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Do you ever narrow it down to two answer choices on the reading section but pick the wrong answer? Some answer choices on the SAT reading section are “wrong answer traps,” or incorrect choices that students can be tempted to pick based on common cognitive biases. A key skill for the reading section is avoiding these “trap” answers. But in order to avoid them, you must be able to identify them. Here are 12 common wrong answer traps you need to know in order to raise your SAT reading score and avoid being drawn to wrong answer choices.
Opposite: These are answer choices that state the opposite of the correct answer. For example, if the author of a passage claims that women are inferior to men, an “opposite” wrong answer trap might say that the author thinks women are superior to men. These are traps because they often contain wording similar to the correct answer, so if you read over the answer choices too quickly, you might be tempted to choose them.
Eye-catcher: Remember that just because an answer choice catches your attention because, for example, it includes complex vocabulary or reuses words from the passage, doesn’t mean it’s correct!
“Primarily”: Be on the lookout for the word “primarily.” If a question asks what a passage is “primarily” about, make sure that you choose the main point of the passage. All of the answer choices could be points made in the passage, but just because those answer choices are true doesn’t mean they are correct! Only the main idea or main topic of the passage is correct on these questions. For example, if a passage mainly describes the structure of DNA but briefly mentions the discovery of DNA in one paragraph, the primary purpose of the passage is to describe the structure of DNA, not to describe its discovery, even though the passage speaks about both. The answer should describe what the passage as a whole is about, not what one part of it is about.
Half right/half wrong: If any part of an answer choice is wrong, the whole answer choice is wrong! Don’t be tricked into choosing an incorrect answer choice because one or more parts of the choice are correct. If any part of the choice isn’t correct, cross it out immediately. Don’t get distracted by the correct part of the answer and ignore the incorrect parts.
Could be true/might be true: Since this is an objective, multiple-choice test, correct answer choices are based on direct evidence from the passage. If an answer choice could be true but isn’t supported by the passage, it’s not the correct answer. Don’t make too much of an inference or logical jump on these questions. Stick to what is said in the passage.
Answer is true but not contained in the cited line: If a question cites lines 12-25 and you find evidence in line 60 that supports a particular answer choice to that question, you might want to be skeptical of that answer choice. Avoid picking answer choices supported by evidence far outside of the cited lines for any particular question.
Irrelevant: Avoid answer choices that don’t have anything to do with the question, paragraph, or passage.
Attributes an argument to the wrong paired passage: Make sure you don’t pick an answer choice that describes the correct argument of Passage 1 but attributes it to Passage 2, for example.
Choosing the most common meaning of a word for a vocab-in-context question: It might be tempting to choose the most common meaning of a word on vocab-in-context questions, but this is not reason enough to pick a particular answer choice. For example, if a question asks what “popular” most nearly means in a passage, don’t just pick the answer choice “likeable” because that’s the only meaning of popular that you know. Check to see what meaning actually fits in the context of the passage instead of falling into the trap of picking a common definition. Always read the surrounding lines near the vocabulary word in order to understand the context.
Off the page: Just because an answer choice agrees with your personal opinion on a subject or contains facts that are true in the real world doesn’t mean that it’s the correct answer. Stay away from choices that may be true but aren’t directly mentioned in the passage. Every answer must be based on textual evidence from the passage!
Data questions about the wrong measure: If a graph shows that 12% of people surveyed felt that coworking spaces improved their creativity, an answer choice that claims that coworking spaces improved people’s creativity by 12% is incorrect. Make sure you know what outcome is being measured in a table, figure, or graph, and eliminate any answer choices that describe different outcomes (even if they use the correct numbers).
Extreme words: Be wary of 100% words like always, all, never, none, completely, etc. Choices with extreme words are often incorrect on multiple choice tests (and would require very strong evidence in the passage). They’re also quite easy to disprove.
By studying these common traps, you can avoid being distracted by appealing but ultimately incorrect answer choices and learn to answer many more SAT reading questions correctly. Try spotting the common wrong answer traps on your next practice SAT reading section!
For more information about what to expect on the SAT Reading section, check out these helpful Khan Academy videos. And, if you’re interested in learning more strategies like these, check out our SAT tutoring services here.