Success on SAT Critical Reading depends on more than just being able to read well. You also need to be able to recognize what the test makers consider a wrong answer choice. The more practice you do, the more you’ll start to think like the test makers and quickly spot correct and incorrect answers.

As you work through each reading question, read all the answer choices and cross out any incorrect answers. A seemingly correct answer might have a hidden problem, so it’s important to first check each answer choice before moving on to the next question.


As you eliminate choices, look for these common wrong answer traps:

1. The answer is too extreme. This is one of the most common wrong answer traps. If two answers seem correct, the less extreme choice will nearly always be right.

2. A vocabulary-in-context answer defines a word using the most literal or common meaning. When you’re asked the definition of a word in the passage, the correct meaning of that word will nearly always be a secondary or figurative one. This is the opposite of sentence completion questions, where the most common or literal meaning usually is the correct one.

3. The attitude of the author toward something she writes about is indifference or unconcern. If the author took the time to write about something, they’re never indifferent toward it. They may not like it, but they certainly care enough about it one way or the other to take the time to address it.

4. The answer contains something that was mentioned in the passage and is true, but it doesn’t address the question being asked. The SAT is hoping you’ll choose this answer as soon as you recognize some details from the passage. If the answer doesn’t accurately respond to the question being asked, however, move on.

5. The answer uses technical-sounding language that doesn’t describe the passage. Many wrong answers will describe the passage as containing things like “scholarly analysis,” “historical catalog” or “detailed chronology.” If the passage as a whole doesn’t really do these things (which it usually doesn’t), then the answer will be incorrect.

6. The answer is correct except for one small word or phrase that makes it wrong. Always be on the lookout for “sleeper phrases,” or small words or details that can make an otherwise correct answer incorrect.

7. The topic of the passage is specific, but the answer makes the topic seem much more general and broad. If the passage is about banks in Georgia during the 1920s, a wrong answer might say that the passage is about the U.S. monetary system in the 20th The answer is thematically related, but it’s way too broad to accurately reflect the passage.

8. The answer is more specific than the passage warrants. If the passage is about the U.S. monetary system, and only mentions 1920s banks in Georgia in passing, then a wrong answer might claim the passage is about the 1920s Georgia banks.

9. The answer is the exact opposite of the correct answer. These are usually among the easiest incorrect answers to spot, but just make sure you don’t accidentally select one of these by mistake!

Sign up for my popular newsletter for more free SAT/ACT and admissions tips.