I’m convinced that when the College Board tests out its Writing questions, it’s not just checking to see which errors various percentages of test-takers are likely to get right but also which correct constructions test-takers likely to think are incorrect.

Consider the following (College Board) sentence:

The dolls in the collection, all more than two hundred years old, had been carefully carved for children long since gone” (Official Guide, 2nd edition, p. 777)

The answer is “No error,” but nearly all of my students have missed that question because they couldn’t get over how weird the phrase “long since” sounded.

At first I thought that the phrase just happened to be something that the College Board had stuck in that one particular question.

I was wrong.

As I looked through more CB tests, including PSATs, I started to notice it occurring on a semi-regular basis, and I realized that it was being used as a sort of official trick answer.

So if you see “long since” (or even just “long”) pop up in a question, ignore it! And moreover, there’s a good chance that the answer is actually (E).