How to Separate the Good from the Bad on the SAT – Part 2

There are so many ways we can go wrong in picking the right answer on a test. The SAT is especially challenging because so many of the answers seem right, but commonsense tells us that there can really only be one right answer. In addition to the neat tricks from last week, here are some additional tips that will help you to ace the SAT!


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

  1. The right answer includes ALL of the ideas from the relevant reference lines. Unlike most wrong answers, the right answer will include all of the important ideas from the relevant reference lines to be able to answer the question completely. Of course, if the relevant lines span 5-6 lines and include a great deal of information, you will have to be careful! The key idea to grasp here is that the correct answer will contain all the pieces of information necessary to answer the question.


Melner attributes the decline in school enrollment to several factors. For one, families are moving out of the area to find work. For another, lackluster test results cause some existing and most new families to choose other districts.

According to the passage, enrollment in the school district has decreased because of families’

(A) decision to move out of the area
(B) desire to find work
(C) poor education performance
(D) emphasis on finding jobs and test performance
(E) Wrong answer

The correct answer includes both “moving out of the area to find work” which points to their emphasis on finding jobs, and “lackluster test results” which points to an emphasis on education and test performance. The wrong answers – A to C – included only one portion of the line reference, whereas the right answer D included all of the important ideas.

2. The right answer is usually not extreme. Oftentimes, the wrong answers will say things that seem like a blanket statement or seem too extreme. Remember that the College Board who sets the SAT is answerable somewhat to a public audience and will try to refrain from making the right answer an extreme one or one that is implicitly biased or stereotypical. So if you see an answer that goes something like, “because men are more successful than women”, or that contains extreme modifiers like “never”, “always”, “everyone”, and “no one”, be very wary! The extreme answers also usually are not backed up by text in the passage! So be on guard, and always check the answer with text from the passage.

Here’s an example that might flesh out this idea further (taken from powerscore):

(A) People in the neighborhood think that Mr. Wilson is mean.

Because this answer choice has no modifiers, it states that ALL people in the neighborhood think that Mr. Wilson is mean—including Mrs. Wilson, neighboring infants and children, and Mr. Wilson’s friends. Because statements like this one are so extreme, the makers of the SAT are likely to use modifiers to subdue the meaning. Consider some examples:

(B) Most people in the neighborhood think that Mr. Wilson is mean.

(C) Many people in the neighborhood think that Mr. Wilson is mean.

(D) Some people in the neighborhood think that Mr. Wilson is mean.

Each of these answer choices added an adjective modifier to people, making them easier to defend by the text than the original answer in (A). However, choices (B) and (C) are still more extreme answers than D; the qualifiers “most” and “many” indicate that a lot of people had to be involved, making these answers more difficult to prove in the passage if there were only 3-5 people involved. Answer (D) however is much more moderate. With the use of “some”, you might only need to find two or three people in the passage who think Mr. Wilson is mean in order for this answer choice to be correct.

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:

Please check out my previous post 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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