30 Mar 2017

The Top Trap Answers in SAT Reading

The current SAT does have some interesting changes from its predecessor. It has only 4 answer choices, evidence-based questions, and generally allows for a longer period of time to read. However, College Board hasn’t change much and the type of trap answers they use is still taken from the same playbook. Below, I’ll explain some of the most common trap answers. The list isn’t all encompassing, but with this, you should learn to do process of elimination a bit better.

First, let’s take a look at a typical set of answers:

(a) Out of scope / huh?

(b) Correct Answer

(c) Uses exact words from the passage but doesn’t say it in the correct way

(d) True according to the passage but doesn’t exactly answer the question

In examining the answer the choices, I tell my students to look for the 50/50 split. If you can consistently eliminate two incorrect answer choices, you’re well on your way to becoming a reading comp master. Remember that when dealing with reading comp questions, you look for what makes an answer choice wrong as opposed to what makes it right. It’s a probability game and like what good ole Sherlock said, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

So in the answer choices above, the easier answers to eliminate should be (a) and (c). Answers that are “out of scope” should literally make you go “huh.” They’re the answer choices that just doesn’t belong and you’re left wondering why it should be there in the first place. Answer (c) is the “exact words” trap-answer archetype and these can be tricky to students. When we were younger and first learning reading comprehension, we were taught to match words in the passage with the answer choices. For a lot of students, they default to this. It’s not a bad method, but the SAT knows this and some of the harder answer choices use “exact words” to trap students. So when you see an answer choice that uses phrases in the exact order from the passage, be especially wary. Make sure it’s saying what the passage is saying.

Picking the correct answer out of the remaining 2 is a harder process. I’ve had students who eliminate two incorrect answers 100% of the time and still pick the incorrect answers too often – and it’s usually because of the last trap answer type. Answer choice (d) is quite tricky. The reason is that it is coming from the passage and it is true. However, when students pick this answer choice, it’s because students don’t understand exactly what the question is asking.

I know the last trap answer type is tricky to understand without an example. In a future blog post, I might post a real question, but that might require showing the full passage which is difficult in blog form. I’ll see about doing that for the future, but for now, understanding these 3 trap-answer archetypes will go a long way towards improving your SAT Reading ability.