Literal Comprehension and Evidence Support

Together, Literal Comprehension (LC) and Evidence Support (ES) questions make up 40% of all of the questions on SAT Reading. Because of their sheer number, mastering the LC and ES technique is an important component of getting an excellent score. 

The technique I’m outlining is what I teach all of my students to use, and I would recommend integrating it into your arsenal of “best practices.” Like with everything, getting good at the technique requires experience, so please do lots of practice problems to help you integrate the steps. The steps may seem involved at first, but I assure you that it is possible to do the steps efficiently and accurately.

STEP ONE: Read (and understand!) the LC question. What are they asking you about? You can underline keywords in the question if that will help you.

STEP TWO- 3 parts: Don’t bother reading the answers to the LC question. Instead, go straight to the ES answers. 

  1. Read (and understand!) quote A). I would also put brackets around the quote to help you keep track of where it is. 
  2. Ask yourself, “Could this quote possibly contain the answer to the LC question?” If your answer is “no,” eliminate the quote. 
  3. If your answer is “yes,” go carefully through the answers to the LC question to see if the quote has a match. If one of the answers says what the quote says, I would draw a line connecting the two so you remember your match. 

STEPS THREE-FIVE: Repeat STEP TWO for each of the remaining three quotes. 

Typically, there is only one set that really matches. If there are two sets of matching quotes and answers, ask yourself which set directly answers the LC question. Only one of the sets will be answering the question, so there are your answers.

Let’s look at a real set. These questions are from Test 1, numbers 4 and 5. Please follow along in your book.

4. Which reaction does Akira most fear from Chie? 

  • A) She will consider his proposal inappropriate. 
  • B) She will mistake his earnestness for immaturity. 
  • C) She will consider his unscheduled visit an imposition. 
  • D) She will underestimate the sincerity of his emotions.

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

  • A) Line 33 (“His voice… refined”) 
  • B) Lines 49-51 (“You… mind”) 
  • C) Lines 63-64 (“Please… proposal”) 
  • D) Lines 71-72 (“Eager… face”)

STEP ONE: Okay, they are asking what Akira (the guy) is most afraid of in Chie’s (the mom’s) response.


  • A) This quote is not related to the LC question. It just says that Akira’s voice is soft. Try not to read into quotes like this. I know it can be tempting!
  • B) This quote is about what Chie thinks. The question is asking about what Akira fears, and this quote doesn’t say anything about that. 
  • C) This is Akira speaking to Chie, so I’m immediately interested. In this quote, Akira asks Chie to not judge how good of a potential partner he is by how improperly he has proposed. To me, this could contain the answer, so I am going to advance to the “yes” scenario. Now, I’ll read each of the answers to the LC question to see if there is a match.

4. Which reaction does Akira most fear from Chie? 

  • A) She will consider his proposal inappropriate. (This says that he is afraid that Chie will find his proposal inappropriate, which is exactly what the quote means, so we have a match).
  • B) She will mistake his earnestness for immaturity. (This says that Chie will think he is being immature because of the way he has asked. The quote doesn’t say this, so it’s out).
  • C) She will consider his unscheduled visit an imposition. (This says that she will think him coming to their house is an imposition. Again, not in the quote).
  • D) She will underestimate the sincerity of his emotions. (This says that Akira is afraid that Chie won’t take his genuineness seriously. Not mentioned in the quote, so this is out).


  • D) Moving onto quote D in #5 now. You may be tempted to not check the final quote if you think you’ve found your match, but I would advise you to always consider each answer choice. This quote says that because Akira wanted to make his point clear, he made eye contact with Chie. This doesn’t mention anything Akira fears, so this quote is out.

We have now worked through both problems, and locked in the answers to both: #4 is A) and #5 is C)-a matching set!

Vocabulary in Context

Despite how it may seem, vocabulary questions on the SAT and ACT are not testing your vocabulary as much as they are testing your reading skills. For this reason, I would rarely recommend studying vocab words if you want to get better at vocab questions. Instead, I would recommend that you memorize the steps I’m about to give you and get good at using them.

Vocab in Context (VIC) is on the reading section, right? Well that makes sense once you realize that the test writers use VIC questions to test your reading skills. Since this is all about context (how the word is being used), the vocab technique is designed to get you to notice and comprehend what is going on around the word.

Step One: Cover the word/ phrase up with your finger, and get yourself to generate your own word that works in the sentence and communicates the correct meaning.

Step Two: Go to the answer choices. The right answer should be a synonym for whatever you’ve come up with. Pick that one.

Step Three (if Step One doesn’t work out because the context is too confusing): Read each of the answer choices plugged in the sentence. The answer must actually work in the context. Let your ears help you here—does it sound right or is something off? 

Step Four (if you’re feeling SOL and nothing is working): Figure out if the sentence has a positive, negative, or neutral tone. The answer has to be in the same tone, so eliminate the words that don’t match the tone in that part of the passage. 

Example Problem (SAT Test 1, question #45). Please get your book and follow along:

45. As used in line 19, “demands” most nearly means

  • A) claims.
  • B) offers.
  • C) inquiries.
  • D) desires.

Step One: So I read the sentences around the word and come up with “wishes.” What I’ve come up with makes sense in the context, sounds right, and could replace “demands” in the sentence.

Step Two: 

  • A) offers (offers means gives which is not synonymous with wishes).
  • B) claims (claims means states or asserts which is not synonymous with wishes).
  • C) inquiries (inquiries means looking into something which is not synonymous with wishes).
  • D) desires (desires means wants, which is very close to the meaning of wishes. Desires also sounds right and works in the context, so I’d pick this one).

Step Three (if Step Two didn’t bear fruit):

  • A) …firms may be meeting earthly offers for precious metals… (this sounds off to me because I’ve never heard anyone talk about “meeting an offer for something”)
  • B) …firms may be meeting earthly claims for precious metals… (this doesn’t make sense)
  • C) …firms may be meeting earthly inquiries for precious metals… (meeting an inquiry for something doesn’t sound right and it also doesn’t make sense)
  • D) …firms may be meeting earthly desires for precious metals… (this sounds fine to my ears because I’ve heard the expression “meet a desire for,” so I’ll pick this one)

How to use Process of Elimination

Process of Elimination (POE) is the most important technique for SAT Reading, yet many students don’t know how to do it.

WHY POE is important: The SAT is written in a way that makes it really hard to recognize right answers. The test writers don’t phrase right answers in a way that is obvious, and that is one of the things that makes the Reading section challenging. Because of this confusing and weird wording, we can’t count on our brains to recognize right answers when we read them. Trust me, even perfect scorers have this problem.

The good news is that you don’t have to KNOW an answer is correct to pick it and get the question right. POE is a brilliant technique because it allows us to be somewhat confused and still get everything right.

HOW to use POE: POE is the careful process of finding the errors in three out of the four answer choices. Because there are always four answer options and only one of them is totally correct, the other three have something wrong with them. This is always true. Instead of trying to figure out which answer is right, POE has us just finding the three answer options that are wrong. Once we find errors in three options, we can be sure that the right answer is the one that is left.

The reason POE is the best way to tackle reading questions is because it gets your brain to think like the test writers think. They DO NOT believe that they have written the right answer in a way that is easy to recognize. The only criteria for an answer to be right is that it’s simply not wrong.

This is totally counter to what you do in school. Your teachers probably don’t phrase right answers in such a way that, even if you know the content, you won’t recognize the answer as correct. But- oh joy! -the SAT does just that.

So, in order to deal with the way the test works, we have to “play by its rules.” If right answers aren’t meant to be easy to spot, let’s stop trying to find them. Instead, we should reveal which answer we have to pick by finding the three answer options that are wrong. Let’s do an example.

Official SAT practice test 1, question 1: Here, I will go through each of the answer choices and think carefully about anything I can find that’s wrong with the answer options.

Which choice best describes what happens in the
A) One character argues with another character
who intrudes on her home. (There is no argument, so I know this cannot be the answer. Eliminate "A".)
B) One character receives a surprising request from
another character. (There is nothing I see that is definitely wrong with this one, so I'll keep it in.)
C) One character reminisces about choices she has
made over the years. (Neither one of the female characters is reminiscing, so this cannot be right. Eliminate "C".)
D) One character criticizes another character for
pursuing an unexpected course of action. (Nowhere in the passage does anyone criticize Akira, so this one cannot be right. Eliminate "D.")

Okay, so I’d pick “B” here. I didn’t pick it because I thought it was right or because it was what I was expecting; I picked it because there is nothing wrong with it and the other three have errors.

To summarize: right answers cannot contain any errors, and wrong answers must contain errors. POE is the act of hunting for errors and picking the answer choice that is left. I call this the “negatives focused hunt.” It is very important that you pay attention to each and every word when you’re using POE. As with the example above, the three wrong answers weren’t totally wrong. The difference between the right answer and the wrong ones came down to the details. To use POE effectively, you must be very thorough in your negatives hunt.

Down to Two, What to Do

Every student has experienced that moment on a Reading section when they’re down to two ridiculously similar answers and they can’t seem to pick which one is better. Figuring out how to handle this “down to two” problem is at the heart of getting a better score. 

Before we jump into exactly what to do in the “down to two” situation, I want to review a few things about right answers. *This is very important, so please read it carefully and completely!*

Because every question on the SAT/ ACT needs to have an objectively right answer, the test writers are very limited in the ways that they can create right answers. Since right answers have to be objectively, incontrovertibly right, they can only be one of two things: a restatement of what the passage says (just using different words) or an identification of something the passage clearly illustrates. I think of these as Type 1 (restatement) and Type 2 (identification).

A Type 1 right answer uses synonyms to repeat what the passage has said. These types of right answers are easier to recognize than Type 2 because if you can understand what the passage says, you can recognize when the ideas are put a different way.

Simplified Example: The passage says that the beekeeper harvests honey on the 5th and 9th months of the year. The question asks, “When does the beekeeper harvest honey?” The right answer says, “In May and September.” Here, the content in the passage says the same thing as the answer- they just use different words to do it.

Real Test Example (see practice test 1, reading section, question 9): 

9. Why does Akira say his meeting with Chie is “a matter of urgency” (line 32)?
A) He fears that his own parents will disapprove of Naomi.
B) He worries that Naomi will reject him and marry someone else.
C) He has been offered an attractive job in another country.
D) He knows that Chie is unaware of his feelings for Naomi.

Here, we use the lines given in question #10 to help us. We find that quote B) gives us the answer. Lines 39-42 read, “Normally I would approach you more properly but I’ve received word of a position. I’ve an opportunity to go to America, as a dentist for Seattle’s Japanese community.” Answer C) in question #9 is a restate of this quote, making it a classic Type 1 right answer.

A Type 2 right answer typically names/ identifies something that the passage shows or illustrates. Type 2 is a much harder right answer to recognize because your brain has to grasp the content on two levels: what the passage says and what that means/is.

Simplified Example: The passage is a fiction story and it describes a child skipping home from school after an amazing first day in which she made a lot of new friends and feels awesome about herself. The question asks, “How is Sarah feeling when she comes home from school?” The right answer says, “Joyful.” Here, the passage clearly paints a picture of what joy is like.

Real Test Example  (see practice test 1, reading section, question 36): 

36. Woolf indicates that the procession she describes in the passage
A) has come to have a more practical influence in recent years.
B) has become a celebrated figure in English public life.
C) includes all of the richest and most powerful men in England.
D) has become less exclusionary in its membership in recent years.

This question goes with question #37, so we can use the provided lines to focus our search. For the purposes of this lesson, I am only going to examine the quote that contains the answer, which is quote C). Quote C) reads, “For there, trapesing along at the tail end of the procession, we go ourselves.” The right answer to question 36 is clearly not a Type 1 restatement. But if we ask ourselves, “What is quote C) demonstrating?”, we realize that it is demonstrating that the procession now includes women. If a march that used to not allow women now DOES allow women, that is what answer 36 D) identifies: the march has become less exclusionary (allowing more people than were previously allowed).

The reason I think it is SO important to understand the two kinds of right answers is because they help tremendously when you’re down to two and trying to pick.

Here are my suggestions for what to try (not in order of importance):

1.For the two options you’re debating between, ask yourself, “Is this a Type 1 or a Type 2 right answer?” If option “A” is a T2 and option “C” seems like it’s relying more on inference, pick option “A.” 

2. Ask yourself, “Which one can I get directly from the text?”

3. Ask yourself, “Am I making a logical jump here or do I really have proof of this?” Right answers require discernment rather than speculation. 

4. Go Narrow! Think about the exact meaning of every word in each answer choice. One of the two options has at least one word that makes that answer wrong. Example: Imagine a random question with two answer options. A. analyze a culture  B. describe a tradition

When I “Go Narrow” on this question, I ask myself, “What does analyze mean and is it really analyzing? What is a culture and is this a culture or is that too broad?” Then I ask myself, “What does describe mean and is this really a description? What does tradition mean and is what they’re talking about actually a tradition?” 

Going narrow is about finding the tricky places the SAT has hidden an error in one of the options. Since the test is VERY nit picky and detail oriented, training your brain to “Go Narrow” and hunt for small errors is important.

5. Re-read the question and put it in your own words if you’re confused. What are they really asking you? 

6. Rephrase the question to make it seem less subjective. If they write, “….most clearly means,” I always translate that in my head as “what does X mean?” The text must contain the answer to that question, so which answer choice the text directly support?

7. If one answer has something that seems like it may be wrong and the other answer is just super vague but not exactly wrong, pick the vague one.

Add all of these tips to your mental toolbox. Obviously you don’t have time to use all 7 techniques every time you’re in the “down to two” situation, so you will need to practice to become skilled at knowing when to use what when.