Stuck Between Two Answer Choices? Here’s How to Get Unstuck

It’s SAT and ACT reading time and you know the drill: skim and annotate the passage, dive into the questions and start to eliminate answer choices based on your understanding of the passage.  While this approach to SAT and ACT reading is excellent, it fails to address a common challenge: what do you do if two answer choices both seem possible? 

You know you have been there before; even after eliminating some answer choices, you are still stuck between two potential answer choices and both seem correct. So how do you get unstuck?  Getting unstuck is about asking yourself a simple question: “Which answer choice is most supported by the evidence in the passage?”  In order to answer this question, you will need to do a deep dive into the details of the two options and compare the exact words to the evidence in the passage. The one best answer choice will be supported by the same tone, structure and words as written in the passage. For example, one of the questions on SAT Practice Test #8 asks the following: The main purpose of lines 1-10 (“Even…awaited me”) is to A) introduce the characters who play a part in the narrator’s story. B) list the difficult conditions the narrator endured in childhood. C) describe the passion that dries the actions the narrator recounts.  D) depict the narrator’s aspirations before he met Sempere.  To uncover the best answer, go back to the passage. Here are lines 1-10 for reference:  Even then my only friends were made of paper and ink. At school I learned to read and write long before the other children. Where my school friends saw notches of ink on incomprehensible pages, I saw light, streets, and people. Words and the mystery of their hidden science fascinated me, and I saw in them a key with which I could unlock a boundless world, a safe haven from that home, those streets, and those troubled days in which even I could sense that only a limited fortune awaited me. At a quick glance, it is pretty easy to eliminate two answer choices: with no introduction of characters, the answer cannot be A, and there is no mention of any aspirations, so D is out. But what about B and C? Both seem to hint at some evidence. Might both be possible? How do you differentiate between these two?  Get unstuck by answering, “Which answer choice is most supported by the evidence in the passage?”  Choice B offers “troubled days” and “limited fortuned.” But is this a list? Don’t you need more than two conditions to constitute a list? And are these really difficult conditions of childhood? Troubled days, yes, but the limited fortune is in the future, not during childhood. It appears we may not have the evidence for that one.  Choice C, on the other hand, talks about “the passion” and lines 1-10 offer many passionate expressions: “I saw light,” “mystery,” “fascinated,” “unlock a boundless world,” and maybe even “safe haven.” There is a ton of evidence to support the answer choice here.  So clearly choice C offers more evidence. It is the answer to the question “Which answer choice is most supported by the evidence in the passage?”  For reading, the devil is in the details. Each word matters. Each word connects (or lacks a connection) to the evidence in the passage. For an answer choice to be the best (i.e. correct), the words must mimic the evidence from the passage more than any other answer choice. So get unstuck between two possible answer choices by connecting back to whichever answer choice offers more evidence.  Get unstuck on other SAT and ACT problems with help from CROSSWALK. The Monterey Peninsula’s resource for academic tutoring, test prep and more, CROSSWALK is here to help. 

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