As we talked about with the SAT reading section question types, the SAT will only ever provide one completely 100% no doubt correct answer choice.  In spite of this, the SAT still has some tricks up its sleeve to try and pull students off the path of ace-ing the test. 

No matter the question type and no matter the answer choices, (pardon the incoming cliche) your best defense will always be a strong offense.  Treat every question like it’s a fill-in-the-blank and come up with your own rock-solid answer before ever looking at the answer choices.  

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If you go into the answer choices with your own answer locked in, your chances of falling into answer choice traps are already significantly lower.  Analyzing answer choice traps should be your safety net to answering correctly- never your only strategy. 

Listed below are seven common traps with which the SAT will try and lead you astray.  Armed with your own unique answers and this guide, you’re sure to approach each question informed, prepared, and set to succeed.

1. The Good with the Bad

Breakdown: answer choice traps that fall under the Good with the Bad category are typically two-part answer choices where one part is correct and the other is juuuust close enough to being correct that at first glance, we might pick it. Two-part answers show up when there is a shift, connection, tension, or change in the passage. 

The Good with the Bad trap relies on you being in a hurry. A lot of the SAT’s trickiness relies on you being in a hurry, in fact. Knowing this, we fight back by taking our time. 

Read the whole answer choice from start to finish. That’s it!  That’s the tip.

I know it doesn’t sound revelatory, but it works.  If you have your own idea of the answer beforehand and you read an answer choice all the way through, you can decide for yourself if each part matches what you already know to be true. 

Let’s look at an example.  Question 27 of your passage asks: Over the course of the passage, the primary focus shifts from… 

We know we’re looking at a Big Picture question, and we know that our answer choices will most likely be two-part answers.  This clues us into the possibility of a Good with the Bad trap.  Our plan of attack is to answer this on our own first and then read each choice all the way through.  Our correct answer is the only one that aligns 100% with our reading of the text. 

2. Incorrect Scope

Breakdown: when approaching a question on the SAT reading section, it’s important to understand the scope of what’s being asked of you. Is it a Big Picture question that wants you to summarize the main idea of the whole passage?  That’s a pretty broad scope. Is it a Detail question asking about Jesse’s face on line 48? That’s a pretty narrow scope. 

Whatever the scope of your question, your answer choice should match. Broad scope question = broad scope answer. Nice and easy!  Where the trouble may come is in tricky answer choices that include some of what was in the passage but have the entirely wrong scope.  

Let’s say I’m trying to find the main argument of a scientist in a passage. I know that I’m going to be summarizing a lot of information and glossing over some of the more tiny details.  I start running behind on timing and rush to the answer choices. When I do, answer B that correctly restates one of the scientist’s results jumps out to me. I choose B. 

Tragedy strikes: I get that question wrong.

Where did I go wrong? The answer is scope. If my question told me to find the main idea, one tiny experiment result isn’t going to cut it.  What happened to me, and to lots of test-takers, is I started to run out of time and I panic-chose the choice that looked closest to something I recognized. Your best friend in the reading section is going to be a small test-appropriate watch.

Keeping on track of time will help you avoid situations like the one above so that you have time to double-check the scope and make sure your answer choice follows the same pattern.

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3. True But Not Correct

Breakdown: True but not Correct and Incorrect Scope answer traps have the same tempting component that may lead us to pick them by accident.  They have a detail that makes them seem true or logical, but in the specific context of our question, they won’t fit perfectly. 

One clue that the answer choice might be True but not Correct is if it feels really familiar, but you can’t find it anywhere in the passage. Oftentimes the SAT will put answer choices in the reading section that either matches popular opinion or sound like common sense. Don’t fall for these traps.

Always, always prove your answer choices to yourself. If the detail is not in the passage, it shouldn’t be part of your answer.

Think of the SAT answer choices as solving a puzzle. All you have to do is figure out the pattern.

4. Imprecise Word Meanings

Breakdown: Imprecise Word Meaning answer choices show up when we’re dealing with Vocab-in-Context questions, and they look similar to ways we might use that vocab word. The Vocab questions, and their answer choices, test you to see whether or not you go back to the text and read through the selected sentence. 

When you see a vocab question, go back to the text, read the whole sentence, replace the vocab word with your own, and only then, come back and look at the answer choices. 

Answering Vocab questions this way helps you avoid falling into the trap of Imprecise Word Meanings. If you come to the answer choices with an idea of context and a word replacement of your own already in mind, you are far less likely to be pulled off course by imprecise meanings. 

Long story short, always go back to the text and come up with a vocab word of your own. It’ll be your not-so-secret weapon.

5 & 6. Wrong Interpretations and Incorrect Labels

Breakdown: For both Wrong Interpretation and Incorrect Label answer choices, the advice is the same. Take the wording on the SAT as literally as possible. If the question asks about a ‘conflict’ in paragraph 4, your answer choice should only be about that conflict. If the passage argues that women in the 1920s “enjoyed fewer rights than men, rendering them separate from political spheres of society,” and an answer choice says women had no rights… It’s a trap. 

Wrong Interpretation arises when information from the text is imprecisely translated into an answer choice. This will often look like over-generalization, vague wording, or mixing words around. 

Incorrect labels rely on your own generalization. Say the question directs you to lines 23-41 of the passage and asks what the purpose of the selection is. A specific and precise summary might be “rising tension between two academic rivals.” If you look at the answer choices and see C: A fight between classmates, you might be tempted to choose C. 

That would be an incorrect and imprecise label for the test selection. 

Basically, if the question points you towards a ‘problem’, make sure you’re answering about a ‘problem’. If you summarize a text selection, make sure your summary and your answer choice are precise and text-based.

7. Backwards Causation

Breakdown: On science and social science passages, you’ll often encounter questions that ask you to correctly order information. Information, like rivers, only flows in one direction. One domino falling down leads to another, then another, then another. But not the other way around. Here is an example I love showing my students. I feel like it makes ordering information really clear. 

Passage text: “…the researchers found that meditating for at least twenty minutes per day caused an increase in attention spans compared to the control group.”

Possible answer choice: “The researchers found that meditation is more likely to be done by people with longer attention spans.”

On first glance, this answer choice looks like it could be the one. It has all the right information. It shows that there’s a connection between the information. 

Just one tiny thing: it’s in the wrong order. Meditation caused longer attention spans in participants. Participants with longer attention spans didn’t choose to meditate

If you keep your information organized and check for its correct direction in your answer choices, you should steer clear of this trap. 


No matter the question type and no matter the answer choice trap, the SAT reading section is consistent about one thing: there is only one right answer. With these strategies and the question breakdowns, combined with practice creating unique answers before looking at the choices, you have all the tools necessary to decipher and conquer your SAT reading section.

Good luck and happy testing!


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