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Author Technique Questions in SAT Reading: Strategies


Author technique questions are some of the rarer questions you will see on the SAT Reading section. In this article, I’ll go through what these questions look like and how to solve them step by step.

Note: The advice in this article is still relevant for the current SAT (March 2016 and beyond); however, some of the examples have not yet been updated for the new test.


What is an Author Technique Question?

Author technique questions will ask about the author’s tone or the passage's mood in a Reading passage. These types of questions are relatively rare on the SAT, but they do come up at least a couple of times per test.

Here’s an example:

The author mentions "sharpener shavings" (line 10) in order to portray a mood of

A. unrestrained joy
B. sentimental reminiscence
C. bitter disappointment
D. cautious optimism
E. dark foreboding

Author technique questions are a subset of inference questions. This is because you have to understand the information in the passage and then take it a step further to make an inference about what feelings the author has toward the subject (tone) or what feelings she is trying to instill in the reader through her writing (mood). 

However, as with all other SAT Reading questions, you should still be able to find clear evidence for your answer in the passage.

How Do I Solve These Types of Questions?

Step 1: Carefully Read the Question

First, read the question and figure out what it’s asking. If it asks for tone, it wants the answer that best describes the feelings the author has toward her subject. If it asks for mood, it wants the answer that best describes the feeling the specified part of the passage conveys to the reader.


Step 2: Read the Lines Referenced in the Question

Go back to the passage and look over the lines the question is referencing. I would recommend reading the whole paragraph around whichever line is referenced in the question so you get a full picture of the tone or mood in that section of the passage.


Step 3: Think about the Tone or Mood

Before you read the answer choices, think for yourself about what the general tone or mood of that section of the passage is. For questions like the example question above, look at where and how the phrase mentioned in the question is used and to what effect. 

Try to find key descriptive words that indicate the tone or mood and imply connotation. It's often helpful to identify positive or negative connotation for the tone or mood first in order to eliminate a couple of answers that definitely don't fit. 


Step 4: Go Through the Answer Choices, and Eliminate 4

Once you have a preliminary idea of the tone or mood in the passage, look at the answer choices. Eliminate any that obviously don’t fit based on your judgments about connotation. Then, look at the remaining choices and get more specific with your assessment so you can get rid of four choices. Try to find approximate synonyms for the answer choices in the passage - you should be able to come up with direct evidence for your answer.

Now that we know the steps, let’s try and solve a question for real!

body_soexcited.jpgSO PUMPED.


Author Technique in Action

Ready? Ok, here’s the question:

The author's overall tone in this passage is best described as one of 

A. jubilation
B. frustration
C. curiosity
D. appreciation
E. uncertainty

First, we'll read the question over carefully. This is a tone question, and it’s going to be asking about the passage as a whole. We need to look for the author’s treatment of the subject of the passage and how she feels about it.

Now let’s read over the passage:

In between school days, we gathered hazelnuts, fished, had long deer-hunting weekends, went to powwows, beaded on looms, and made quilts. I did not question the necessity or value of our school education, but somehow I grew up knowing it wasn't the only education I would need. I'm thankful for those experiences of my Anishinaabe heritage, because now I now by heart not only the national anthem, but the ancient song of the loon. I recognize not only the alphabet and the parts of an English sentence, but the intricate language of a beaver's teeth and tail. 

The author is talking about her experiences growing up and learning skills relevant to her heritage that she wouldn’t otherwise have learned in school or anywhere else. What might the tone of the passage be?

Well, the author definitely seems to have a positive impression of these experiences. We see direct evidence for this when she says “I’m thankful for those experiences of my Anishinaabe heritage.” It sounds like she is grateful for the opportunity she had to learn the skills described in the passage and proud of her heritage. 

Now that we have our basic idea of the tone, let’s see which answer choices we can eliminate.


Choice A: jubilation

The author is pleased with her learning experiences, but saying she has a tone of jubilation seems a little extreme. Do we see any words in the passage that indicate jubilation or uncontrolled joy?

No, the tone is definitely more measured (calm) than that. Eliminate this one!


Choice B: frustration

This seems wrong right away because frustration has a negative connotation. The author is not frustrated with the learning experiences she had as a result of her heritage - she says herself that she is thankful for them.

There's nothing in the passage that indicates frustration on the part of the author. Cross it out!


Choice C: curiosity

This could be a tricky one. The author does betray a curious personality because she is interested in learning about a variety of different things. However, even if curiosity might describe the author accurately, it doesn’t describe the tone of the passage.

The feelings she presents toward the subject of the passage are nostalgia and gratefulness, not curiosity about her experiences. Get rid of this one too!


Choice D: appreciation

This choice matches with what we originally thought about the tone. The author even says “I’m thankful for those experiences” when referring to the descriptions of her childhood in the passage. She clearly appreciates having learned about her heritage and the skills that go along with it in tandem with her standard education.

Keep this one!


Choice E: uncertainty

This answer doesn’t fit with the tone. It has a slightly negative connotation, and there's no evidence for any uncertainty in the passage.  The author's feelings about her experiences are clearly stated.

This one's wrong!

Looks like Choice D is our answer!


Did you know loons have red eyes? As if the sound of their "ancient song" wasn't creepy enough. 

You’ll notice that the key here was to look for direct evidence of tone in the passage. Tone and mood questions trip people up because they seem like they are ambiguous and subjective. Remember that SAT Reading can’t ask you any questions where the answers aren’t concretely supported in the text.

For tone and mood questions, always look for keywords in the passage that point to the author’s feelings or the feelings she is trying to instill in the audience. Often you will find close synonyms for the correct answer choice like we did above with “thankful” and “appreciation”. You should at the very least be able to determine positive or negative connotation in the tone or mood, which usually helps to eliminate two or three incorrect answer choices. 


Author Technique questions ask about tone and mood in an SAT Reading passage.

To answer an author technique question, you should:

1. Read the question carefully
2. Read the lines referenced in the question
3. Make a preliminary judgment about the tone or mood
4. Read the answer choices, and eliminate four based on the evidence in the passage

Remember, even though tone and mood may seem like subjective things, on the SAT there is no ambiguity in answers. Look for direct evidence that points to your answer choice - if you can find it, you will get these questions right every time!


What's Next?

Want more skills-focused SAT Reading articles? Start with these articles on inference questions and big picture questions, or jump right into our ultimate guide to SAT Reading!

What's the best way to get information out of a passage on SAT Reading? Find out the best way to read the passage and what's actually on SAT Reading.

Learn the strategies you should be using to score an 800 on SAT Reading.



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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.

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