Apprehend a world of figures: Rhetoric and the SAT

ROADS boxA recent feature on NPR’s The Takeaway discussed changes to the SAT exams (which many students will be taking tomorrow), and it included a reference to the fact that rhetorical analysis is now a component in assessing a student’s verbal skills.

This was news to me, but also delightful. I’ve been arguing for the inclusion of rhetorical studies in high school classrooms for years now, and as I did some research into the new SAT’s format and focus, it became clear to me that the ASC’s R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric materials are designed specifically to give students an entry-level understanding of precisely what the test now seems to be looking for:

  • From the College Board’s SAT study guide: “Analyzing word choice: Understanding how an author selects words, phrases, and language patterns to influence meaning, tone, and style; Analyzing text structure: Describing how an author shapes and organizes a text and how the parts of the passage contribute to the whole text”.
  • From Five Tips for a Top Essay on the New SAT: “For a high-scoring essay, don’t forget to use some rhetorical flourishes of your own: big words, literary devices, and even statistics and quotations you’ve memorized as part of your test prep. Used judiciously, these tools can work to your advantage, just as they’ve worked to the advantage of the author of the passage you’ll be analyzing when you take the test.”
  • From BodSAT’s News: “Any good rhetorical analysis process includes the head as well as the heart. Good English teachers know the importance of having students engage with the text before they analyze it.”
  • From Montgomery School of Maryland’s SAT prep: “Reading: The student needs to analyze the passage’s word choice and text structure, along with analyzing the author’s point of view, purpose, and argument (how the author builds, structures, and supports the argument)…. Writing: These questions focus on revision of text to improve the use of language to accomplish particular rhetorical purposes.  While reading, the student needs to ask him/herself questions like… – How is the author using phrasing and word choice to accurately, clearly, and concisely state the intended message? – How does the wording and sentence structure affect the style and tone of the passage?”
  • From Study Study Tips for the 2016 SAT Essay: “Point out specific rhetorical devices that strengthen the argument and connect the author to the reader. Common examples are word choice, hyperbole, figurative language, rhetorical questions, and emotional appeals – devices that you’ve probably learned in school.”
  • From Persons for the People: “An overview of Aristotle’s appeals: Ethos: The Ethical Appeal, demonstrates credibility, author is trustworthy/fair, emphasis on morality, right v wrong, considerate of both sides; Logos: The Logical Appeal, author uses reason, facts, evidence, charts, graphs, figures, general thoughtfulness; Pathos: The Emotional Appeal, taps into audience’s feelings, passion and possibility, pity, sympathy, sadness, seeks the ‘gut’ reaction, about the ‘experience’.”

This is right in line with everything we say about rhetoric and how it can help actors and students mine information about character, expression, intent, and action out of the text. (Plus, as I discussed last month, it’s pretty sexy stuff and totally fits with modern media). But it’s not enough just to be able to regurgitate definitions: students have to experience it in ways that are vital and visceral in order to learn how writers use rhetoric to shape critical thought and emotional affect. That’s where the application comes in — and there’s no better lens than Shakespeare for exploring rhetoric-in-action.

Here’s a snippet of what I encourage students to look for once they’ve got a basic grasp of rhetorical patterns:

Snippet1

So, if you’re a teacher wondering how to approach this new requirement of the SAT exam, I encourage you to join us at an upcoming Teacher Seminar, or, bring your class in for a R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric workshop. We’re also happy to travel to you for classroom visits or in-service training. Whether or not you study the play we’re covering — or even if you don’t teach Shakespeare at all! — our methods of rhetorical analysis are cross-applicable across all language studies and will help to make your students better readers, writers, listeners, and thinkers.

And if you’re a student looking to get a leg up on the SAT exam? Try our Rhetoric Flashcards, available in the Box Office and through our online gift shop. Your classmates may all know what alliteration is, but you’ll be the one walking home with 800s when you drop terms like antanaclasis, polysyndeton, and anthimeria into your essay.