What Are Relevant Addition Questions?
Relevant Addition questions appear on both the ACT English and SAT Writing sections. These questions require the test-taker to make a specific edit, and they ask which answer choice best accomplishes that goal. For example:
Which answer choice uses a sensory detail to describe the horse’s movement?
Of course, on the actual test, the test-taker would have the benefit of a passage to go with the question. But in reality, you don’t always need to see the passage to be able to answer these questions.
Sometimes, the ACT and SAT (especially the ACT) try to disguise this question type by adding a phrase to the beginning of the question. They like to use phrases such as “given that all of the following are true…” or “given that all of the choices are accurate…” These make the questions look slightly different, but don’t be fooled—whether or not it has that phrase at the beginning, it is still a Relevant Addition question. For example, if we added that phrase at the beginning of Example 1, it would look like this:
Example 1 (modified)
Given that all of the choices are true, which one uses a sensory detail to describe the horse’s movement?
This is still the exact same question. The key to identifying these questions is looking for the part of the question that provides some task, job, or goal to complete.
How to Solve Relevant Addition Questions
It sounds extremely obvious, but our approach to these questions should be to do whatever the question tells us to do. In other words, complete whatever task, job, or goal the question gives us. If the question tells you to pick the one that best completes the paragraph, read the rest of the paragraph and find the one that connects to and completes that thought. If the question tells you to find the one that has the most vivid imagery, pick the one that provides the most vivid, colorful, and descriptive language. If the question tells you to pick the one that uses information from the graph, pick the one that uses information from the graph.
So…if we look back at Example 1 above, we need to pick the one that provides a sensory detail. This would be answer choice D. “Clip-clopped” gives us a sensory detail, because it tells the reader what the horse’s movement sounds like. Even if you would personally never use the word “clip-clopped,” that is still the correct answer, because it is the one that does what the question instructed us to do. Let’s look at another example.
Given that all of the following are true, which answer choice uses a historical example to support the author’s argument?
A. There are 78 democracies in the world
B. The U.K. and Iceland fought over fishing territories in the 1960’s
C. Democracies are 4% less likely to go to war than nondemocracies
D. Christopher Layne, a professor of political science, argues that democracies are not actually more peaceful than nondemocracies
Even without the benefit of the accompanying passage, we can still answer this question. The question instructs us to find a historical example. The only answer that actually provides a historical example is B, so that is the correct answer.
Why Do People Miss Relevant Addition Questions?
Even though “do whatever the question tells you to do” sounds very straightforward, test-takers actually miss these questions quite regularly. Why? There are two reasons:
- They start thinking about how they would prefer to write the passage
- They try to figure out which answer choice is true/accurate
Our job on these questions is to do whatever the question told us to do. We should do that even when the correct answer is not actually the way that we would want to write the passage. We should still choose that answer even if it sounds stupid, even if it is not the way that we would want to write the passage, even if we think one of the other choices would make the passage better, etc. Just do whatever they tell you to do.
Second, whether or not the question uses the introductory phrase telling us that all of the options are accurate, you can still assume that they are all true. The English section of the ACT (or the Writing section of the SAT) is not testing us on our knowledge of history or literature. Thus, they cannot reasonably expect us to know whether democracies are actually 4% less likely to go to war or whether the horse ran versus jogged. Because of this, we should not be doing these questions by trying to ascertain the accuracy of each answer choice. Instead, we should be trying to figure out which one completes the task that the question told us to complete.
People miss Relevant Addition questions often. To avoid this, make sure that you are doing exactly what the question asks you to do, even if you would not actually write the passage that way in your own writing.