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For the following, I'm not sure how to separate each component of the sentence:

After the standard battery of tests, factual verifications (Who's the president? — Obama) and autobiographical sketches (do you remember where you were before the accident? — No ), the doctor handed me a journal.

or

After the standard battery of tests -- factual verifications (Who's the president? — Obama) and autobiographical sketches (do you remember where you were before the accident? — No) -- the doctor handed me a journal.

(please let me know if it's incorrect to describe the 'factual verifications and autobiographical sketches' as 'qualifiers' elaborating on the 'standard battery of tests')

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There's two possibilities in terms of the situation you're describing, and I don't know which applies: you hopefully do, and can choose the appropriate one.

If the factual verifications and autobigraphical are part of, or examples of the standard battery of tests, then you should use hyphens: the hyphens act to say "I'm taking a little diversion from the sentence just to give you some examples of the standard battery of tests, then I'll carry on with the sentence after the second hyphen".

However, these should be single hyphens, not double. There is no "legal" usage of double hyphens in English.

If the factual verifications are not examples of the standard battery of tests, then you're listing some things that you did (tests, verifications, sketches), in the usual "I ate an apple, an orange and a banana" style, and the first block is fine as is.

You can choose which option is the right one.

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  • it's the first, thanks (they are examples of the battery of tests). and the double hyphens were stand ins for an 'em' dash; why do we use hypens here and not an em dash? – socrates May 26 '16 at 21:42

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