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?
||12d – 12
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:
Halloween night, five-year old Dilbert was ---- to discover that
he had received more candy than ever before.
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:
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.
||suffer from obesity, but around
||suffer, from obesity but around
||suffer from obesity, and
||suffer from obesity, although
||suffer from obesity since
Writing section multiple-choice questions test grammar.
In grammar there’s only right and wrong. In other words, no traps.