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Add/Remove Questions On the SAT Writing and ACT English Sections

There are several questions types that predictably pop up in the course of the SAT Writing or ACT English sections. Certain question types even appear several times during the course of one section. Learning how to approach such questions in test prep, without having to grapple for a solution each time you see one, will reduce stress and streamline your approach to the exam.

The question type we'll discuss today isn't specifically related to grammar, but rather to the logical cohesion of the passage. This is the 'add/remove' question, another question which appears several times during the course of a section and is responsible for many of the points you stand to garner on this section. Knowing how to approach this question type will boost your performance on the Writing Section considerably.

So, what are "add/remove" questions? If you've tried your hand at the section, you've probably seen several of these already. 'Add' questions ask if a specific sentence should be added at a certain point in the passage. 'Remove' questions ask if a sentence, which is already present in the passage, should be removed from it.

Although these two question types are ostensibly asking two different things, in reality they're focusing on the same idea: does the indicated sentence belong in the passage? The only difference is that in 'remove' questions, the sentence has already been placed in the passage. That's it.

So: how to approach an add/remove question?

The theme is the same in all such questions. And in addition, the answer is always the same. If the sentence fits in, it stays. If it sticks out, it goes.

How to know if a sentence fits in?

Read the paragraph where the relevant sentence is. If the paragraph is extremely long, there's no need to read it in its entirety: just read the sentence before and after, or slightly more if you feel you require additional context.

If the question is of the 'remove' type, continue reading the relevant sentence. If it's an 'add' question, stop at the place where the question suggested adding the sentence, read the proposed sentence, and then continue reading the paragraph.

Is the sentence relevant? Does it "flow" with the rest of the paragraph? Then it stays.

Otherwise, it goes.

Let me explain what I mean by an "irrelevant sentence." Irrelevant sentences in these questions can, and usually do, touch upon the same subject as the paragraph. For example, if the paragraph is about fossils, the sentence might mention where fossils come from, or how they are used.

That doesn't necessarily make them relevant. The paragraph is usually trying to make a point. If the sentence is getting in the way of that point, it doesn't belong there.

But the best way to approach this is intuitively, not analytically. How do you really know if a sentence is irrelevant? It just sounds wrong. It jars on the ear.

If the sentence is boring and you can just skim by the sentence without noticing anything - it probably belongs.

So now you have your "yes" or "no" part of the answer. If you've come across this question type in the past, you know that there's a second part of the answer. Two of the options are always "yes", but they have different reasons why. Similarly, two of the options are no, with two plausible reasons why the sentence should not be kept in the passage.

So, even if you know whether the answer is yes or no, how do you know WHY?

As we explained, a sentence will be removed from the passage - or alternatively, not put in - if it's irrelevant. And the WHY should always reflect that. The reason for not keeping a sentence in the passage will almost always be, because it's irrelevant.

Now, there are several ways of saying that a sentence isn't relevant. Here are a few of the ways the SAT / ACT expresses the idea of irrelevance in these questions:

It distracts from the paragraph's focus.

It introduces information that isn't relevant at this point in the passage.

It strayed from the content of the previous paragraph.

It interrupts the discussion.

It doesn't address the subject of the paragraph.

It is not directly related to the main point of the paragraph.

You get the gist.

When the sentence IS relevant, and should be added/kept in the passage, there's no one predetermined answer for the WHY. The answer has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Now let's look at some examples.

Example #1:

'Tyson’s expansive vision for the agency hints at another mission of NASA’s, illuminated in this observation by Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.” 10 With world population topping seven billion, humanity is in need of some perspective. Therefore, we should continue to support NASA not only for practical reasons but also because it is a necessary vehicle for increasing our awareness of how we can fulfill our responsibilities to the planet and each other.'

Question 10:

At this point, the writer is considering adding the following sentence.

'In addition, NASA has facilities in Washington, DC, Florida, Texas, California, and other states.'

Should the writer make this addition here?

A) Yes, because it serves as a counterargument to the quotation from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

B) Yes, because it reinforces the passage’s point about the importance of NASA’s work.

C) No, because it undermines the passage’s claim about the economic benefits of NASA’s work.

D) No, because it blurs the paragraph’s focus by introducing information that does not support the paragraph’s claim about the importance of NASA’s work. (1)

The passage at the indicated point is discussing the immense deeper meaning of NASA's signficance. The parochial details of NASA's logistics, and where its various facilities are located, strikes badly on the ear and sounds out of place.

So, the answer is NO, the sentence shouldn't be added. What about the 'why'?

The 'why' is because the proposed sentence is irrelevant. This is ALWAYS the why. Of the 'no' options, which refers to relevance? Option D):

'No, because it blurs the paragraph’s focus by introducing information that does not support the paragraph’s claim about the importance of NASA’s work.'

'Blurs the paragraph's focus' is one of several phrases used for 'NOT RELEVANT.'

Option C), 'No, because it undermines the passage’s claim,' is not correct, because it is NEVER correct when the sentence shouldn't be added. The answer needs to touch upon relevance.

Let's try another question:

Example #2:

'These days, many student’s majoring in philosophy have no intention of becoming philosophers; instead they plan to apply those skills to other disciplines. Law and business specifically benefit from the complicated theoretical issues raised in the study of philosophy, but philosophy can be just as useful in engineering or any field requiring complex analytic skills. 42 That these skills are transferable across professions which makes them especially beneficial to twenty-first-century students. Because today’s students can expect to hold multiple jobs—some of which may not even exist yet—during our lifetime, studying philosophy allows them to be flexible and adaptable. High demand, advanced exam scores, and varied professional skills all argue for maintaining and enhancing philosophy courses and majors within academic institutions.

Question 42:

At this point, the writer is considering adding the following sentence.

'The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, for example, wrote many of his works in the form of dialogues.'

Should the writer make this addition here?

A) Yes, because it reinforces the passage’s main point about the employability of philosophy majors.

B) Yes, because it acknowledges a common counterargument to the passage’s central claim.

C) No, because it blurs the paragraph’s focus by introducing a new idea that goes unexplained.

D) No, because it undermines the passage’s claim about the employability of philosophy majors. (2)

The passage at large is discussing how studying philosophy can provide an advantage for students looking to go into other fields. The sudden introduction of Plato and his various dialogues sounds bizarre.

The answer here which is code for 'irrelevant' is C), because it blurs the paragraph's focus.

Let's look at one final example where the proposed sentence is irrelevant:

Example #3

'For one thing, lack of exposure to natural light has a significant impact on employees’ health. A study conducted in 2013 by Northwestern University in Chicago showed that inadequate natural light could result in eye strain, headaches, and fatigue, as well as interference with the body’s circadian rhythms. 3 Circadian rhythms, which are controlled by the bodies biological clocks, influence body temperature, hormone release, cycles of sleep and wakefulness, and other bodily functions.'

Question 3:

At this point, the writer is considering adding the following sentence.

'Workers in offices with windows sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night than workers in offices without windows.'

Should the writer make this addition here?

A) Yes, because it supplies quantitative data that will be examined in the rest of the paragraph.

B) Yes, because it explains the nature of the bodily functions referred to in the next sentence.

C) No, because it interrupts the discussion of circadian rhythms.

D) No, because it does not take into account whether workers were exposed to sunlight outside the office. (3)

Without looking at the answers proposed to you, read the sentences before and after the proposed place for the sentence addition. Do you see/hear how badly out of place the proposed sentence is? The answer must therefore be No, the sentence should not be added.

Since, since we've concluded that the sentence shouldn't be included, the "why" should be because it's irrelevant. Which of the two "No" answers touches on irrelevance? That would be C), because it interrupts the discussion.


Let's say that a sentence is relevant. That is, it should be added, or, if it already exists in the paragraph, it shouldn't be removed.

In these cases, you know the "yes" or "no" part of the questions, but there's no express pattern for predicting the "why." Here, each question has to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Let's look at an appropriate example:

Example #4

'His restaurants were immediately successful, but Harvey was not content to follow conventional business practices. 17 Although women did not traditionally work in restaurants in the nineteenth century, Harvey decided to try employing women as waitstaff. In 1883, he placed an advertisement seeking educated, well-mannered, articulate young women between the ages of 18 and 30.'

Question 17:

The writer is considering deleting the previous sentence. Should the writer make this change?

A) Yes, because it introduces information that is irrelevant at this point in the passage.

B) Yes, because it does not logically follow from the previous paragraph.

C) No, because it provides a logical introduction to the paragraph.

D) No, because it provides a specific example in support of arguments made elsewhere in the passage. (4)

'The previous sentence' refers to the sentence beginning with 'His restaurants were immediately successful'. Reading this sentence, and moving on into the next one, you should sense immediately that the sentences flow smoothly into each other. There's no jerk of discordance, and the sentence in question sounds unremarkable.

So: the sentence is relevant, which means the answer has to be one of the two "No"s (the sentence should not be removed.) As I mentioned, there's no "trick" to know which is the right answer. However, at this point it should be relatively simple. Since the sentence in questions is the first one in the paragraph, it makes sense that it provides a "logical introduction", as in C). The sentence is a general one and not a specific one, so it's certainly not a "specific example", as in D). The answer is C).

Adding / deleting quest