How to Separate the Good from the Bad on the SAT – Part 3

This is Part 3 of “How to Separate the Good from the Bad”! In the past two weeks, we’ve seen how there are many subtle tricks and tips that can help one eliminate the wrong answers and increase her chances of picking the right answer! This week’s section focuses on how to avoid the wrong answers.


[Continue reading to find out more on how to avoid being tricked into choosing the wrong answers…]

1. Opposite answers. Often, one of the answer choices will be an answer that is the direct opposite of what the right answer is. You might think that this would be easy for students to pick given how different the two answers are, but this is actually often not the case. It is precisely because these two answers are so diametrically opposed that the situation plays on students’ self-doubt and many students may actually assume that they had misunderstood the passage or the question and choose the wrong answer. One easy trick to get around this would be to have a quick one line “pre-answer” to the question before even looking at the possible answer choices.

Here is an example (ref. Powerscore):

The festival allowed us to acknowledge our German heritage after hiding our ancestry the rest of the year. For one weekend, my sisters and I could feast on mettwurst and maultaschen, dance the landler, and play Topfschlagen without worrying about the anti-German sentiments permeating the country after the war. It was our most memorable weekend of 1946.

According to the passage, the narrator remembers the “festival” (line 1) with fondness because

(A) he learned a German dance called the landler

(B) he was able to conceal his German heritage

(C) it allowed him to celebrate his culture

(D) German sausages were prepared for the first time that year

The right answer is (C) because it can be seen through the passage that the author enjoyed the festival because it allowed him and his sisters to openly celebrate and acknowledge their German heritage. However, many students might mistakenly choose (B) which contains the phrase “German heritage” from the first line but actually presents an opposite idea from the right answer. Without reading carefully, some students might assume that the festival was a celebration of having to hide their ancestry. The idea of having to conceal their German heritage can also be found in the passage (“hiding our ancestry” line 1). Many test makers often put a wrong answer that contains the opposite idea to the right one but seems to contain the ‘right’ ideas also stated in the passage. A tip would be to always read all the answer choices carefully before picking your answer!

2.  True to a point, but still wrong! Answer choices that fall into this category usually start off seeming like the right answer, and then take a wrong step at the end. However, if you are careless, you might only read the first part of the answer and not notice the tail end – especially if the tail end of the answer has words that seem to mirror ideas mention in the passage.

Let’s go through an example! (ref. Powerscore)

Unlike the Tango, a dance which can race its roots directly back to Argentina and Uruguay, Ballroom Tango saw significant changes in both structure and technique as the dance traveled to the United States and Europe. Film star Rudolph Valentino first brought Ballroom Tango to Hollywood in the early 1920s, and the famous dance instructor Arthur Murray later helped popularize a standardized version which incorporated steps that were common to the US during that period. This incarnation of Ballroom Tango was generally considered somewhat less formal and referred to as the “American Style” by the English, who wished to distinguish this informal approach from their own International Style – a technique that was taught in countries throughout Europe and had already become the de facto standard in competitions around the world.

The standardized version of the Ballroom Tango features which of the following?

(A) steps that were common in American film

(B) some changes in structure

(C) International style

(D) Conventional American movements

Choice (A) seems like the right answer because it is true to a point! “Steps that were common” comes directly from the passage (refer to the underlined phrase in the passage). However, (A) then makes a wrong turn in the end part with the phrase “American film”. Although this might appeal to our cultural knowledge of how dance moves originated from popular American films like Dirty Dancing or Grease, the passage does not mention American film in connection with Ballroom Tango other than the fact that a film star was responsible for bringing it to Hollywood. Therefore, (A) is in fact only true to a point and incorrect. The right answer is (D), which expresses the right ideas contained in italicized portion of the passage. As you can see, the wrong answer appears to be correct but it actually adds new and irrelevant information that might feed off certain common background knowledge that we have.

Be careful! :D

Additional Reading:

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

Please check out my previous posts in this series:

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!

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