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Critical Reading---An analysis of right and wrong answer choices

PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
edited January 24 in SAT Preparation
I've analyzed dozens of SAT Critical Reading Tests and I've made some interesting discoveries about the questions and their answer choices. With the October test coming up, I thought I'd post what I've learned about both the right and wrong answer choices.

THE RIGHT ANSWER

1. The right answer paraphrases the passage.

The right answer paraphrases the passage. It uses synonyms for the adjectives and verbs that are used in the passage. Even some of the nouns may be replaced with synonyms, although you should not discount an answer for using the same nouns that were used in the passage. After all, there are only so many ways you can say “spaghetti” or “elephant” or “pants!” If a noun does not have many recognizable synonyms, the test makers will reuse the word in the answer choice. But since adjectives and verbs have many alternatives, they will likely be replaced with different words.

Example:
While the United States was fighting the War of 1812 with Britain, a series of violent incidents occurred when authorities entered Seminole territory to recapture runaway slaves, which aggravated the Seminole and increased hostility.

According to the passage, the “hostility” between the United States and the Seminole was intensified by which of the following?

(A) Wrong answer
(B) Officials invading Native American territory to reclaim escaped slaves.
(C) Wrong answer
(D) Wrong answer
(E) Wrong answer

The correct answer, choice (B), is a reworded version of the underlined portion. “Authorities” becomes “officials,” “entered” becomes “invading,” “Seminole” becomes “Native American,” “recapture” becomes “reclaim,” and “escaped” becomes “runaway.”

2. The right answer includes ALL of the ideas from the line reference.

The right answer will also include all of the important ideas from the cited line reference, unlike some wrong answers that only provide a portion of the information. Study another example:

Example:
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) Wrong answer
(B) Wrong answer
(C) Wrong answer
(D) Wrong answer
(E) emphasis on jobs and performance

The correct answer includes both “moving out of the area to find work” (emphasis on jobs) and “lackluster test results” (emphasis on performance). Wrong answers often address only one a portion of the line reference, while the right answer includes all of the important ideas.
Post edited by PSVicki on
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Replies to: Critical Reading---An analysis of right and wrong answer choices

  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    3. The right answer is usually more general than the wrong answers.

    Wrong answers are often very specific, while the right answer is more general.

    Example:
    The festival allowed us to acknowledge our German heritage after hiding our ancestry the rest of the year. For one weekend, my sisters and I could feast on mettwurst and maultaschen, dance the landler, and play Topfschlagen without worrying about the anti-German sentiments permeating the country after the war. It was our most memorable weekend of 1946.

    According to the passage, the narrator remembers the “festival” (line 1) with fondness because

    (A) he learned a German dance called the landler
    (B) Wrong answer
    (C) Wrong answer
    (D) it allowed him to celebrate his culture
    (E) German sausages were prepared for the first time that year

    The correct answer, (D), uses the broad term culture to describe the German food, dance, and game that were a part of the festival. The two wrong answers use more specific language. Choice (A) is wrong because it claims the narrator learned a dance; the passage just states that he danced the landler, not that he learned it. But notice that this answer is quite specific. As is (E). The answer in (E) is wrong because the passage only says that he ate mettwurst, not that it was the first time they were prepared that year. But again, the use of “German sausages” is quite specific. Sometimes the correct answer is this particular, too, especially if the question asks about a specific event, but when in doubt, select the most general answer choice.

    4. The right answer is the only one that can be defended by or proven in the text.

    While many questions ask you which answer best characterizes or most effectively supports an argument in the passage, there is only one choice that completely and correctly answers the question. Something makes the other four answer choices wrong. When you select an answer, you should be pretty confident that it is correct because you can point to a specific portion of the text that proves the answer.
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    THE WRONG ANSWERS

    I’ve found that there are basically six types of wrong answer traps. Keep in mind, though, that some wrong answers might use several of these traps in the same answer choice.

    1. Copycat Answers

    The most common characteristic of wrong answers is that they copy words or phrases from the passage. Always be leery of answer choices that use several words or phrases from the passage.

    Example:
    While the United States was fighting the War of 1812 with Britain, a series of violent incidents occurred when authorities entered Seminole territory to recapture runaway slaves, which aggravated the Seminole and increased hostility.

    According to the passage, the “hostility” between the United States and the Seminole was intensified by which of the following?

    (A) Wrong answer
    (B) Officials invading Native American territory to reclaim escaped slaves.
    (C) Wrong answer
    (D) A violent incident that aggravated the American government.
    (E) Wrong answer

    Choice (D) uses the phrases “violent incident” and “aggravated”—words right from the passage! This answer is incorrect is because it expresses an opposite idea (the next wrong answer category). The Seminole were aggravated, not the American government as the answer choice states. Copycat Answers are usually combined with another answer trap.
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    2. Opposite Answers

    Avoid an answer choice that that is opposite of your prephrase (your answer to the question that you generate BEFORE looking at the answer choices). The College Board will take advantage of any self-doubt, because some takers will assume they misunderstood the passage and that it actually said the opposite of what they originally understood. Do not doubt your initial reading unless you reread the text and have a new understanding!

    Example:
    The festival allowed us to acknowledge our German heritage after hiding our ancestry the rest of the year. For one weekend, my sisters and I could feast on mettwurst and maultaschen, dance the landler, and play Topfschlagen without worrying about the anti-German sentiments permeating the country after the war. It was our most memorable weekend of 1946.

    According to the passage, the narrator remembers the “festival” (line 1) with fondness because

    (A) he learned a German dance called the landler
    (B) he was able to conceal his German heritage
    (C) Wrong answer
    (D) it allowed him to celebrate his culture
    (E) German sausages were prepared for the first time that year

    Examine choice (B). This presents an idea opposite of the correct answer: that instead of acknowledging his culture, he hid it. Notice that it also uses the phrase “German heritage” from lines 1-2. Sadly, some students will read this answer choice and assume they misread the passage.
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    3. Extreme Answers

    In an SAT answer choice, every word counts, and each of those words should be read literally. For example:

    (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 than the original answer in (A). However, choices (B) and (C) are still somewhat Extreme Answers; the qualifiers “most” and “many” include a lot of people, making these answers difficult to prove. But answer choice (D) is much more moderate. With the use of “some”, you only need to find two people who think Mr. Wilson is mean in order for this answer choice to be true. Sometimes the right answer will also use “somewhat”:

    (E) The neighbor thinks that Mr. Wilson is somewhat mean.

    In this answer choice, “somewhat” tempers the meaning of “mean.” Instead of proving that Mr. Wilson is always cruel, you only need to find one instance of meanness to make him “somewhat” mean.

    Also watch for Extreme verbs. Consider the difference between these three answer choices:

    (A) Henry must go to the wedding.
    (B) Henry needs to go to the wedding.
    (C) Henry should go to the wedding.

    It is difficult to defend “must go” and “needs to go,” and it is quite unlikely that the author was that straightforward in the passage. However, “should go” is much easier to prove.

    Some Extreme Words are more difficult to pinpoint. Consider these two answers:

    (A) Penelope was surprised by her mother’s vicious reply.
    (B) Penelope was surprised by her mother’s insensitive reply.

    The word “vicious” makes answer choice (A) the least likely answer. In order for the reply to be vicious, the mother would have had to have been spiteful, cruel, and severe. But the word “insensitive” is much easier to defend. She simply had to say something that was mildly unkind in order to be called insensitive.

    Example:
    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) complete confidence in standardized tests
    (B) Wrong answer
    (C) outrage over the lack of employment
    (D) Wrong answer
    (E) emphasis on jobs and performance

    Examine choice (A). Aside from being totally inaccurate, it uses the word “complete.” This is an Extreme Word, and so the answer choice should be avoided.

    Choice (C) uses the Extreme Word “outrage.” In order to prove this word is justified, the families would have had to have shown show powerful feelings of anger and resentment. The passage does not indicate they expressed these feelings, let alone even felt them. Both (A) and (C) are Extreme Answers.

    Extreme Answers are almost always incorrect on the SAT. There is, however, a slight chance you may encounter an extreme passage, written by an author who is forceful about her beliefs. In this case you can expect some Extreme Answers. If the author states that snakes are wicked and she wishes a plague would wipe them off the face of the Earth, then answer choices with the words “sinister” and “malice” become attractive and defendable. Given the temperate nature of the SAT, though, it is unlikely you will encounter such an extreme passage. When in doubt, avoid all answer choices with extreme words.
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    4. True But Wrong Answers

    True But Wrong Answers are especially tricky because they provide a true statement or conclusion based on the passage; they do not, however, answer the specific question at hand. They pull a fact or inference from an earlier or later portion of text, but have little to do with the line reference in question.

    Example:
    Columbus Day is in danger of extinction. In several cities in California, it has been replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Parades in honor of the explorer have not occurred in Columbus, Ohio since the 1990s. And South Dakoka has renamed the holiday “Native American Day.” Even where the holiday is preserved, many people lack enthusiasm for the celebration in fear of offending descendents of native peoples.

    The third sentence (“Parades in . . . the 1990s”) indicates that

    (A) The recent lack of enthusiasm for Columbus Day has changed how the holiday is celebrated in America
    (B) The city of Columbus, Ohio once commemorated its eponymous explorer with a parade.
    (C) Wrong answer
    (D) Wrong answer
    (E) Wrong answer
    Choice (A) is a true statement; the entire paragraph relates how Columbus Day celebrations are being changed. But choice (A) does not answer the question, which is strictly about the third sentence. The third sentence indicates that Columbus, Ohio has changed how they celebrate the day in honor of the explorer for which the city was name (“eponymous”). Choice (B) is correct.

    True But Wrong Answers are common in Paired Passage question sets. The answer might be true about Passage 2, but the question is asking about Passage 1 or about both passages.

    These True But Wrong answer choices are especially attractive given that they provide a true statement from the passage. But you must be certain that the answer choice you select corresponds with the line reference in the question.
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    5. True To A Point Answers

    True to a Point Answers are very attractive choices because they usually start out seemingly correct. Careless test takers might not notice, though, that at some point in the answer choice they become blatantly wrong.

    Sometimes these answer choices add new, irrelevant information causing them to be incorrect. For example, if the passage discusses the feeding habits of monarch butterflies, be wary of any answer choice that details the feeding habits of swallowtail butterflies. This answer will appear to be correct when explaining the feeding habits, but once it cites a different butterfly type, it is clearly incorrect.

    Example:
    Unlike the Tango, a dance which can trace its roots directly back to Argentina and Uruguay, Ballroom Tango saw significant changes in both structure and technique as the dance traveled to the United States and Europe. Film star Rudolph Valentino first brought Ballroom Tango to Hollywood in the early 1920s, and the famous dance instructor Arthur Murray later helped popularize a standardized version which incorporated steps that were common to the US during that period. This incarnation of Ballroom Tango was generally considered somewhat less formal and referred to as the “American Style” by the English, who wished to distinguish this informal approach from their own International Style—a technique that was taught in countries throughout Europe and had already become the de facto standard in competitions around the world.

    The standardized version of the Ballroom Tango features which of the following?

    (A) steps that were common in American film
    (B) Wrong answer
    (C) conventional American movements
    (D) Wrong answer
    (E) Wrong answer

    Choice (A) is appealing because it is True to a Point: “steps that were common,” the phrase in the answer choice, comes right from line 9. But then the answer makes a wrong turn with the phrase “in American film.” The passage does not mention American film in connection with the Ballroom Tango, other than the fact that a film star was responsible for bringing the dance to Hollywood. It does not state that these steps were common in movies, so choice (A) is incorrect.
    The most tempting True to a Point Answers have a single word that sabotages the entire answer choice.

    Example:
    Unlike the Tango, a dance which can trace its roots directly back to Argentina and Uruguay, Ballroom Tango saw significant changes in both structure and technique as the dance traveled to the United States and Europe. Film star Rudolph Valentino first brought Ballroom Tango to Hollywood in the early 1920s, and the famous dance instructor Arthur Murray later helped popularize a standardized version which incorporated steps that were common to the US during that period. This incarnation of Ballroom Tango was generally considered somewhat less formal and referred to as the “American Style” by the English, who wished to distinguish this informal approach from their own International Style—a technique that was taught in countries throughout Europe and had already become the de facto standard in competitions around the world.

    According to the passage, the Ballroom Tango is different from the Tango because the Ballroom Tango

    (A) Answer A
    (B) was slightly altered once it became popular in America
    (C) Answer C
    (D) Answer D
    (E) underwent a transformation upon entering countries in the US and Europe

    Choice (B) is incorrect because of a single word: “slightly.” The passage states that the Ballroom Tango “saw significant changes” (line 3) making “slightly altered” significantly incorrect. Note, too, that the answer only includes America, omitting Europe as stated in the passage. Remember, the correct answer will include all of the important ideas, as does choice (E).
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    6. True to You Answers

    One of the biggest mistakes that a student can make is to bring their experience and expectations into the SAT. Your opinions are not relevant on the Reading portion of the test, and you should be careful not to let them influence your understanding of a text. True to You Answers are designed to take advantage of your personal beliefs and prior knowledge.

    Example:
    In late summer, black bears begin gorging on carbohydrate-rich foods in order to put on significant weight and body fat. They can gain as much as 30 pounds in a single week! Once fall arrives, the bear prepares its den, lining it with leaves and other plants to form a nest.

    According to the passage, black bears seek “carbohydrate-rich foods” primarily because they

    (A) Wrong answer
    (B) are preparing to hibernate
    (C) need to considerably increase their body mass
    (D) Wrong answer
    (E) Wrong answer

    Unless you skipped kindergarten and most of elementary school, it’s likely that you know bears hibernate. Answer choice (B) is depending on this knowledge to seduce you into selecting it as the right answer choice. But you would be wrong. The passage never mentions hibernation. The reason it provides for the black bears gorging on carbs is “to put on significant weight and body fat.” The correct answer is (C). But many, many test takers would choose (B) because they applied their prior knowledge to the passage and failed to read all five answer choices. If the author does not state or imply an idea, it simply is not true.

    I hope my analysis helps! I wrote all of the passages and questions here, but I think if you apply my techniques to the Blue Book, you’ll see that I’ve accurately pegged the right and wrong answer choices. Critical Reading is a beast of a section, but I truly believe if you break down the question and answer choices like this, you can start to see patterns emerge that will help you master this test. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. Good luck!
  • spellweaver04spellweaver04 Posts: 43Registered User Junior Member
    Wow! This looks really helpful! I'll be sure to read it over the weekend! Thanks & good job :D
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    Thanks, spellweaver!
  • hanngo2911hanngo2911 Posts: 60Registered User Junior Member
    Thank you guy!!!! These posts are actually very useful to all of us!
    If you have more analysis, please don't hesitate to post!!!!!
    Thank you one more time!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • HaphazardHaphazard Posts: 629Registered User Member
    Thank you! I really needed help with CR haha.
  • PSVickiPSVicki Posts: 101- Junior Member
    You're welcome! Has it helped you yet? Have you seen these patterns?
  • kristiunakristiuna Posts: 91Registered User Junior Member
    This is the best thread i have ever read.
  • TanggeTangge Posts: 23Registered User New Member
    Great and invigorating!
  • kimmylouiekimmylouie Posts: 1,448Registered User Senior Member
    PSVICKI: Althought I love your guide (:.. I've actually dropped CR score. How ironic...
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