Common RC Traps
Common RC Traps
Simply put, your job on RC sets is to answer the questions correctly. This means, of course, choosing the correct answer, but it also means that you need to know how to avoid the three RC traps:
  1. Extreme Answers
  2. True, Eloquent, but Irrelevant Answers
  3. Answers That Repeat Wording from the Passage
Extreme Answers
Extreme Answers are too broad, are too narrow, or use polarizing language. An answer choice that indicates something is always true or never true will be very hard for the test makers to defend as correct. Extreme words include all, always, never, none, and will.
That last word, will, may surprise you. Think about what will means. It indicates that something is definitely going to happen in the future. This is just as extreme as using a word like always or never. Also, rarely do passages on the GRE try to predict something. They’re usually about the past and the present. Unless a passage specifically says so, don’t assume that what’s true today, or was true yesterday, will also be true tomorrow.
Take another look at this question, but now, instead of picking out the correct answer, try to recognize the Extreme Answers:
The author’s primary purpose in the passage is to
(A) outline an effect of a feature of modern society
(B) recommend a solution to a cultural problem
(C) bolster a critic’s speculations with supporting evidence
(D) describe a difference between two historical periods
(E) advocate for a change in society’s modes of communication
We saw earlier that A is correct, but notice how B and E go to extremes since the author never goes so far as to recommend a solution or advocate for a change. These are typical examples of Extreme choices—choices that take the information in the passage too far.
True, Eloquent, but Irrelevant Answers
This trap has a lot going for it: It makes a statement that’s true according to the information in the passage but does not answer the question at hand. Just because a choice contains something that’s “in there somewhere” doesn’t mean it’s right, even if it’s impressively written and official-sounding. The question discussed just above contains one of these traps:

(D) describe a difference between two historical periods

In fact, the author absolutely does describe a difference between the medieval and modern periods, but that doesn’t mean this is the primary purpose of the passage. Remember, your job is to answer the question asked, not to find statements that are merely true. Sometimes, true will not equal correct. You’re not searching for truth or beauty on the GRE. You’re searching for answers that get you points.
Answers That Repeat Wording from the Passage
Be wary of answers that use exactly the same wording as the passage. Instead of thinking, “Ahh . . . I remember seeing something like that in the passage—this answer must be right . . . ,” think, “Ahh . . . I remember seeing something like that in the passage. The GRE can be tricky, so this answer is probably wrong.” Pay attention to what the question asks you, and make sure that you choose the answer that best answers the question—not the answer that simply repeats information found in the passage.
Identify the Repeated Wording trap in the following question:
The author discusses the non-repeatability inherent in medieval citizens’ experience of art in lines 19-20 primarily in order to
(A) support Mumford’s contention that medieval citizens attended art events in isolation
(B) support the assertion that medieval life was characterized by alienation
(C) suggest the medieval disdain for the fragmentation of time and the dissociation of event and space
(D) demonstrate Mumford’s belief that the artist’s repertoire was brought to bear to ensure maximum receptivity to the political, social, and religious teachings at the heart of the medieval spectacle
(E) describe an orientation toward art that Mumford believes will be compromised by modern technology
We saw this question earlier, so we know that E is correct. Why is D wrong? It restates part of the passage nearly verbatim. This wording should immediately make you wary of the answer. While D sounds impressive because it comes right out of the passage, it doesn’t represent the reason the author discusses the non-repeatability aspect of medieval art. Notice also that choices A, B, and C contain significant chunks of passage text, perhaps tempting some test takers, but they all go astray for the reasons discussed earlier.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this chapter. Go back and review anything that’s still unclear, take a deep breath, and then dive into the following practice problems.
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