SAT Tip: Attack, Don't Defend

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This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by David Greenslade at Veritas Prep.

It is amazing how quickly people can become attached to things. In some instances, a feeling of attachment can be quite useful, but for wrong answer choices on the SAT, attachment spells disaster. The SAT is designed to make incorrect choices seem plausible. For this reason, every answer choice must be attacked mercilessly, leaving only one standing.

Here is an example:

“The myth of the eventual domination of China over world economic and cultural affairs is hard to believe when visiting the country. What appears to be a cohesive and tightly restricted economic juggernaut from across an ocean, seems much more diverse, fragmented, and fragile when inspected up close.”

The author mentions the “economic juggernaut” most probably to do which of the following:
(a) demonstrate the true domination of the Chinese over the world economy;
(b) suggest that China does not effectively show it’s full potential to foreigners;
(c) show the fragility of many Asian economic institutions;
(d) illustrate the contrast between two perceptions of a place;
(e) show the power of myth in understanding economics.

For the uninitiated test taker, this problem holds a few traps. At first glance, a student may be drawn to answer choice (c). “The passage was more or less arguing that China isn’t as strong as it seems,” the student might say, “so (c) could be saying the same thing.” Already the attachment is forming. Instead of trying to convince oneself of an answer’s effectiveness, one should be attempting to undermine every answer choice. Answer choice (c) has a few glaring weaknesses. The first is the phrase “economic institutions.” Are any specific economic institutions referred to in the passage? There are none. How about the word “many”? Are “many” “institutions” mentioned? There sure aren’t.

By examining the other answer choices with the same critical eye, more errors present themselves. Choice (e) is straight up bonkers and is not supported anywhere in the passage. Answer choice (a) posits that China is truly dominant, but the point of the passage is to contrast China’s appearance of dominance from the outside with what China seems to be from within. Answer choice (b) suggests some subterfuge, that the Chinese are “hiding” their “full potential”, but this is not stated anywhere in the passage. This leaves only answer choice (d). The final sentence states that what China “appears” to be from “across an ocean” is different from the reality of China from within. This supports the idea of two contrasting perceptions. Try as I might, I can’t attack this answer choice, which is why this choice is correct.

The key to attacking answer choices is to question every word of an answer choice, especially the first words. If the answer choice uses the word “argue,” make sure the statement is making an argument. If the answer choice refers to a topic or conclusion, make sure it is either stated or clearly implied by the passage. If you find you have eliminated all the answer choices, go back and check which one is least wrong. There should be a choice that at least does not contradict anything in the passage.

Attacking answer choices puts the test taker on the offensive. Be sure to question every word of an answer choice to make sure it matches what is presented in the passage. Finally, don’t get attached to answer choices. The only answer choice worth defending is the right one, and that answer choice does not need a defense.

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