SAT Tip of the Week: Be Specific in Your Answer Choices

SAT Tip of the Week - FullOnce again there are two answer choices that seem equally alluring and dangerous.  You know your stuff: the answer is always in the passage, but as you look at the two choices with growing unease you remember both statements being discussed.  Which one is it? Which one is supreme!

This is a common situation that many students face during the reading comprehension section of the SAT.  The first and golden rule of the SAT reading section is that the answer is always in the passage.  If the passage doesn’t mention it, or accomplish the task that the question indicates, it is NOT the correct answer.  However, our understanding cannot stop here!  It is not just mentioning something in the passage that makes an answer choice correct, it is the presence of evidence to support that the answer choice is 100% true in the section being referenced.

Now this is only true for line specific questions.  If the question is asking about the passage as a whole, it is important to examine what the MAIN purpose of the passage is (usually stated or implied in the first or second paragraph). If, however, the passage indicates a specific section, it is important to think about THAT SECTION and what that section is actually doing in the context of the passage.

The SAT often frames questions in terms of the main purpose of a section is or what role it serves in the passage.  Let’s look at an example: Say you have a passage that is attempting to argue that studies which show that organic produce is radically different from conventional produce are inconclusive (quite a claim!).

The lines 10-13 “The evidence…our society” primarily serve to:

a. Disprove a common belief

b. Support a claim with concrete evidence

c. Discredit a theory

d. Show that there is no discernible difference between conventional and organic produce

“10 The evidence provided thus far is oblique because of its too broad scope. It is impossible to draw a useful conclusion of any kind, let alone one that is so specific as to imply a complete change in the agricultural framework of our society.”

Let’s start eliminating choices.

Answer choice a. states that there is some common belief being disproved. Firstly, it is very hard to disprove ANYTHING. Secondly, there is no “common belief” being discussed.

Answer choice b. is a could answer.  You could argue that this section is supporting the author’s theory, but there is no concrete evidence in THIS section of the passage. Concrete evidence consists of statistics or studies with real data that support a claim. There may be some concrete evidence later or before this section, but the question is asking about THIS section.

Answer choice c. we will keep for now.

Answer choice d. is close to the main thesis of the passage so this feels like a good answer, but is it really?

The question then becomes: is d. specifically argued by lines 10 -13? We see that the statements in this section are pointing out problems with studies (presumably ones used to argue against the author’s point of view) and to thus undermine the theory it supports.  The author is discrediting the studies which in turn discredits the theory.  This particular section does not just serve to reiterate the thesis; it serves to accomplish the specific goal of showing problems with a counter theory to the author’s own. In other words: to discredit a theory.

The final thing to be mindful of is specificity.  What is REALLY being argued or stated in a section?  The stated thesis of the passage was to argue that certain studies were inconclusive.  This is actually different from showing that these studies are wrong.  Thus, if we really look at the final answer choice d., we see that not even the passage as a whole is arguing what that the two kinds of plants are the same, so we see it is critically important to make sure that we are very specific and examine every word of a potential answer choice. Once we understand the choices, it is much easier to see which one is supported by the part of the passage being referenced. Good luck SAT warriors!

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David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy.