When an SAT writer creates wrong answers for a question, they draw from the same material that they made the correct answer out of. They reference the same phrases and ideas that the best answer does, but they twist the logic or facts to the extent that they become straight-up wrong.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of that SAT writer. There’s a question, a passage it references, and four blanks to create four tempting wrong answers out of. It takes a bit of thought to create even one of those wrong answers, never mind four—and that’s for each question. You can bet they don’t spend forever laboring over getting those wrong answers to be brilliantly worded. Instead, there are some shortcuts they take to create an answer that is relevant but ultimately faulty. The simplest of these shortcuts are individual words that occasionally appear in answer choices and should make you think twice.
But please, take these with a grain of salt. Although these words often make wrong answers wrong, you should still read the whole answer choice before crossing it off.
Answer choices with “never” and “always”
Both of these words show up a whole lot in normal conversational exaggerations (for example, “She’s always laughing”), and we all understand they don’t mean exactly what they say (or else she should seek mental help). But they should catch your attention on the SAT because it’s rarely the case that things are so clear-cut. If a passage says that the vast majority of a snow leopard’s diet consists of ibex meat, you might find an answer choice that states that snow leopards “never vary their diets,” which would be pretty far from what the passage told us.
Other extreme words
There are a good number of other words that bring up a problem pretty similar to the one above. Words like passionately, surprisingly, serious, excessive, or extremely, may be a quick way to make an answer too strong to be true. Be careful to check if strong words are validated by the tone of the passage.
Negative words: “Not”/”no”
Believe it or not, answers on the SAT are occasionally distorted from the truth simply by making them opposite of the fact. If the passage states that
“Pandas spend very little of their time socializing, which is partially due to their strict need for constant food intake,”
and there’s an answer choice that says
(A) Pandas don’t allow their feeding habits to interfere with the search for a mate
we might actually be tempted to fall for the trap. That is, only if we don’t notice the key word in that answer choice: “don’t.”
When this type of answer choice is the other way around—a positive statement that should be negative—it’s a little harder to spot, but the principle is the same.
Remember to always compare the information in the passage with the answer choice you like best, and you just might lock down a couple extra points on your SAT.
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About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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