Though all students know it, not too many love it: the dreaded persuasive essay. What student hasn’t been compelled to learn the techniques of argumentation, incorporating claim, evidence, and reasoning, to craft a written or spoken persuasion piece? Happily, students can use these mandatory learning experiences in persuasive writing to their advantage in understanding SAT historical passages.
The College Board explains how the U.S. Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation, added in the last major test revision, evaluates understanding of classic rhetoric in action:
“Authors, speakers, and thinkers from the United States and around the world… have broadened and deepened the conversation around such vital matters as freedom, justice, and human dignity.”
Students will encounter passages from great leaders who, over time, have addressed vital issues in the areas of human rights, equality, government, citizenship, and the improvement of society. These leaders wrote not merely to inform but to persuade others to their way of thinking. If a student recognizes the persuasive aspect of an SAT reading passage, she will more easily come to appreciate its main, and more subtle, points.
IDENTIFY THE CLAIM
Most often, a historical passage centers around a call to action, a position on a controversy, or a proposal for societal change. Pinpoint the topic and its thesis (the author’s claim about the topic), and the passage unfolds in all its layered meanings!
Consider the opening claim of Lincoln’s first inaugural address: “I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual.”
This opening sentence informs the entire speech, and gives a framework into Lincoln’s further remarks, and indeed, his presidency. If a student recognizes the claim as such, he can read the entire essay in this framework.
FIND THE EVIDENCE
Influential speakers throughout time have backed their claims the same way students do: with factual, social, and experiential evidence.
Lincoln backs his claim of governmental permanency with societal evidence: “Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments.”
Hard to argue, right? Lincoln uses every national government to defend his claim, rendering it unquestionably legitimate. Students may draw on their experience with persuasive speeches and writing to recognize evidence when they see it and more easily answer questions about an author’s purpose.
Lincoln appeals to reason as he continues: “It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.”
Stands to reason, right? Framers of governments don’t intend for their government to end. The reasoning here is irrefutable, and students who see this statement as reasoning which links the claim to the evidence will fully appreciate Lincoln’s further remarks. Students are on their way to success with thesis-related questions.
The College Board has a lofty goal in asking students to read and respond to these passages:
“The goal is to inspire a close reading of these rich, meaningful, often profound texts, not only as a way to develop valuable college and career readiness skills but also as an opportunity to reflect on and deeply engage with issues and concerns central to informed citizenship.”
Historical persuasive passages, then, are intended not only to assess, but to develop students who are more ready to meet the challenges of today’s global issues. Who knows? Maybe a student’s experience with a founding documents passage will inspire her to persuade others in today’s Great Global Conversation.
(And if you struggle with SAT Historical Passages, we can definitely help!)