Predicting the Answer in Logical Reasoning Questions on the SAT

Passage-based reading questions on the SAT have some fairly straightforward question types: Main Idea, Detail, Function, Vocab in Context, and some that tend to be a little harder: Inference, Application, Logical Reasoning, etc. Logical Reasoning questions ask us to understand why the author includes a particular phrase, sentence, or paragraph. Here are a few tips to help eliminate incorrect choices!

Tip #1 – The answer must be based on the passage.

Even if the question seems really vague, the correct choice will be based on some sort of implication from the passage. ALWAYS go back to the passage to make sure you understand the ideas in the lines the question asks about. You’re like a detective looking for clues. They may be very subtle, but the clues must be there, otherwise the test-maker could never have written the question!

Tip #2 – It is not a matter of opinion.

When you read the answer choices, remember that you are looking for a choice that is the closest to what is directly supported by the passage, not for a choice that sounds plausible to you. Only ONE choice can be correct using the given passage. If you’ve narrowed it down to two choices, check to make sure you aren’t being swayed by one that “seems reasonable” but has no support behind it.

Let’s say we saw a question like this:  

In the final paragraph of the passage, the author is assuming that

(A) modern writing takes realism too far.
(B) quality writing is a matter of natural ability more than anything else.
(C) there is no easy way to draw the line between a realistic piece of writing and a work that is more fantastic.
(D) the only true reflection of artistic merit is the degree to which the writer is able to stylistically conform to the needs and desires of his society.
(E) the typical reader, when evaluating a work of fiction, will judge it by how clearly it fulfills a narrative purpose.

Let’s go back to that final paragraph:

What escapes the minds of the masses is that, taken
past a certain point, realism is not art. Neither
unsatisfying conclusions, nor irritating characters, nor
obscure motives are indications of the literary talents
(45)    of the author. The older, mythic characters may be drawn
with a broad brush, and may possess a simplicity and
singularity of purpose that finds no parallel in
day-to-day life, but that simplicity is not a sign of an
author lacking in subtlety. Rather, a purposeful author
(50)    will have purposeful characters. Whether the story is
meant to illustrate moral principles, explore character
types, or simply entertain, a quality work of art must
have a purpose.

The question wants us to make a logical conclusion, what is the author assuming is true? We can summarize, or bullet-point, his main ideas and opinions, sentence by sentence.

  • Masses don’t get that realism isn’t art.
  • 3 characteristics the author doesn’t like (likely has to do with realism)
  • Older, simpler characters is  what the author likes, even though simple is not like everyday life
  • Wants purposeful characters & art to have a purpose

The correct answer will reflect one of these 4 ideas. When we go back to the choices to evaluate, it’s clear that the correct answer is (A). It is best supported by the author’s claim that the masses in today’s world don’t get that realism isn’t art. That implies that realism is popular, and that the masses think it IS art.

Remember, even for seemingly open-ended questions, you need to take a few seconds to look back to the passage and think how YOU would answer the question. It’s okay to make prediction like, “Something in terms of…” or “A choice that has something to do with…” A vague prediction is better than no prediction!

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing advice to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.