17 March 2011

Same idea, different words

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If the wording in an answer choice is too close to the wording in the passage, the answer is probably wrong. This is a bit more true on the SAT than the ACT, but in general, it applies to both tests. It’s so easy to fall for these answers choices… After all, they’re actually right there in the passage.

But wait… are they?

Normally, these are the answers that fall into the category of “half-right, half-wrong.”

Knowing that many readers will be unsure of the meaning of a particular phrase, the test-writers will often quote it directly in the answer choice; relieved, the unsuspecting test-taker will simply pick it without thinking twice. But usually there’s a word in the answer that makes it incorrect.

For example, if the passage uses the phrase “enigmatic figure” to describe an author, the answer might indicate that the phrase actually refers to a character in one of his novels. Don’t fall for the trick. Your job is to identify the answer that expresses the same general idea discussed in the passage — but in different words. So when you go to the answer choices, look for ones that contain synonyms for words in the passage. And the fact that those words are ones that you would probably not choose on your own is entirely irrelevant. So repeat after me: Same idea, different words!

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