Visual Thinking Strategies and the SAT


Click the picture to view a video about VTS programs at the Boston MFA

As a graduate intern at The Phillips Collection, I was introduced to Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a method for drawing out discussions about art.  The method consists of three simple questions that ask viewers to discuss what they see and what they think it means.  

While there is no visual analysis section on the SAT, many skills employed in VTS carry over to the test.  Critical thinking skills are employed in discussions about visual art.  In fact, you would be surprised how contentious these discussions can be!

Each of the three questions asked of visitors in VTS employ skills found in the Verbal section of the SAT:

VTS Question #1 What is going on in this picture?

SAT Verbal question type: meaning

‘Meaning’ questions ask about the overall meaning conveyed by a passage.  In VTS discussions, viewers uncover the meaning of a work by talking about what they see.

VTS Question #2 What do you see that makes you say that?

SAT Verbal question type: function

‘Function’ questions ask students to examine a piece of information, quote, or paragraph and analyze the function it performs in the passage.  In VTS discussions, viewers are asked to examine their initial statements about a work of art and identify specific visual elements that contributed to their interpretations.

VTS Questions #3 What more can we find?

SAT Verbal question type: detail

‘Detail’ questions ask students to scour the passage for the specifics that drive its meaning. In VTS discussions, viewers are asked to take a second look to find elements of the picture not noticed at first glance.  You would be surprised by how much you miss! 

As a teacher in the video above mentions, VTS also helps students to realize that there can be many perspectives about the same issue.  This skill is helpful in the SAT, where students are asked to identify the author’s viewpoint.


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