SAT Reading Multiple Choice Strategies, Part 1: Implicit and Explicit Information

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Recently, I gave you an overview of multiple choice strategies for the SAT, Multiple Choice Strategies for the SAT. I showed you that selecting the correct answer in SAT multiple choice questions is a matter of understanding what your read and see on the exam, knowing the meanings of SAT vocabulary words, and correctly following the rules, processes, and logic for written English and Math. Today, we’ll look at ways to apply these strategies specifically to SAT Reading.


Understanding What You Read

There are two broad categories of questions that test your comprehension in SAT Reading: questions about explicit information that’s directly stated in the passage, and questions about ideas that are implicit in the passage, evident but not directly stated. With either type of question, what you need to do is carefully compare the answer choices to the content of the reading. Choose only the answer that is clearly supported by passage information.

Avoid making “stretches” where you choose an answer because the answer is possibly true, based on things that might be true but aren’t stated in the passage. The correct answer to a question about directly stated information will be the one that properly paraphrases stated information. Any implied information should be directly and clearly supported by other explicitly stated information in the text.

To give you an example of how to approach passage information strategically in multiple choice SAT Reading questions, we’ll look at an example question based on a dual-passage reading. This question asks for information that is both implied and directly stated. The paired passages are taken from page 41 the College Board website’s Official SAT Practice Test 2014-15. The question is original to this blog, and you can find four additional questions for the reading on page 41 on the practice test itself.


Passage 1

I know what your e-mail in-box looks like, and it isn’t pretty: a babble of come-ons and lies from hucksters and con artists. To find your real e-mail, you must wade through the torrent of fraud and obscenity known politely as “unsolicited bulk e-mail” and colloquially as “spam.” In a perverse tribute to the power of the online revolution, we are all suddenly getting the same mail: easy weight loss, get-rich-quick schemes, etc. The crush of these messages is now numbered in billions per day. “It’s becoming a major systems and engineering and network problem,” says one e-mail expert. “Spammers are gaining control of the Internet.”


Passage 2

Many people who hate spam assume that it is protected as free speech. Not necessarily so. The United States Supreme Court has previously ruled that individuals may preserve a threshold of privacy. “Nothing in the Constitution compels us to listen to or view any unwanted communication, whatever its merit,” wrote Chief Justice Warren Burger in a 1970 decision. “We therefore categorically reject the argument that a vendor has a right to send unwanted material into the home of another.” With regard to a seemingly similar problem, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 made it illegal in the United States to send unsolicited faxes; why not extend the act to include unsolicited bulk e-mail?



Which point about the nature of the spam messages is explicit in passage 1 and implicit in Passage 2?

A) Spam messages pose a fundamentally different problem from unsolicited messages sent through the postal service.
B) They often include fraudulent information.
C) The problem of spam will increase in the future due to projected growth in Internet technology.
D) Unsolicited junk email is a serious problem that warrants the attention of authorities on the matter.

For information-based questions, the same strategy applies for selecting both implicit information and explicit information from the answers: look at the answer choice and skim the text for direct support.

With this strategy, answer (A) can be eliminated. Traditional mail sent by post isn’t mentioned in either passage, so this answer has no support in the readings. (B) can be eliminated too, because the fraudulent nature of junk email is only supported in the first passage. The second passage doesn’t describe the content of spam or imply anything about the specific nature of spam email content.

(C) is a very tempting answer compared to (A) and (B) because it’s in keeping with prior knowledge most test-takers would have. You probably know that computer technology continues to develop and expand and that methods for sending mass emails are becoming more sophisticated. However, a careful reading of this SAT Reading prompt shows that this common knowledge fact is not a part of the argument in either passage. No speculation is made about how spam might look in the future.

This brings us down to (D). You could select answer (D) simply by the process of elimination. However, it’s a good idea to double check an answer that’s been selected primarily because the other answers don’t seem to work. (D) is stated explicitly and directly in the first passage, because an email expert (an “authority,” in other words) directly describes junk email as “a major… problem.” Moreover, the idea that junk email is a serious problem worthy of expert attention is implied clearly in the second passage, with the author’s suggestion that prior rulings and statements from legal experts should be used to control and limit the transmission of unsolicited email.

This process of elimination through careful checking for stated information and implied information can work on any information-based SAT reading question. Other SAT Reading questions may also focus on vocabulary knowledge or the ability to follow the logic of a written piece. We will look at those types of SAT Reading questions in a future post.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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