SAT Traps
SAT Traps
SAT traps are those tricky answer choices that seem right but are actually wrong. The SAT knows you’re going to be a little nervous when you take the test. Here’s how nervous people take tests like the SAT:
  • They cruise through the test until they encounter a question that they can’t answer immediately.
  • They think, “Oh, I’ll just peek down at the answers to see if I’m on the right track. . . .”
  • Bang! An SAT trap lures them into an answer that seems right at a quick glance but is actually incorrect.
To detect SAT traps, the first step is to know they’re out there. The second is to understand that unless you approach the answer choices with a plan, you will fall prey to their nasty tricks. This means that unless you’ve made a conscious decision to eliminate answers, you shouldn’t even look at the answers until you’ve got your own answer. And if you are eliminating answers, recognize that traps are probably hiding in several of the answer choices, trying to trick you. Once you can spot the traps in a question, you can eliminate them, which tips the guessing odds in your favor.
An SAT trap can be many things, but it will never be the right answer. What makes SAT traps feel correct even though they’re wrong? That depends on which section of the test you’re taking.
Math Traps: The Right Wrong Answers
Math traps look right because they’re the answers you’re most likely to get if you make a simple mistake. The SAT writers have been working on math tests for a long time, and they know exactly how students will flub a question. So the SAT puts the most common wrong answers in the answer choices. Then, when students make a mistake and see their wrong answer sitting there like a great big friendly affirmation, they’re likely to choose that answer rather than check their work and look for another. Here’s an example SAT math question:
If q = 4, what is 3d(4 – 3q) in terms of d?
(A) –24d
(B) –5d
(C) 0
(D) 12d – 12
(E) 24d
The right answer to this question is A. But, as is often the case on SAT math questions, each of the wrong answers is a trap. Here’s why:
  • If you substituted in the 4 to get 3d(4 – 12) = 3d(–8) and then did some gnarly thing where you thought you could subtract 8 from 3d, you’d get an answer of –5d, answer B.
  • If you substituted in the 4 and forgot to multiply it by 3, you’d get 3d(4 – 4) = 3d(0) = 0, answer C.
  • If you forgot about the 4 in (4 – 3q), you’d get 12d – 12, answer D.
  • If you did all the math correctly, but then forgot about the minus sign, you’d get 24d, answer E.
And if you were confused from the beginning, desperate to answer something, anything, and you peeked at the answer choices to get a clue, it wouldn’t be very hard to convince yourself (in your state of panicked desperation) that any of the answers could be correct.
Critical Reading Traps: Spurious Associations
SAT traps thrive on Sentence Completion and Reading Comprehension questions. These traps carry out their trickery through spurious association. (Spurious means false; it just sounds cooler.) Spurious association traps make it seem as if they fit into the question by associating themselves with a feeling or idea in the question. But they’re really just fakes. An example will make this easier to grasp:
On Halloween night, five-year old Dilbert was ---- to discover that he had received more candy than ever before.
(A) terrified
(B) delighted
(C) nonplussed
(D) distraught
(E) famished
The answer is B. But if you were speeding through the test and saw that the sentence was about Halloween, you may have just figured it’d be natural for five-year-old Dilbert to end up terrified, A. Or, if you saw the reference to candy, you might think of hunger, which would lead you to famished, E. The words in the answer choices seem to make sense because they have some association with incidental facts in the question. To a nervous test-taker grasping for right answers fast, these can look mighty sweet.
You may also have noticed that while it’s likely that on a Math question all the wrong answers are traps of some sort or another, on Critical Reading questions only one or two of the answer choices will be traps.
Writing Traps: Don’t Exist
And now for some good news: The Writing section doesn’t have any SAT traps. The multiple-choice questions and the essay section don’t accommodate the kind of misleading answer choices on which SAT traps thrive. Take this example, from an Improving Paragraphs SAT Writing section question:
Which of the following is the best way to revise the underlined portion of sentence 2, reprinted below?
Sixty-one percent of adults suffer from obesity, but around 3,000 people die every year from diseases directly related to it.
(A) suffer from obesity, but around
(B) suffer, from obesity but around
(C) suffer from obesity, and
(D) suffer from obesity, although
(E) suffer from obesity since
Writing section multiple-choice questions test grammar. In grammar there’s only right and wrong. In other words, no traps.
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error