Page 1 - 11th Grade English Language Arts and Literacy: Research Study Guide for the SBAC

How to Prepare for the Research Questions on the SBAC English Language Arts and Literacy Test

General Information

Research skills are tested in three ways on the SBAC test: objective, machine-scored questions, short answer questions (brief write), and an essay you write in response to a prompt. The essay type required will be either informative/explanatory or argumentative/persuasive, and you will use the multiple resources that are provided. The prompt contents may come from any of a number of academic areas including science, social studies, technology, etc., and their authors may be from any culture, period in time, and area of the world.

Let’s go over what skills will be tested by each of these question formats.

CAT Test Items and the Skills They Assess

The machine-scored items will include:

  • multiple choice and multiple correct response multiple-choice questions
  • hot text questions
  • matching tables questions

They basically assess your ability to use information in the following ways:

Evaluating Information

Your first job will be to judge the information in terms of how appropriate it is for use in the manner described in the question.


When authors decide to use information in their texts, they must evaluate and consider their sources and determine if the information will help to support or explain the topic about which they are writing. There are questions on the SBAC that require you to evaluate the appropriateness of information by evaluating it and the source from which it is obtained to determine whether it is suitable for use in a text. Often, this means evaluating how well the information supports the author’s claim and how relevant, credible, accurate, and complete it is.


Similar to appropriateness, evaluating the strength of a piece of information means determining if it is the best evidence or example that could be used. During the research process, an author may find a number of pieces of information he or she could include, but the test questions will ask you to determine which are the strongest pieces of information—in other words, which pieces of information best support the author’s claim or connect to the topic? You may also need to determine the most credible sources from which to get additional information to add to a text.

Relaying Information

This concerns using the information in discerning and appropriate ways. You are responsible for any writing you present as your own.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a form of copying—it is one person taking another person’s work and passing it off as his or her own, without giving the original creator the proper credit. Plagiarism is always bad and must be avoided. Sometimes, writers panic and worry their ideas aren’t good enough or elevated enough for the audience, so they “borrow” the words or ideas of another. If the person whose work is being used isn’t given the proper credit, that is plagiarism. It is usually okay to use the words of another as long as you give that person credit. That means properly quoting and citing your sources. You can avoid plagiarism by always quoting material that you take word for word from another source, paraphrasing the material, or summarizing your understanding or interpretation of the material. See below for more information about paraphrasing.


Paraphrasing means putting someone else’s ideas into your own words. Paraphrasing is different from summarizing in that summarizing usually condenses things down into a much shorter end product, but paraphrasing is usually about the same length as the original text and uses your own words to express the other person’s ideas. Paraphrasing should still include a reference to the original source to avoid plagiarism. That might be something as simple as mentioning the original author’s name and the title of his or her work but then rephrasing the ideas in your own words.

Performance Task Items and the Skills They Assess

The performance task simulates a research task you might be given at your grade level in school and will involve three steps:

  • Reading source materials
  • Answering two brief write and one objective style question
  • Writing an extended assignment reacting to the prompt and citing evidence from the sources given

While doing these tasks, you will need to show your competence in the following areas:

Working with Information

The Performance Task (PT) portion of the SBAC is really an assessment of your ability to read, analyze, and synthesize information from a variety of sources. In the PT, you will be asked to complete a number of tasks using the sources provided. These tasks may include evaluating the sources and justifying your answer, paraphrasing information about a particular source while comparing the information presented in multiple sources, identifying the claims made in each source or identifying which source(s) support a number of claims, and then completing a longer, multiple-paragraph writing task (essay). The directions will tell you what kind of writing to complete (argumentative, persuasive, informative, or explanatory) and give you a target audience for the writing. But the PT really assesses your ability to work with information in a variety of ways beyond simply writing an essay.

Analyzing Information

One of the requirements of the PT is to analyze information presented in a number of different sources. You will need to read the sources carefully, determine the main idea of each, and evaluate the evidence and information each one provides. You may then be asked to make comparisons between the information presented in the sources and tell in what ways that information might be similar or different.

Degree of Support— One element of the analysis lies in determining the degree of support the information provides to the main idea of the text. How well does the source use information to support the topic? This analysis will help determine the source’s overall credibility.

Credibility— Credibility refers to the believability of someone or something. In the case of information, credibility can be analyzed not only in terms of what the source says, but the voice from which it is delivered. For example, is the source being written by an authority on the subject? Or is it some random person who may not have specific knowledge about the topic? Analyzing information for its reliability and trustworthiness is key to determining its value to the conversation about the topic and whether it should be considered.

Accuracy— One of the ways information can provide credibility is by being accurate. This may mean that information is based on research or personal experience or some other first-hand knowledge or understanding of the topic. As a critical thinker and careful analyzer, you will need to evaluate the accuracy of the information being presented. Does it “pass the sniff test”? In other words, does it seem credible based on your knowledge, understanding, and common sense? If so, the information is probably accurate and, therefore, credible and should be considered.

Completeness— Another element of analysis when it comes to information is the completeness of the information. Sometimes, writers include partial information in an attempt to sway the reader to a particular conclusion. When you analyze the information, you need to consider whether the information is complete or if it seems to be missing something, is slanted in some way, or presents only part of the picture. Information that is complete will not leave the reader wondering about other options.

Integrating Information

When you analyze the information presented in the sources, the writing portion of the PT may ask you to integrate the information gathered from multiple sources and use it to support your own claim with regard to a topic or idea. Questions requiring you to integrate information may also be posed in the form of a short answer response or filling in a chart of the information provided in the sources and how it relates to a variety of claims. For example, you may be asked to compare the evidence presented in different sources or identify information presented in one source that refutes or supports evidence presented in another source.

Citing Evidence

As mentioned earlier, plagiarism is a big no-no and building your credibility and authority as a writer is one of the things graders are looking for in your written response. This means showing the assessors that you can effectively use evidence that comes from a variety of sources. When you use the evidence, however, whether it is a direct quote, a paraphrase, or a summary, it is imperative that you cite that evidence by referencing the source and its author. Citing your evidence means giving credit to the person or persons whose ideas you are using to support your response. You need to cite the evidence you use to support your arguments and ideas, cite the evidence you use as your analysis of an issue, and cite evidence that you use to build your hypothesis or conjecture with regard to a topic.

Tackling Differently Formatted Test Items

There is important information about differently formatted test items on the SBAC exam. Go here to read it as you prepare. Scroll down to “Tips and Tricks.”

All Study Guides for the SBAC are now available as downloadable PDFs