Don’t Trust Your Gut: Evidence-Based Analysis of SAT Critical Reading

Don???t Trust Your Gut: Evidence-Based Analysis of SAT Critical Reading
Every answer choice in the passage-based section is either out of scope or can be affirmed or denied (Photograph by Lynn Koenig/Getty Images)
Photograph by Lynn Koenig/Getty Images

This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by Samhita Noone at Veritas Prep.

Stop relying on your gut.

For many students, Critical Reading passages make up the more abstruse portion of the test. For math, you can learn to recognize certain question types. You can memorize vocabulary and identify key words for sentence completions, and the SAT loves to cover a few hard-and-fast grammar rules over and over again. Unfortunately, no clear-cut rules can help identify an author’s tone or pick out the main theme of a passage. Lack of such rules, however, is no excuse for relying on your gut, which brings us to the crux of this post—do not let confirmation bias be your downfall. This concept becomes even more relevant for the new SAT. One of the College Board’s eight main goals of its redesign is to emphasize a “Command of Evidence.”

Every answer choice in the passage-based section is either out of scope or can be affirmed or denied. I often see students spending their limited time basing their answers off the gist of the passage, and yes, you should only skim the passage on the first go-around. The rest of your time, however, should be spent actively marking out your answer choices and identifying the details that classify the option as correct or incorrect. Do not let your reasoning for selecting an answer consist of the idea that it “sounds right.”

If you find yourself in this boat, take a reading passage or two that you have previously completed, and in an untimed setting, go through every single answer choice and identify the exact line number(s) that allows you to cross out or affirm the choice. This is a painstaking and tedious process that will pay dividends twice over, as it will allow you to outline and affirm your thought process on test day.

Let’s take a look at a sample question to see how we can practice this strategy. The following passage appears on the Official College Board Practice Test #2.

“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been investigating the treatment of women in a major financial services firm since a former executive alleged that she had been underpaid, excluded from outings with clients, and denied promotion because of her gender. If the commission sues the firm, it would be a rare case of the federal government’s taking up the cause of a highly compensated professional in a workplace dispute.”

The passage implies that the federal government traditionally intervenes in workplace disputes that
(A) cannot be resolved in the judicial system;
(B) have repercussions for both men and women;
(C) involve employees at the lower end of the pay scale;
(D) are beyond the authority of state governing bodies;
(E) are not likely to result in further lawsuits.

The correct answer is (C), and yes, it is possible to zone in on that answer without actively considering the other options. But let’s be active and classify every single answer choice with a line number, so we can prove to ourselves that every option has evidence for or against within the passage.

Option (A) — Line 6 Denies
Line 6 implies that the commission may “sue” the firm. The act of suing necessarily involves the judicial system, and thus we can eliminate this answer choice.

Option (B) — Out of Scope
Nowhere does the passage discuss repercussions in general. The passage discusses neither the repercussions of current occurrences nor the repercussions of the commission going forth with a suit.

Option (C) — Lines 6-8 Affirm
These lines specifically state that it would be a “rare case of the federal government’s taking up the cause of a highly compensated professional.” The key words “rare” and “highly compensated” imply that workplace disputes involving professionals who are not as highly compensated are more common (less rare).

Option (D) — Line 8
Line 8 refers to the “federal government’s taking up of the cause,” which demonstrates that the federal government may have authority in this workplace dispute. The federal government having authority, however, does not imply that the state government does not have authority. Nowhere does the passage discuss the authority of state governing bodies.

Option (E) — Line 6
While the use of the word “rare” demonstrates that the commission taking up such a cause would be an uncommon action, the word connotes nothing about the commission’s future actions. Do not confuse the description of the past for a prediction about further action.

The name of the game is justify. I justified every single answer choice in the previous example, and I highly recommend that you do the same. Locate specific details and mull over both the connotations and denotations of each word. You will not have time to be as fastidious on test day, but practicing the process will get you into an attacking and evidence-based thought process.

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