wording as that found in the passage. The test is whether you understand the ideas well enough to recognize when they’re stated using different, often more general, language. If you understand the idea, you’ll be fine; if you’re too focused on the details, you might miss it entirely.

Make sure that you answer the question asked; there may be some answer choices that are true according to the passage but are not relevant to the question at hand. Additionally, the test makers will try to entice you by creating incorrect answer choices that could possibly occur or are likely to occur but are not certain to occur.

You must only select the answer choice that is most clearly supported by what you read. Do not bring in information from outside the passage; all of the information necessary to answer the question resides in the passage.

Supporting evidence questions will follow most literal comprehension questions

Supporting Evidence Questions

“Supporting evidence” questions are pairs of questions in which the second question asks which lines provide the best “evidence” for the answer to the previous question. For example, a supporting evidence question set will look like this:

1. 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

2. 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”)

The most important thing to understand here is that paired “supporting evidence” questions are not really two questions at all but rather a single question broken into two parts. In fact, the information needed to answer question #1 will always be contained among the answer choices to question #2. The answer to #1 is essentially a rephrased (more general) version of the correct lines cited in #2.

The key to answering paired questions is to plug the answer choices to question #2 into question #1, then use that information to answer both questions simultaneously. The lines referenced in the answers to question #2 tell you that the answer to question #1 is either in or very close to one of the four sets of lines provided.

Therefore, the earlier question can be rewritten as “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”)

Now, you have four line options from which you’re able to steal the correct answer. It makes your life a heck of a lot easier. Once you figure out the right line number to steal from, you get both questions right. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

Remember to read a few sentences before/after the line numbers to understand the context. Also note that to apply this strategy effectively, you must know that “supporting evidence” questions are coming. It’s a good idea to look through 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.

Example 1:
Experimental scientists occupy themselves with observing and measuring the cosmos, finding out what stuff exists, no matter how strange that stuff may be. Theoretical physicists, on the other hand, are not satisfied with observing the universe. They want to know why. They want to explain all the properties of the universe in terms of a few fundamental principles and parameters. These fundamental principles, in turn, lead to the “laws of nature,” which govern the behavior of all matter and energy.

1. This passage primarily discusses

     A. the influence of theoretical physicists on other kinds of scientists.

     B. the fundamental principles of theoretical physics.

     C. the differences between two groups of scientists.

     D. the conflict between experimental and theoretical physics

Solution: This passage is a bit shorter than what you’re likely to encounter on the SAT, but it’s useful help to illustrate a point. The first thing that you probably notice when you look at the answer choices is that pretty much all of them contain bits and pieces of ideas mentioned in the passage, and therefore it might seem like any one of them could be right. But the question is asking what the passage primarily discusses, (i.e., the topic) not what words or phrases happen to appear in the passage.

The author describes what experimental scientists do and then describes what theoretical physicists do. The phrase “on the other hand” (line 5) is key because it tells us that the author is setting up a contrast. So, the author is describing two groups of scientists and the differences between them. Which is exactly what option C says.

Example 2
If humans were truly at home under the light of the moon and stars, we would go in darkness happily, the midnight world as visible to us as it is to the vast number of nocturnal species on this planet. Instead, we are diurnal creatures, with eyes adapted to living in the sun’s light. This is a basic evolutionary fact, even though most of us don’t think of ourselves as diurnal beings any more than we think of ourselves as primates or mammals or Earthlings. Yet it’s the only way to explain what we’ve done to the night: We’ve engineered it to receive us by filling it with light. This kind of engineering is no different than damming a river. Its benefits come with consequences-called light pollution-whose effects scientists are only now beginning to study. Light pollution is largely the result of bad lighting design, which allows artificial light to shine outward and upward into the sky, where it’s not wanted, instead of focusing it downward, where it is. Ill-designed lighting washes out the darkness of night and radically alters the light levels - and rhythms - to which many forms of life, including ourselves, have adapted.For most of human history, the phrase “light pollution” would have made no sense. Imagine walking toward London on a moonlit night around 1800, when it was Earth’s most populous city. Nearly a million people lived there, making do, as they always had, with candles and lanterns. Only a few houses were lit by gas, and there would be no public gaslights for another seven years. From a few miles away, you would have been as likely to smell London as to see its dim glow. Now most of humanity lives under intersecting domes of light, of scattering rays from over lit cities and suburbs, from light-flooded highways and factories. In most cities the sky looks as though it has been emptied of stars, leaving behind a vacant haze that mirrors our fear of the dark and resembles the urban glow of dystopian science fiction. We’ve grown so used to this pervasive orange haze that the original glory of an unlit night-dark enough for the planet Venus to throw shadows on Earth-is wholly beyond our experience, beyond memory almost. We’ve lit up the night as if it were an unoccupied country, when nothing could be further from the truth. Light is a powerful biological force, and on many species it acts as a magnet. Migrating at night, birds are apt to collide with brightly lit tall buildings; immature birds on their first journey suffer disproportionately. And because a longer day allows for longer feeding, it can also affect migration schedules. The problem, of course, is that migration is a precisely timed biological behavior. Leaving early may mean arriving too soon for nesting conditions to be right. It was once thought that light pollution only affected astronomers, who need to see the night sky in all its glorious clarity. And, in fact, some of the earliest efforts to control light pollution were made to protect the view from Lowell Observatory. Unlike astronomers, most of us may not need an undiminished view of the night sky for our work, but like most other creatures we do need darkness. Darkness is as essential to our internal clockwork as light itself. The regular oscillation of waking and sleep in our lives is nothing less than a biological expression of the regular oscillation of light on Earth. So fundamental are these rhythms to our being that altering them is like altering gravity. For the past century or so, we’ve been performing an open-ended experiment on ourselves, extending the day, shortening the night, and short-circuiting the human body’s sensitive response to light. The consequences of our bright new world are more readily perceptible in less adaptable creatures living in the peripheral glow of our prosperity. But for humans, too, light pollution may take a biological toll. In a very real sense, light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way -the edge of our galaxy­ arching overhead.


1. Based on the passage, the “intersecting domes of light” (line 40) could best be described as

     A. a welcome sight

     B. a recent development

     C. a source of entertainment

     D. an inspiring vision

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

     A. Lines 14-16 (“This......river”)

     B. Lines 28-30 (“For.........sense”)

     C. Lines 53-55 (“We’ve.........truth”)

     D. Lines 55-57 (“Light..........magnet”)

3. The author indicates that the alternation between periods of sleep and periods of waking

     A. is an essential characteristic of life on Earth.

     B. has remained unaffected by artificial light.

     C. is less regular in people than it is in animals.

     D. cannot be changed in any way.

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

     A. Lines 39-43 (“Now............factories”)

     B. Lines 62-64 (“The problem...........behavior”)

     C. Lines 81-83 (“So..............gravity”)

     D. Lines 9-96 (“In............being”)


  1. We know that the passage is about light pollution, and that the author’s attitude toward that topic is negative. The author isn’t a very big fan of what’s going on with light these days, so right there you can make a very educated assumption that his attitude is negative. The word “overlit” is another clue. It implies something excessive and unnatural. So, we know the answer will definitely not be positive. Options A, C, and D are all-positive, so they can be eliminated, leaving B as the correct answer.
  2. B is the correct answer. For most of human history, the phrase “light pollution” would have made no sense.
  3. & 4. In this case, we’re going to start by combining the two questions into a single question. There’s so much information to wade through that this is the most efficient way to work.   We’ve narrowed our focus to four places where the answer could potentially be located - one of which must be correct. Therefore, we will do Q4 before Q3

We’re looking for information related to sleeping and waking, which means the correct answer will be related to those keywords. “Waking” and “sleep” are mentioned in lines 81-83. Even if you’re confused by the phrasing, you know that this answer generally fits with what the question is asking about. So, C is the correct answer for Q4. It is the only answer that directly relates to the keywords in the question.

Now we’re going to backtrack and use the answer to this question to answer Q3. What do lines 86-88 state? That waking and sleeping are fundamental to our being – that is, they are essential features of being alive, which is pretty much what A says. A is the correct answer for Q3.

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