PSAT Writing & Language Test: Command of Evidence Questions

Instructor: Jay Simons

Jay has taught college writing and literature and has a PhD in English.

This lesson covers one particular type of question on the PSAT Writing and Language Test. You will learn what Command of Evidence questions ask you to do and hear about some strategies for responding to them.

Command of Evidence Questions

There are several different types of questions on the PSAT Writing and Language Test, including

  • Command of Evidence Questions
  • Words in Context Questions
  • Analysis, Expression of Ideas Questions
  • Standard English Convention Questions

These questions are not organized or labeled according to type on the test, so it is not absolutely necessary for you to recognize the type or question before or during the test. But understanding each question type can help you develop strategies for answering questions.

In this lesson, we are going to focus on the Command of Evidence questions on the PSAT. These questions ask you to improve upon the development of ideas in passages that are provided. For example, a question may ask whether a particular sentence should be kept or deleted, and why. Or a question may ask you to select the most appropriate topic sentence for a paragraph. Or you might be asked to provide the most appropriate example as support for the main idea of a paragraph.

Sample Questions

Let's imagine that the following passage appears on the test:

In the mid 1990s, scientists foresaw an invasion of biblical proportions in the United States. Apart from a few isolated attacks on humans and animals in southern Texas, though, killer bees have been scarce. Not a single swarm has been reported further than 50 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Here are three examples of Command of Evidence questions for this passage:

1) The writer is considering deleting the final sentence of this paragraph. Should the sentence be kept or deleted?

A) Kept, because it provides supporting evidence for the minimal impact of killer bees in the U.S.

B) Kept, because it develops the idea of the danger posed by killer bees.

C) Deleted, because it doesn't give a specific example of the danger of killer bees.

D) Deleted, because it is not on topic.

In this case, the correct answer would be A). This sentence gives evidence that is relevant to the main idea of the paragraph, which is not the danger of killer bees, as in B), but the minimal impact of killer bees in the U.S.

2) Which choice effectively establishes the main topic of the paragraph?

A) Texas is dealing with a serious problem: killer bees.

B) There have been numerous insect infestations in the U.S. over the years, and none is potentially more deadly than the threat posed by killer bees.

C) Contrary to predictions made 20 years ago, Africanized honey bees, also known as 'killer bees,' have done relatively little damage in the U.S. so far in the 21st century.

D) The cattle industry, so important to the State of Texas, may eventually feel the impact of increasing numbers of killer bees.

This question asks you to supply the main idea of the paragraph, or, in other words, to pick the best topic sentence among the available choices. The best choice would be C), because it is the most closely related to the focus of the paragraph. The others focus on an idea that is either not true or emphasizes a minor point that is not as important to the paragraph.

3) The writer wishes to add a detail to the end of the paragraph that provides support for the fact that the impact of killer bees in the U.S. has been smaller than anticipated. Which choice best accomplishes this goal?

A) Very few States have begun planning for a potential invasion.

B) Thankfully, the toll thus far amounts to only a handful of fatalities and less than $5 million worth of property damage.

C) New technology is being developed to alter the behavior of killer bees.

D) Scientists have begun to realize that controlling killer bee populations may be a matter of time rather than of money.

In this case, B) provides the desired detail. Although A) comes close to the same idea, it does not logically follow the rest of the paragraph.

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