How to Separate the Good from the Bad on the SAT – Part 1

As with any test, the task of separating the good answer from the bad choices is a difficult one. Often, all of the possible answer choices look so similar and more than one seem to be the right choice! Well, this says something similar, but it has an additional part. Is this too extreme of an answer? Hmm I’m not sure whether this is the right answer, but somehow it just feels right… These thoughts have raced through my mind during each SAT test, practice or not, and even today, while taking tests for my classes. But alas, test-taking is simple in that each question is formulated with only one correct answer – or in the SAT’s case, one best answer. Here are some tips and tricks to help you figure out how to separate the good answer from the bad answers in the SAT!

Good versus bad

[Continue reading to find out how to pick the right answer…]

1. Wholesale Copied Answers. One of the most common characteristics of wrong answers is that they copy words or phrases from the passage. If you see answers that have the same exact words or phrases from the passage, be careful and wary! They seem to say exactly what the passage is saying – and thus seem correct – but might not actually be answering the question!

Example (taken from PSVicki):

While the United States was fighting the War of 1812 with Britain, a series of violent incidents occurred when authorities entered Seminole territory to recapture runaway slaves, which aggravated the Seminole and increased hostility.

According to the passage, the “hostility” between the United States and the Seminole was intensified by which of the following?

(A) A violent incident that aggravated the American government.

(B) Officials invading Native American territory to reclaim escaped slaves.

(C) Wrong answer

(D) Wrong answer

(E) Wrong answer

Explanation: Choice (A) uses the phrases “violent incident” and “aggravated”—words that come directly from the passage. However, this answer is incorrect because it actually states that the incident aggravated the American government, whereas the correct answer should express the opposite idea – the Seminole were aggravated. These wholesale copied answers are are usually combined with another answer trap.

2. Correct answers paraphrase the passage. As we can see from the previous example, often, the right answer paraphrases the ideas from the passage. Synonyms are used for the adjectives and verbs that are found in the passage, and some of the nouns are also paraphrased. (This speaks to the importance of a good vocabulary!) A word of caution – you should not discount an answer for using the same nouns that were used in the passage. After all, there are only so many ways you can say “table”, “dress” or “hair!” Let’s see how the right answer from the previous question paraphrased the ideas from the passage!

Example: While the United States was fighting the War of 1812 with Britain, a series of violent incidents occurred when authorities entered Seminole territory to recapture runaway slaves, which aggravated the Seminole and increased hostility.

According to the passage, the “hostility” between the United States and the Seminole was intensified by which of the following?

Right answer: Officials invading Native American territory to reclaim escaped slaves.

We can see clearly now that the correct answer is a paraphrased version of the underlined portion. “Authorities” becomes “officials,” “entered” becomes “invading,” “Seminole” becomes “Native American,” “recapture” becomes “reclaim,” and “escaped” becomes “runaway.” Yet this paraphrased version accurately captures the message of the passage and answers the question well.

Additional Reading:

Please check out my next posts in this 6 part series on how to separate the good from the bad on the SAT:

About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>