SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Command of Evidence: 5 Key SAT Reading Strategies

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Mar 19, 2016 8:30:00 AM

SAT Reading, New SAT



The new SAT challenges students to understand the reasoning behind each answer they pick. Command of Evidence questions are a manifestation of this mission. In order to answer them, you have to carefully evaluate your thought process and the evidence presented by the author of the passage.

This article will focus on the evidence questions on the Reading section of the SAT; we have a separate article on Writing questions (coming soon). In this guide, I'll tell you exactly what these questions test, what kinds there are, and how you can learn to answer them correctly every time!  


What Are Command of Evidence Questions? 

These questions are a new feature of the SAT Reading and Writing sections in 2016. There are 18 Command of Evidence questions on each test that span the two sections, and you'll get a subscore out of 15 based on how many you answer correctly. Here's a raw to scaled score conversion chart provided by the College Board:


As you can see, Command of Evidence is one of seven subscores, which were created to give students a clearer picture of their academic strengths and weaknesses by delving deeper than the section scores or cross-test scores. You can read more about the scoring of the new SAT here. 


What Do Command of Evidence Questions Test?

This article will deal with Command of Evidence questions on the Reading section exclusively (see our Writing-focused coming soon). These questions will ask you to:

  • Identify the best textual evidence for your answer to the previous question.
  • Identify how authors use evidence to support their claims.
  • Examine how data supports claims made in the passage.

On questions where you have to find the best textual evidence for an answer, each choice is a different quote from the passage. These questions ask you to confront the reasoning behind your answers directly. They’re also unique because the answers to two sequential questions are tied to one another. Looking at the evidence choices can help you answer the first question correctly, or answering the first question correctly can lead you to the appropriate evidentiary quote. 

In questions that ask you to identify how the author supports his or her claims, you have to use a similar thought process, although these questions stand alone. Again, the answer choices are quotes from the passage, but this time you have to identify the quote that best supports an argument made by the author rather than an answer that you’ve given to another question. These types of evidence questions are rare, but they still come up once or twice on every test.  

Command of Evidence also encompasses some of the Reading section's new data interpretation questions. You’ll be asked which claim is best supported by the data presented in a graph or chart (or whether the data supports the authors claim at all).

Overall, these questions test your ability to think analytically about how certain conclusions are supported. They're a part of the SAT’s shift towards testing more practical skill sets. It’s important to learn how to think this way before you get to college and the professional world so that you can do effective research, make compelling arguments, and read with a discerning eye. I’ll provide examples of all three types of Command of Evidence questions in the next section so that you have a better idea of what to expect! 


body_discerningeye.jpgOn the new SAT, you must have an eagle eye for evidence!  Eat at least two small rodents before the test to keep your energy up.


Examples of Command of Evidence Questions

There are three types of these questions on SAT Reading. We'll go over what each one tests and walk through a sample question.


Question Type 1: Paired Find the Evidence

Here’s an example of the first type of Command of Evidence question. This question challenges you to find the best evidence for your answer to the previous question. 

I’ll give you the relevant paragraph from the passage first. For context, before this paragraph, the author describes the flaws in North American public transportation systems that have led people to choose cars instead:   




What’s interesting about these types of questions is that you CAN’T answer the find the evidence question until you figure out what the previous question is asking. Upon reading this paragraph, how would you describe its focus without looking at the answer choices? The main point of the paragraph is that public transportation can be just as convenient and comfortable as driving your own car, as evidenced by sophisticated public transportation systems around the world. 

Let's look at the answer choices:

Choices A and D have too narrow of a focus. They don’t describe the main point that the paragraph is trying to get across. Choice C is an irrelevant answer because the paragraph doesn’t specifically advocate changing American public transportation systems to match these models. Choice B appears to be the best answer for question 14. 

But we’re not done looking at question 14 yet! Question 15 asks us to reconsider why we chose B. Why did we decide that the main point of the paragraph was consistent with the statement “some public transportation systems are superior to travel by private automobile”? On the old SAT, you could just say “I dunno, that’s what I felt like the main point was. I don’t have to EXPLAIN myself to you,” but that’s not gonna fly this time. 


body_rebelliousteen.jpgOh, you don't want to find the evidence? Well I found the evidence of the little party you decided to throw last weekend, how do you like that Chad? 


Let’s look at question 15's answer choices:

Choices C and D reference lines that elaborate on the main point but do not directly establish it. Choice A is a bit trickier to rule out because the main point is related to the fact that public transportation doesn’t have to be inconvenient. However, there’s no concrete information that establishes the main point in that sentence. If you look at it in isolation, there’s no evidence for the main point of the paragraph. The most compelling evidence is the second sentence. It’s a clearly defined topic sentence that sets the stage for the rest of the paragraph. Again, choice B is the correct answer! 


Question Type 2: Find the Author’s Evidence

These evidence questions are not paired. Instead, they ask which piece of textual evidence most strongly supports a point made by the author. This one applies to another excerpt from the same passage we looked at for the last two questions:



Here we’re just looking for the line that most directly backs up a certain idea, in this case, the idea that use of electronic devices and use of public transportation are compatible. This is a question that is pretty simple to answer if you read carefully and aren’t rushing through the test. The only answer choice that references electronic devices in conjunction with public transportation is choice B, lines 63-67. All of the other choices are virtually irrelevant to the idea expressed in the question.


body_electronicdevices.jpgI love the magic rectangles. Share this blog post if you agree.


Question Type 3: Data-Driven Evidence

You’ll also be asked to explain what conclusions can be drawn based on evidence in chart or graph form. Here’s one of the charts that was included with the public transportation article we’ve been looking at and an accompanying data-driven evidence question:



This question is also pretty straightforward, but it has a little bit of a tricky twist to it. Choices B and C are clearly incorrect. There’s a much higher number of employed than unemployed people using public transportation, and people employed outside the home make up a much higher percentage of public transportation passengers than homemakers.

Choosing between A and D is the tricky part. Choice D turns out to be incorrect because of the words “less often.” There’s no way of knowing from the data how OFTEN these different types of people use public transportation; the data represents the numbers, not the frequency of use. Choice A is the correct answer because it’s the only one that’s verifiably accurate based on the chart. 10.7% of public transportation passengers are students, and only 6.7% are retirees!


body_retirees.jpgShould we take the bus? Nah, let's drive there, but make sure you go painfully slow. I like having a long line of cars behind us because it makes me feel just like the president if the secret service hated him and actually wanted him dead.   


5 Tips for Answering SAT Reading Evidence Questions

Now that we’ve gone through the different types of Command of Evidence questions, I’ll provide a few tips for answering them in the most efficient and accurate way possible.


#1: Make Predictions  

For either Paired Find the Evidence or Author Evidence questions, try to make a prediction about the answer before you read all the quotes in the choices. It’s best to formulate an idea of what the answer should look like before confronting the choices. This makes it less likely that your thought process will be disrupted by the suggestions you’re given. 

For example, in the first sample question, you would think about which part of the paragraph led you to the conclusion that the main idea was “some public transportation systems are superior to travel by private automobile.” You might already be able to predict that the second sentence of the paragraph provides the most compelling evidence for this claim without seeing the answer choices.


#2: Mark the Passage

It can be hard to separate the quotes you’re considering as evidence from the rest of the passage, especially if they’re embedded in longer paragraphs. To make it easier on yourself, try underlining each of the potential pieces of evidence that you’re given in the answer choices. This will help you to adopt a more focused approach and see sharper connections between the evidence and your answer to the previous question (or the author’s point in the passage).


body_connections.jpgSometimes making the right connections isn't so easy. For example, I don't think I've ever successfully put together anything involving these types of cords.


#3: Look for Synonyms

The most important thing with evidence questions is finding a direct link between the support and the claim. Look for answer choices that contain synonyms to terms or concepts mentioned in the question or in your answer to the previous question. Usually, this indicates a strong evidentiary connection. 

For example, in the second question we looked at, the “personal electronic devices” mentioned in the question are mirrored by the “iPads, MP3 players, Kindles, and smartphones” cited in choice B. This answer was the best evidence because it had the most direct connection to the conclusion laid out in the question.


#4: Read ALL the Answers

It takes a little more time, but you should always read every answer choice before making a final decision on these questions. You’re looking for the best evidence or the most accurate conclusion. Don't make the mistake of choosing an answer that’s not quite right because you were too quick to commit! Be methodical in your decisions so that you aren't taking any unnecessary risks. 


body_boxer.jpgDon't get lazy!


#5: Digest the Data  

If you see that charts or graphs are included with a passage, take a minute to look at them and make sure you understand what they represent before you tackle the questions. Making quick judgments as you answer questions can sometimes lead to errors, especially if you’re not as comfortable with data interpretation. Get a solid idea of what each figure represents so that you feel more comfortable drawing conclusions later.  



Command of Evidence questions are new to the SAT this year. There are three different types of questions that fall into this category on the Reading section:
  • Paired Find the Evidence: Choose a quote from the passage that directly supports your answer to a previous question
  • Find the Author’s Evidence: Choose a quote from the passage that directly supports a conclusion drawn by the author
  • Data-Driven Evidence: Interpret evidence presented in the form of charts and graphs and draw appropriate conclusions
These questions ask you to analyze your thought process more explicitly to determine why you answered questions a certain way and why your conclusions (or the conclusions of the author) are valid. They force you to get into the nitty-gritty of reading comprehension. Some strategies I’d recommend for approaching these questions include:
  • Predicting the answer before reading the choices
  • Underlining evidence in the passage
  • Looking for synonyms between the claim and the potential pieces of supporting evidence
  • Reading all the answers before making a final decision
  • Understanding the figures before looking at data-driven questions

These questions are new, but they’re not necessarily more difficult than anything else you’ve seen on the SAT in the past. They dispel the dangerous illusion of subjectivity for SAT Reading questions by showing you that there is direct evidence for every answer. If you practice identifying direct evidence and avoid making assumptions, these questions may help you to become a better SAT test-taker overall!

 body_champion.jpgGet out there and use your newly-found powers to become a test-taking champion (trophy not included).


What's Next?

Advanced vocabulary knowledge used to be a pretty big part of the SAT Reading section, but things have changed in 2016. Read this article to find out how to study vocabulary for the new version of the test. 

Taking the SAT with the (now optional) essay? Get the low-down on how the prompts have changed and what you can do to earn a great score. 

The new SAT has a new scoring system, which means you should have a different target score. Learn more about how to adjust your goals based on the scoring parameters of the updated test. 


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? 

Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your SAT score by 160 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this Reading lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get thousands of practice problems organized by individual skills so you learn most effectively. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

Check out our 5-day free trial:

Improve Your SAT Score by 160+ Points, Guaranteed


Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

You should definitely follow us on social media. You'll get updates on our latest articles right on your feed. Follow us on all 3 of our social networks:

Twitter and Google+

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!