The SAT Prep Black Book


A Selection of Challenging Questions

By now you should have a pretty strong idea of the proper application of the Passage-Based Reading strategies. Remember at all times that the critical element for all questions is to find the correct answer directly on the page, in black and white, with no inference or interpretation. Remember that it will often be necessary to read very carefully and make fine distinctions among the exact meanings of particular words in order to distinguish wrong answers from right answers.

              Now that we’ve gone through a section of Passage-Based Reading questions, let’s take a look at a sample of some of the more challenging questions from the College Board’s Blue Book, the Official SAT Study Guide.

These questions are some of the ones that students have asked me about the most over the years. Like all Passage-Based Reading questions, they can be answered correctly and with total certainty if we read the text and the answer choices very carefully and follow the rules of the SAT. So it’s not that these questions do anything differently from the questions that are less challenging; it’s just that they are sometimes a bit more subtle about what they’re doing.

(If you would like to see some video demonstrations of these ideas, go to for a selection of demonstration videos that are free to readers of this book.)

As with other question explanations in this book, you’ll need a copy of the College Board’s Blue Book to follow along. Let’s get started—and remember, these questions are generally among the ones that other students have struggled with most, so don’t worry that every question on the test will be as challenging as these are.

I highly recommend that you follow along with these solutions as a way to continue to improve your understanding of Passage-Based Reading questions and how to answer them.

Page 403, Question 11

This is one of those questions that asks us how the author of one passage would respond to an idea from another passage. As always, we’ll answer it by looking directly in the text.

The enthusiasm in the second passage is felt with regard to “the mechanization that he saw around him” in line 13. So we need to find something in the first passage that mentions an idea related to mechanization or enthusiasm.

Passage 1 talks about “the forces of industrialization and urbanization,” which is essentially the same idea in this context as the “mechanization” referred to in the second passage. So let’s take a look and see what the first passage has to say about the “industrialization and urbanization.”

It says that Americans “protested the intrusion” of “industrialization and urbanization.” In other words, they didn’t like it—by definition, if you “protest” something, you must be against it. Passage 1 also says that Thoreau’s book is “an illustration of the intensity” of that protest. Along the same lines, the earlier part of the text calls Thoreau the “epitome” of this anti-industrial protest. So Thoreau is the embodiment (the “epitome” and “illustration”) of this protest.

Passage 2, though, said that Thoreau was sometimes “enthusiastic” about the mechanization.

This goes with choice (E), which says that Thoreau’s enthusiasm was at odds with what people thought about his attitudes. Again, the first passage says that people see Thoreau as the epitome of an anti-industrial feeling, but the second passage says he was sometimes enthusiastic about it. So (E) is correct.

The other answer choices don’t work for a variety of reasons. (B) is the direct contradiction of what passage 1 says. So is (C). (D) might be an interesting interpretation, but the text never says anything about Thoreau’s feelings being shaped by his experiment.

Page 459, Question 10

To understand why (C) is the correct answer here, we need to know about a certain stylistic construction in English that many students are unaware of: in English, if we say that something is “as X as it is Y,” we mean that it is very X and very Y, not just that it is equally X and Y.

For instance, if I said “that dog is as beautiful as he is smart,” I don’t just mean that the dog is equally beautiful and smart—I’m not saying that he’s kind of rough-looking and also pretty stupid. I’m saying that he’s extremely beautiful and also extremely smart. So this construction doesn’t just indicate equality between two attributes; it also indicates an abundance of both attributes.

For this reason, when the text says something is “as widespread as it is wrong,” it’s emphasizing that the widespread-ness and the wrong-ness are both extreme. This is why the answer is (C). We might like to think of this as one of those “demonstration” kinds of questions I mentioned earlier, in which the specific structure of the relevant text indicates the answer. But, again, in order to get this, we have to be familiar with the “as X as it is Y” construction, and a lot of students just aren’t.

But don’t worry about this question too much. For one thing, if you ever happen to see another SAT question about a phrase in the “as X as it is Y” structure, you’ll know what to do. But, more importantly, you’re probably never going to see another real SAT question exactly like this. As I mentioned earlier, these “demonstration” questions are pretty rare.

The other choices don’t work because nothing in the text indicates that the author is wistful, dismayed, ambivalent, or apologetic.

Page 462, Question 25

This difficult question combines two challenging elements. First, we have to realize that it’s actually Lewis’s remark that illustrates for us what Bobby is saying, because the two ideas are stated in succession and joined by the word “and” at the beginning of Lewis’s quote (remember that the College Board treats two ideas stated in this way as though they were synonyms). Second, we have to realize that Lewis’s remark can be considered humorous by the College Board because it can’t be taken literally.

Lewis says that people who lie down until a feeling passes will be in the cemetery before they think about getting up. There are two ways to take this statement, and both are impossible: Either he means that people will be dead and buried in the cemetery and then think about getting up, or he means that they will lie down somewhere else and somehow be transported to the cemetery without getting up. Either interpretation is logically impossible, so the College Board can refer to this remark as a humorous one, meaning that the answer is (C).

On top of that, the phrase can be taken as a ‘synonym’ of Bobby’s remark because Lewis begins his remark with the word “and.”

This is one of the more challenging questions in the book, in my opinion. But, as always, we can still find a reliable answer if we stick to the rules of the test that were previously explained in this book, and read the text carefully.

Page 479, Question 17

This is one of the questions we mentioned in the discussion of “demonstration” questions. Here, the phrase “captured the dim silver glow of street lamps, bounced against sidewalks in glistening sparks, then disappeared like tiny ephemeral jewels” is a direct example of the “vivid imagery” mentioned in choice (B), because “imagery” means “visually descriptive language,” and those phrases are visual descriptions. So (B) is correct.

Some students choose (C) incorrectly here—the wording of these phrases doesn’t satisfy the College Board’s requirement for “humorous” texts, because it doesn’t describe something that can’t be taken literally. It’s possible for streetlights to have a “dim silver glow,” and it’s possible for raindrops to bounce and glisten, and it’s possible for them to be like jewels—notice the text doesn’t say raindrops are jewels, which would be impossible; it says they are “like jewels” (emphasis mine).

This question is just one more example of how important it is to read everything very carefully and to keep the unwritten rules of the SAT firmly in your mind when you work on these questions.

Page 521, Question 10

Students often miss this question because they don’t catch the connection between the phrase “robust media profits” in line 15 and the phrase “economic well-being” in choice (E), which is the correct answer. If we say that something is “robust,” we mean that it’s strong, healthy, functional, et cetera. So if profits are robust, there is economic well-being.

(A) doesn’t work because the idea of “core values” only appears in the first passage, but we were asked to find something that was only in the second passage. This is a classic type of wrong answer for a question that asks us to find something from one passage but not the other, and something you definitely have to look out for—simply misreading “passage 2” as “passage 1” or vice versa could lead you to believe that this choice was valid.

(B) doesn’t work because both texts specifically mention Rosensteil.

(C) doesn’t work because the second passage doesn’t mention the history of journalism.

(D) doesn’t work because sensationalism appears in both passages.

Page 523, Question 18

Like many challenging Passage-Based Reading question, this one is difficult because we have to read very carefully, not because we have to make any kind of inference or have very advanced vocabularies.

First, we need to look carefully to see what the text says “scientists originally thought.” We see that what they originally thought was “that the purpose of yawning was to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood or to release some accumulated carbon dioxide.”

The question asks us to find the answer choice that disproves what scientists originally thought, so we have to find the choice that disproves the idea that people yawn to increase oxygen in their blood or to release carbon dioxide.

(A) might look promising at first, because it mentions carbon dioxide and breathing rates, which appear together in the sentence that runs from lines 49 to 52.

(B) is irrelevant because it mentions sleep, and the text doesn’t say that scientists originally thought yawning had anything to do with sleep. The text just says they thought it had to do with oxygen or carbon dioxide.

(C) would be supporting what scientists originally thought: they originally thought that yawning was a mechanism to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood, and this choice says exactly that. This is a classic example of a wrong answer that does exactly the opposite of what we were asked to do. The College Board includes these types of wrong answers because they know that some students will get sort of ‘turned around’ if they’re asked to contradict something, and accidentally end up restating it.

(D) would tend to disprove what scientists thought. The text says that scientists thought people yawned because they needed to increase their blood oxygen; this choice points out that people don’t yawn very much in places where the oxygen is low. If what the scientists originally thought were correct, we would expect people in low-oxygen environments to yawn a lot, so they would get more oxygen into their blood.

(E) would also support what scientists originally thought, just like (C). One of the things that scientists originally thought was that yawning was a way to release carbon dioxide, and this choice says people yawn more when their carbon dioxide levels are higher.

So on a first read-through, you might end up kind of liking both (A) and (D). Now it’s time to scrutinize those two choices and see which one ends up working, and which one has a flaw. (A) talks about breathing rates, but the text only tells us what scientists thought about yawning. The idea of breathing faster is mentioned later in the paragraph, but not as part of what “scientists originally thought” in line 46. So now we have to ask ourselves whether a breathing rate is the same thing as a yawn. The answer is no, it isn’t. While yawning might be related to breathing rates if we tried to force ourselves to see a connection between them, the fact remains that the text says scientists had a belief about the purpose of yawning, not a belief about how anything affected the breathing rate per se. So, after careful consideration, we see that (A) was never actually a direct fit with the text, while (D) talks about people in a low-oxygen environment not yawning a lot, which would contradict the idea that people yawn because they need more oxygen. So (D) is the correct answer.

Page 538, Question 7

This is one of the questions that students ask about more than any other. Most people who answer it incorrectly choose (E). The paragraph does describe the author’s childhood artistic endeavors, and the author’s desire to be a “Renaissance artist,” but the text does not specifically say that it was the wish to be a Renaissance artist that led to a “devotion to visual arts.” There are at least two major problems with this phrase.

First, the author indicates that he was drawing and painting before he began writing poems, and he seems to be equating writing poems with the desire to be a Renaissance artist, so that desire can’t be the thing that “initiated a devotion to the visual arts,” since he was already devoted to the visual arts before he had the desire to write poems.

Second, the phrase “visual arts” doesn’t fit with the author’s explanation of what it means to be a “Renaissance artist.” The author says that being such an artist involves writing, painting, composing, and inventing; from that list, only painting is a “visual art.” So the desire to be a Renaissance artist must involve more than the desire to devote oneself to the “visual arts.”

(C) ends up being correct because of the parenthetical phrase “too seriously!” in the original text. We have to read really carefully here, and we have to be somewhat aware of the meanings of the words “naïve” and “grandiose” (or we have to be able to realize that the other four choices don’t work). People often think “naïve” can only mean “inexperienced,” but it can also mean something along the lines of “sincere” or “direct.” This goes with the idea of being “serious.” The word “grandiose” in this context indicates that someone has an exaggerated sense of his own abilities or importance, and the word “too” in the text before “seriously” indicates that the author considers his youthful commitment to have been excessive.

Finally, the word “ambition” from the answer choices goes with the part of the text that says the author “wanted to be a Renaissance artist.” Remember that the College Board wants us to treat ideas stated in succession as though they were synonyms, so the author’s statement about wanting to be an artist can be taken into consideration for this question.

It’s subtle, but it’s there: the phrase “too seriously!” matches with the words “naïve and grandiose,” and the word “ambition” matches with the phrase “I wanted to be.”

Remember, as always, that it’s absolutely critical to pay attention to details in answer choices and in the relevant parts of the text!

Page 540, Question 12

This question often seems weird to students because they have a hard time seeing how a “monster” can be a “process.” But we have to remember that answering these questions is always a matter of seeing exactly what’s in the text, and the text here says that “everything . . . issues . . . from a benign monster called manufacture,” which means the “benign monster” is the source of “everything.” (The verb “to issue from” means “to come from” in this case.) So the text says that everything comes from this “benign monster,” which is why (C) is right when it says we’re talking about the process by which these goods come into existence.

Page 577, Question 9

This is one of the best questions in the entire Blue Book when it comes to demonstrating the various ways that the College Board can make an answer choice wrong even though it might sound like an intelligent analysis of the text.

The correct answer here is (C). The word “insights” goes with “penetrating intuition;” the word “character” goes with “female heart” (“heart” is meant in the sense of “core” or “essence,” not in the anatomical sense); the phrase “in his everyday life” goes with “the real man.” The text says that people who were drawn to him because of his insight into people’s hearts were surprised that the real man was actually insensitive; the answer choice says that Balzac’s knowledge of character wasn’t present in his everyday life.

Now let’s talk about a couple of the wrong answers, and what makes them wrong. Pay special attention here, because this question has some uniquely frustrating wrong answers.

(A) is basically the opposite of the text—the text says that female readers were drawn to him.

(B) is basically the opposite of an earlier part of the text. Line 2 says Balzac’s fiction was “financially wise.”

(C) is correct.

(D) is fairly close to the text, but doesn’t repeat it exactly. The text says that people who knew “the real man” were “appalled to discover” how he was, and that seems pretty close to the answer choice’s ideas of knowing him “personally” and not being able to “respect him.” The problem here is the phrase “as an artist,” which isn’t reflected in the text. It might feel like a natural assumption to think that being appalled by someone in person would cause you to lose respect for the person as an artist, but we have to remember that the College Board is extremely nit-picky about these kinds of things. We can’t make assumptions when we’re looking for the answers; if it doesn’t specifically mention how people felt about Balzac as an artist, then we can’t choose (D).

(E) is probably the sneakiest choice of all. The text definitely says that people were “appalled to discover” how Balzac was, and this choice says that people expected Balzac to be a certain way. The main problem here is the word “unreasonable”—the text never indicates whether readers were reasonable when they expected Balzac to live up to the expectations they formed from reading his work. Remember that a difference of even one word from the text is enough to make an answer choice wrong.

Page 579, Question 15

This is yet another example of a question that is extremely, extremely nit-picky. Almost everyone who misses this question chooses (D), because the text says in line 41 that “only the male’s initials” were eventually on the token. But here’s the problem: the question asks about “the seventeenth century,” but line 41 is talking about “the late eighteenth century.” So (D) is restating an idea from the passage that applies to a timeframe different from the one the question asked about. The correct answer is (E), because the text says that “in the . . . seventeenth century, . . . tokens . . . carried the initials of the man’s and woman’s first names and the couple’s surname.” Later, it describes a seventeenth-century woman who “confidently joined in the family . . . business.”

As always, it’s critical to pay attention to every detail in every answer choice.

Page 580, Question 23

So-called “tone” questions like this are typically answered by finding a phrase in the text that reflects the definition of the correct answer choice. For instance, if (A) were the correct answer here, we’d have to see phrases in the passages like “those wonderful years of the past that will never return,” because that would be an example of “affectionate nostalgia.”

Here, we have a special case: neither text uses any kind of language that betrays any particular tone, so the answer is (B), because being “analytical” and “detached” essentially means that you write with no emotion at all.

Some people see words like “agitating” in line 91 and assume that the correct answer is either (C), which mentions “regret,” or (D), which mentions “indignation.” But there are several problems with this type of thinking, from an SAT standpoint. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, “agitating” for something is not precisely the same thing as feeling “regret” or “indignation.” It’s true that agitation, regret, and indignation are all negative emotions, but they’re not the same as one another. Further, if we read line 91 carefully, we see that the author is not the one doing the agitating; instead, the author is referring to another person’s agitation. The text itself can still maintain an analytical tone even though it’s referring to someone else being agitated.

Page 588, Question 9

Students often miss this question because they don’t know all the meanings of the word “authority.” Most people think that the word refers to someone with some kind of official power over others, like a police officer; they might also think it refers to a recognized expert in a field. But the word “authority” can be used in general to refer to anyone who is the source of a quote, idea, influence, et cetera. So (E) basically says “quotes someone.” That’s why it’s correct: the author of passage 1 quotes someone directly, while the author of passage 2 does not.

Page 589, Question 10

This question is a great example of how we sometimes have to trace concepts back through the text in order to figure out which answer choice is restating it accurately.

Almost everyone chooses (D) because the word “humorous” seems to fit nicely with “funny,” “good joke,” and “laughed” from the text. But the text also includes the idea of “mak[ing] matters worse,” which seems a little odd if (D) is going to be correct, and might make us read a bit more carefully. Remember that the question is asking how Waverly felt about the advertisement, but the words “funny,” “joke,” and “laughed” are describing how the company at the table reacted to Waverly herself, which is a different thing. Furthermore, even if we accidentally like “humorous,” we have a problem because the word “effective” isn’t reflected anywhere in the text at all.

The correct answer is (A), because of the phrase “not sophisticated” in line 8. But, if you read carefully (and you should be reading carefully!), you’ll notice that the question asks how Waverly characterizes the advertisement, but line 8 is a quote from June’s mother. Why is that suddenly okay?

It’s okay because the quote from June’s mother comes directly after Waverly’s quote, and it begins with the word “true,” which indicates that June’s mother is agreeing with whatever Waverly just said. So Waverly says what she says, and then the mom says, “true . . . June is not sophisticated.” According to the rules of SAT Reading that we’ve discussed in this book, this means we can equate Waverly’s remark with the idea that June is “not sophisticated.”

That’s why “unsophisticated and heavy-handed” is correct. “Unsophisticated” is a pretty clear restatement of “not sophisticated,” and “heavy-handed” is basically a synonym for “unsophisticated” or for the idea of lacking “style.”

Page 592, Question 20

This question is challenging for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it’s one of those questions that ask us to think about an author’s argument, which means the correct answer might technically involve concepts not explicitly stated in the text (for a refresher on those questions, see the article called “Special Cases: Parallelism And Demonstration” earlier in this book). For another thing, the question is basically a double-reversal, because it asks for the answer choice that “detracts least,” which can be confusing for a lot of people.

But, as with any confusing SAT question, the key thing here is to remain calm, read very carefully, and pick our way through each phrase as we come to it.

Since the question asks for the choice that would detract the least from the argument, we should expect to find four wrong answers that all detract from the argument in some way, and one correct answer that does not detract at all. (Don’t be put off by the word “least.” Remember that the College Board deliberately attempts to mislead students by using these kinds of relative terms, but the SAT only has value if each question has exactly one correct answer, and the only way to achieve that is to avoid interpretation and deal in absolutes.)

Now we have to figure out what the argument is that the author is making in the cited lines. In those lines, the author makes a few related points. He says we have a “human need to wake by day and sleep by night.” He says, “night is when we dream, and . . . reality is warped.” He says, “we are accustomed to mastering our world by day,” but at night we are “vulnerable as prey,” so bats seem to “threaten” our “safety.”

Now let’s take a look at the answer choices. Remember, we’re looking for the one answer choice that does NOT detract from the argument in the text.

(A) does detract, because the argument says that people wake by day and sleep by night, but this choice says that many people do the opposite.

(B) also detracts, because the argument says that things that hunt at night scare us, but this choice says that some things that hunt at night don’t scare us.

(C) also detracts, because the argument says that the night is when we are prey, but this choice says that some dangerous things hunt during the day.

(D) also detracts, because the entire paragraph is full of references to how “we,” as humans, dislike bats because they are active at night. This choice says that some humans think of bats positively.

(E) is the correct answer because it does NOT detract from the argument—in fact, it’s not really relevant to the argument at all. The original argument does say something about “reality” being “warped” during “dreamtime,” but it doesn’t say anything about where dream imagery comes from. Since the argument doesn’t make any claims about the source of dream imagery, this statement about the source of dream imagery can’t contradict the argument.

Page 607, Question 13

I just wanted to touch on this question briefly because students who have used other preparation materials before are often put off by the word “scornful,” which seems extreme to them. (There are some tutors and books that claim that extreme answer choices are never correct on the SAT.)

So I wanted to use this question to point out that we don’t really need to worry about whether answer choices are extreme or not; all that matters is whether they restate ideas from the text. If the text is extreme (and this particular text is quite extreme), then correct answers that describe the text accurately will also have to be extreme. This is why it’s okay for (B) to be correct here.

Page 607, Question 14

This question troubles a lot of students. Most of the people who miss it seem to choose (D), because line 49 of the text talks about “manipulators and manipulated, actors and imitators, simulants and simulated, stupefiers and stupefied.” But the text never talks about “blurring the line” between those groups, so (D) doesn’t work. Remember: every part of the answer choice has to be reflected in the original text!

(E) is right because of statements like “all these theories are rather unconvincing” in line 36.

Page 645, Question 7

Students often miss this question because of not reading the text and the answer choices carefully enough. Most people who miss the question either choose (A) or (B).

(A) is wrong for a couple of reasons, but the largest is probably the phrase “literary persona.” The article talks about Wilson “speaking directly through his letters,” but a “literary persona” would be a false personality deliberately adopted when writing a work of literature.

(B) doesn’t work because the text doesn’t actually mention whether Wilson was mature. It says he was direct, and that he wrote the same way at every stage of his life, but it doesn’t actually say that when he was young he wrote with the maturity of an older man. For all we know from the text, it might be that even as an old man he wrote with the immaturity of a young man.

(E) ends up being correct because the passage says that the same kind of writing (speaking “directly” and “informal(ly) for the most part,” et cetera) appears in letters Wilson wrote when he was “young, middle-aged, and old,” which means his style was consistent.

Page 646, Question 10

This is another question that often tricks students who don’t read carefully enough. Most people who miss the question choose (D), but (D) talks about “the discovery of the Andromeda galaxy,” which isn’t mentioned in the text at all. The idea of “Andromeda” is mentioned, but its discovery is not.

(B) ends up being correct because the text describes a now-extinct primate being alive, which is a “differen[ce].” (The footnote tells us that Australopithecus is extinct.) The word “dramatize” in this context basically means “illustrate” or “demonstrate.” “Two million years ago” is exactly from the text.

Page 649, Question 23

This question stumps a lot of people. The important thing with these “attitude” questions is to remember that the answer must be spelled out in specific phrases within the text, so we have to look for those. We don’t answer a question like this (or any other question) by just going with a rough idea of our impression of the text; we answer questions by finding choices that specifically restate the text.

Here, (E) is correct. Line 32 says that most people are “out of their depth” when considering real art; to be “out of your depth” means to be too unintelligent or inexperienced to deal with a new situation, so this is a “condescending” remark. Lines 4 and 5 say that “people in general” are not members of a “special class,” but that the special class isn’t necessarily “better;” this is a “tolerant” remark.

Let’s take a look at what makes the wrong answers wrong:

(A) doesn’t work because of “puzzled.” The author never says that the majority of people puzzle him, or that he can’t understand anything about them.

(B) doesn’t work because the author never specifically says anything hostile about the majority of people, either. He never says that he wishes anything painful or devastating would happen to them, even though it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have much respect for their intellectual abilities.

(C) doesn’t work because the author never says anything to indicate that he respects the majority of people.

(D) doesn’t work because the author never says that he doesn’t care about the majority of people, which is what “indifferent” would require if it were going to be the correct answer to this question.

Page 674, Question 9

This question often seems challenging at first, but if we remember to follow the text carefully we can get through it. Most students, instead, try to answer it by interpreting the passage from a literary standpoint, which can only bring trouble.

The sentences about Clayton’s complexion appear at the end of a paragraph about Clayton’s behavior and appearance. That paragraph indicates that his sense of humor was a “counterpoint to his own beliefs,” indicating that at least one aspect of his personality seems to contradict another aspect of it. This is why (A), which mentions his “complicated nature,” is the correct answer.

The other choices can’t be right, since the text doesn’t mention him being erratic, complacent, loyal, or argumentative in the text surrounding the citation.

This question often causes students to give up on the idea of finding an answer spelled out on the page, so it’s a very good example of how we must always insist on an objective answer, even when there doesn’t seem to be one at first.

Page 707, Question 8

People often fail to read this question carefully enough, and get it wrong as a result.

Many people incorrectly choose (B), because the first passage mentions an “exclusive” “concern” with “classification,” while the second passage mentions the ways certain scientific “possibilities” are “limit[ed]” (lines 18 and 19). But the problem with (B) is that the answer choice talks about the limits on “present-day science,” while passage 1 talks about an exclusive concern that lasted “for the next hundred years” after Linnaeus’s work, which happened in the 18th century according to line 1. So the first passage is talking about a limit that existed for 100 years after the 18th century, which means it wouldn’t apply to “present-day science,” since the present day is much more than 100 years after the 18th century.

(A) ends up being correct because the first author refers to Linnaeus’s “enormous and essential contribution to natural history,” while the second author mentions “the value of the tool [Linnaeus] gave natural science.” (For this answer choice, it helps to realize that the terms “natural history” and “natural science” both refer to an area of study that is probably best known these days as “biology.” In other words, “natural science” and “natural history” are synonyms, even if the words “science” and “history” aren’t synonyms by themselves.)

Once again, the test gives us an excellent reminder of the importance of reading everything very carefully.

Page 708, Question 11

Here, as always, it will be very important to read the question, the answer choices, and the relevant text extremely carefully to make sure we don’t fall for any traps.

The correct answer is (C) because the text describes how an actor would seem to die in one movie and then reappear alive, and transformed into someone new, in a later movie (lines 11 through 14). It then talks about movies being “illusions” in line 18 and their characters as “imaginary” in line 24, so (C) is correct.

Many people choose (E), which seems like a very similar choice, but we have to be careful to note the differences between (E) and (C). (E) says that the actual plots of the movies were implausible, but this doesn’t reflect the original text if we read carefully. The original text describes somebody dying in one movie and then appearing alive and in a different costume in another movie. So we’re not talking about a plot in which someone dies and is resurrected and transformed, which might be “implausible;” we’re talking about one movie in which someone dies (which is plausible) and another movie where another character played by the same actor is an “Arab sheik” (which, again, is plausible). So the idea of a story with an implausible plot being told doesn’t fit the text; the text says that people were upset to realize that the actual things on the screen couldn’t be real, since people who died in one movie were alive in a later movie. It doesn’t say that the individual plot of a particular movie itself was implausible.

By the way, while we’re on the subject of this question, let’s talk about the very fine difference between an “imaginary” “illusion” and something that is “implausible.” If something is “implausible,” it is difficult to imagine or believe. On the other hand, if something is “imaginary,” then it’s not real. It’s possible that something could be imaginary while still being quite plausible: a short story about a child who draws on the sidewalk with chalk could be a work of fiction (and therefore imaginary) while still being very believable (and therefore plausible).

In most classroom situations, if you referred to an illusion as something “implausible,” your teacher would probably have no problem with that; on the SAT, though, these kinds of subtle distinctions matter. The text describes things that didn’t happen; it doesn’t specifically describe the plot of any movie as “implausible.”

Page 725, Question 11

This question often looks challenging to test-takers, but, if we stay calm and consider each choice carefully, remembering that we want to find an answer choice that’s directly reflected in the text, we can work through it fairly easily.

(A) is wrong because the text doesn’t specifically say anything about the particular spots where things are found, and it doesn’t say anything about “social significance,” even though it mentions “social structures” in line 9.

(B) works because the text specifically says “much less is known” about a civilization “because linguists have yet to decipher the . . . script found on recovered objects.” In other words, it specifically says that the reason we don’t know as much about the Indus civilization is that we don’t understand its language, which means that understanding its language would help us know much more than we know right now. Note the similarities between “decipher” and “decode.” So (B) is correct.

(C) doesn’t work because the text doesn’t specifically mention any such similarities. It does talk about social structures, and it does talk about old cultures, but it doesn’t specifically say that structures of old cultures were all similar to one another.

(D) doesn’t work for a variety of reasons. For one thing, there is a difference between “learn[ing] the language” and “decipher[ing] the script” of a language—we could learn to decipher written texts without actually knowing how to speak the language of that text. Another problem is the word “effective”—nothing in the text gives any specific indication of what would constitute “effective” archaeology.

(E) doesn’t work because the text only mentions “Harappan script.” It doesn’t make any generalizations about other “ancient languages.”

Page 727, Question 19

This is one of those questions in which the College Board gives credit for an answer choice involving the idea of humor, but most test-takers don’t find anything humorous in the text.

(B) is correct because the phrase “wickedness incarnate” can’t be meant literally—remember that the College Board will be okay with us calling things humorous (or, in this, calling something a “parody”) when the text describes something that can’t be taken literally. “Incarnate” literally means “made into flesh” (note the similarities of the roots in “incarnate” and “carnivore.”) So the text would be saying that people on the Right think that “government regulations” are always “wickedness incarnate.” (You may want to read lines 82 - 84 carefully to see what I’m talking about. The text says that some people are afraid of good news because it would mean that regulations can sometimes be “something other than wickedness incarnate.” This means that their assumption is that all regulations are normally “wickedness incarnate.”) The idea of “people with certain political leanings” from the answer choice matches with the phrase “the Right” in line 82: people on “the Right” tend to be conservatives.

(C) also talks about “humor,” but the phrase “deep longing of the author” has no parallel in the text.

Page 763, Question 7

This is a question in which we’re asked to find an answer choice with a scenario that parallels a scenario in the text. Strictly speaking, these kinds of questions can involve finding answer choices with concepts that aren’t directly stated in the text, but the relationships among the concepts will still be exactly the same as what appears in the text.

In this question, we need to start by figuring out what “the problem presented in the passage” actually is. We see that it’s “the difficulty . . . in narrating personal experience in one language when one has lived in another.” This must be the “problem . . . in the passage,” because “difficulty” in line 6 is the only word that matches up with “problem” from the question.

So we’re looking for an example of somebody narrating in one language after living in another language.

(A) doesn’t work because it doesn’t even mention narrating things.

(B) doesn’t work because it’s talking about an assumption—like (A), it doesn’t even mention narrating personal events.

(C) doesn’t work for a few reasons; perhaps the easiest to spot is that it’s not talking about multiple languages.

(D) is correct because it talks about somebody trying to “articulate” things in “English,” even though he is “Russian.” So we have the idea of multiple languages, and we have the idea of articulation to match the text’s reference to narration.

(E) doesn’t work because the answer choice doesn’t indicate which languages the journalist might be working in; it also doesn’t say which language(s) she would be writing in. Even if we assume she would write in Japanese for the Japanese audience and in English for the American audience, as many students do assume, that wouldn’t parallel the text, because the text is talking about living in one language and then writing in another.

Page 764, Question 11

Here we have another great example of a question that test-takers often miss because they read it as though they were in a classroom discussion.

The correct answer is (E) because the cited text talks about women “exerting influence on political events” by doing the tasks mentioned in the question, and (E) says those tasks are “examples of political activities.”

Many students incorrectly choose (A), (C), or (D), because these choices are fairly close to the text and would probably be decent interpretations of the text. But we have to remember not to interpret the text at all when we’re working on the SAT. So (A) fails because the text doesn’t specifically say whether those activities “altered the course” of anything. (C) is wrong because the text doesn’t say that women were unable to do anything besides those activities. (D) is wrong because the text doesn’t say whether those activities directly affected households or not.

Page 767, Question 21

This is another question in which we have to look carefully at the text and find the answer choice that parallels the situation described in the text. With a question like this, the key thing to do is to read really carefully, as always.

The phrase “essential lessons” in the text is referring to what “young animals may be learning” in the previous line, which is “the limits of their strength and how to control themselves among others.” So we need an answer choice that reflects this.

(A) doesn’t work because, among other things, it doesn’t specifically indicate that the class is “young.”

(B) is correct because it incorporates the idea of being “young” and the idea of being on a team, which would necessarily involve being around others.

(C) doesn’t work because it doesn’t specifically mention the idea of the child being around other children.

(D) doesn’t work because it doesn’t say that the bear is a “young animal.”

(E) doesn’t work because it doesn’t mention the idea of the kitten being around other animals.

Page 783, Question 15

Students often miss this question, along with many others about these two passages, because they make assumptions about what the author means, instead of reading carefully.

The relevant text says that “both the . . . inner voice . . . and the . . . literary or stylistic voice are . . . sexed.”

(A) is wrong because the text never mentions the idea of “stylistic problems” being created for the “writer.”

(B) is wrong because the author never mentions a preference on the part of the reader. A lot of students mistakenly choose this answer because they think it would make sense that people would prefer a writer of their own gender, but the text never says anything about a preference.

(C) doesn’t work because the text doesn’t mention romantic love.

(D) is correct because it restates exactly what appears in the text. The text says that the “stylistic voice” is “sexed.” The word “voice” can refer to a writer’s specific way of expressing himself, so the phrase “stylistic voice” in the text means exactly the same thing as “use of language” in the answer choice. If something is “sexed,” it means that it has typical characteristics of one gender, so saying that the “stylistic voice” is “sexed” is the same thing as saying that the “use of language” is “shape[d]” by “gender.”

(E) is another commonly chosen wrong answer. It doesn’t work because nothing in the text talks about a reader having difficulty expressing his own voice. The text talks about the fact that it’s sometimes hard for the reader to imagine the writer’s voice if the writer is of a different gender. Once more, we see how critical it is to read every detail of every answer choice, and to take nothing for granted!

Page 793, Question 11

Students often have a lot of questions about this passage. As always, those questions tend to arise from not reading carefully enough.

Here, we’re asked to find an answer choice that reflects Mulcahy’s mood or attitude at the time that he “smile[s]” in line 33. The rest of the sentence that mentions the smile says that Mulcahy feels “a kind of pity, mingled with contempt and dry amusement.” So we want an answer choice that reflects those emotions.

Many people like (A), but (A) has problems that keep it from being correct. The original text doesn’t say that Mulcahy feels pity for himself, but (A) mentions “self-pity.” The original text also doesn’t specifically say anything about being cynical or skeptical in those lines.

Some people also like (D), but the text doesn’t specifically talk about “disappointment,” even if it seems natural to assume that someone who has just been fired might be disappointed.

(E) ends up being correct because the phrase “condescending sympathy” goes with “a kind of pity,” while “amused scorn” in the answer choice goes with “amusement” and “contempt” in the text.

Page 827, Question 13

People often miss this question because they don’t stop to think about the specific meanings of the words “that” and “how,” and about the difference between those meanings.

In this context, the word “that” indicates the existence of a particular fact; when the author says “I can show that Fido is alert,” he means that he can demonstrate the truth of a particular fact, which is the fact that the dog is alert to something.

In this context, the word “how” indicates the specific way in which something is happening. When the author says he can’t show “how [Fido is alert],” he’s saying that he can’t demonstrate the specific way in which Fido is alert.

If we put these ideas together, we see that the author is saying he can show the truth of the alertness, but not the way the alertness works.

When we realize that “awareness” and “alertness” are synonyms in this context, and when we realize that the phrase “the nature of” goes with the idea of “how” something happens, we see that (D) restates what the author says, so it’s the correct answer.

People who get this wrong tend to choose all four of the wrong answers with more-or-less equal frequency, so let’s take a look at them.

(A) doesn’t work because the difference between “seeing” and “believing” is mentioned in lines 39 and 40, and it’s not mentioned in connection with the difference between “that” and “how” that we’re being asked about. This is a great example of how we have to read very carefully to make sure that we’re choosing an answer choice that combines the right ideas from the text.

(B) doesn’t work because the text doesn’t mention how the cat perceives things.

(C) doesn’t work because the text doesn’t mention anything to do with the difference between a hypothesis and a speculation.

(E) might seem attractive at first, because the text does mention “falsifyingly literal representations” in line 44. But there’s a problem here: the text doesn’t say anything to match with the phrase “accurate representations” in this answer choice.

Page 828, Question 16

This question is yet another good example of how we have to read very carefully when we work on the SAT. It’s also a good example of the way we have to be willing to treat consecutive statements as synonymous on the Passage-Based Reading questions. The first sentence of the essay talks about “two warring souls,” and then line 6 talks about “the tension between race pride and identification with the nation as a whole.” The idea of “tension” between two things in that second sentence goes with the idea of “warring” in the first sentence, so the two “souls” at “war” are “race pride” and “identification with the nation as a whole.”

That’s exactly what (C) refers to, which is why (C) is correct.

Again, it’s important to read everything carefully, and to force ourselves to find the answer in the text. A lot of people just talk themselves into (B), (D), or (E) because they don’t insist on finding an exact match in the text.

Page 846, Question 24

This question seems to be asking us to speculate about how something in one passage would be applied to another passage. In these types of questions, it’s critical to remember that no speculation is actually called for. We’ll find the correct answer directly in the text, as always.

In the final paragraph of passage 2, the author says, “. . . the shrillest critics are not necessarily the most authoritative.” He adds that “the very shrillness of their cries . . . quickly exhausts their wind.”

The majority of passage 1 is dedicated to a variety of criticisms.

The correct answer, then, is (E), which talks about how critics who are “loud” will have influences that are “short-lived.” Notice how “loud” goes with “shrill” in the text, while “short-lived” goes with the idea of the critics being “quickly exhaust[ed].”

None of the other choices reflects anything that the author of passage 2 mentions in the last paragraph. That paragraph doesn’t talk about constructive advice, conforming to public opinion, being widely read, or being taken seriously.

Page 856, Question 19

People who miss this question almost always do so because they give up on the idea of finding the answer directly in the text, and just talk themselves into something so they can move on. But the answer is in the text for this question, just like it is for every other Passage-Based Reading question on a real SAT.

In the second line of the italicized print at the beginning of the passage, we learn that the narrator is writing about “his grandmother, Susan Ward.” In line 10, we learn about “the grandfather she [Susan Ward] was writing about.”

So both the narrator and Susan Ward are writing about a grandparent, which makes (C) correct.

Let this question serve as a reminder of two things. First, it’s important to remember that the answer is always spelled out in the text, no matter how much difficulty we might have in identifying that from time to time. Second, it’s important to remember not to give up looking for the correct answer—if you decide that something is weird about this question and you just take your best guess, you’ve basically made a decision to give points away for no reason.

Page 901, Question 19

This question asks about an assumption, but, as always, we’ll find the correct answer choice by reading the relevant text very carefully. The quote we were told to read says, “’Adaptation follows a different path in each person. The nervous system creates its own paths. You’re the neurologist—you must see this all the time.’”

Note that the last sentence of the quote says, in black and white, that the reason the listener must know about the nervous system is that he sees it all the time, since he’s a neurologist. The text isn’t requiring us to know anything about neurology; we don’t have to make any assumptions about what neurologists do or don’t know. Instead, the quoted text specifically says that a neurologist “must” (emphasis mine) be familiar with how the nervous system adapts.

This fits with choice (C), which says “all neurologists are aware” of the “adaptability.” Note how “adaptability” from the answer choice fits with “adaptation” in line 37. So (C) is correct.

Some students get hung up on the phrase “all neurologists,” because the quote in the text is only directed at a single neurologist. But “all” is appropriate here, since we were asked to figure out which assumption underlies the quote: if it were possible for there to be any neurologists who didn’t know about adaptation, then the statement “you must know because you’re a neurologist” wouldn’t make any sense. So the assumption must be that all neurologists know about it.

Some of the wrong answers incorrectly combine concepts that appear in the passage. (B), for instance, includes the idea of different paths, the idea of understanding, and the idea of neurologists, but it doesn’t tie those ideas together in the same way the text does. We have to make sure we don’t talk ourselves into this kind of answer!

Page 914, Question 23

This question gives a lot of students the impression that they need to interpret the text, since the passage is a work of fiction and the question is asking about a character’s emotional state. But it’s important for us to remember that literary interpretation is never the way to go on the SAT.

In line 45, we’re told that the young clerk “was cut to the heart,” and that he felt like Akakyevitch was saying “I am your brother.”

So the correct answer here is (E), which says that the clerk feels “compassion.” To understand why, it might help to know that the expression “to be cut to the heart” means something like “to be profoundly moved.” Further, the word “compassion” literally means that we feel something with someone else.

In the text, the clerk watches Akakyevitch getting teased, and the clerk himself feels “cut to the heart.” In other words, the clerk feels a deep emotion in response to watching Akakyevitch’s suffering. This is what “compassion” means by definition.

Most of the other answer choices don’t make any sense relative to the text—from a literary standpoint we might be able to explain a choice like “fear” by saying that the new clerk might have been afraid he would be harassed like Akakyevitch, but on the SAT that doesn’t work, since the passage never mentions the new clerk being nervous or worried about being targeted.

Some people also like the choice “confusion,” because the text says the clerk “thought . . . he heard other” “words.” But the rest of the text in that sentence doesn’t describe someone being confused or unsure of himself; it describes someone feeling an emotion in response to watching someone else be tormented. When the text says that the clerk thought he heard other words, then, it means that the clerk was so moved that he felt as though Akakyevitch were crying out “I am your brother.” This is the only way to read the text that makes the rest of the sentence have any coherent meaning.

Page 922, Question 14

The College Board often asks us about the function of quotation marks in a passage. If quotation marks are used in an SAT passage without the quote being attributed to a specific source, then they are being used to show that the author doesn’t completely agree with the way someone else would use a particular word. Think of these quotation marks like the “air-quotes” that people sometimes make with their fingers while they’re speaking, to show that they’re using a word or phrase in a way that they might not personally agree with.

In this case, the authors of both passages are showing that they don’t agree with the common uses of the words “frees,” “verbs,” “nouns,” “stealing,” or “property” in the contexts in which they are used in these passages. So the correct answer is (D).

Remember that when the SAT asks about the usage of quotation marks for unattributed quotes, the correct answer will involve the idea that the author does not agree with the common usages of the phrases in quotes.

Page 963, Question 16

A lot of test-takers miss this question because they make the mistake of trying to analyze the text. But if we adopt the more passive, reactive approach of simply checking through the answer choices to see which one is supported by the text, we’ll find the answer with much less difficulty.

(A) doesn’t work because no actual “event” is being “dramatized” here. In other words, the joke isn’t describing anything that actually happened—jokes, by their nature, are fictional.

(B) doesn’t work because there is no particular point being argued within or by the joke itself. The essay as a whole is arguing a point, as all essays do, but the joke isn’t arguing a point by itself. Since the question asked us about the role of the joke in the passage, and not about the role of the passage overall, (B) is wrong.

(C) is the correct answer because the text says, in line 33, that the joke “allows me to jump right into an idea . . .” The idea that the author can now “jump right into” after telling the joke is the “topic” being “introduc[ed]” in the answer choice.

(D) is wrong because the joke doesn’t involve defining any terms.

(E) is wrong because of the word “misleading,” among other things. It’s true that the end of the joke does involve the word “assume,” and it’s true that cows aren’t spherical, but the text itself never says that the assumption is “misleading.” This is yet another example of how careful we have to be not to impose our own interpretation on the text; in order for this answer choice to be correct, the text would have to say directly that the assumption was false or misleading. Since it doesn’t say that, (E) is wrong.

Page 976, Question 24

Of all the questions in the “Trabb’s boy” passage, this is the one that students ask about the most often. Many of them get caught up in the phrase “pervasive comic strategy” in the question prompt, because they don’t feel like they know what that phrase means. But we can actually work around that phrase by remembering that the correct answer must reflect something that appears directly in the text. So let’s go through the answer choices and see what we have:

(A) can’t work because the onlooking townspeople don’t say anything in the entire passage.

(B) works because the author says his “position was a distinguished one” in line 9, which indicates that he had a sense of dignity, and because Trabb’s boy is clearly engaging in what we might call “antics.” So (B) is correct.

(C) is wrong because the author never says that he didn’t understand anything.

(D) doesn’t work because the text doesn’t invoke fate to “rationalize human faults.” The text does mention “fate” in the first paragraph, but there’s no rationalization of anything. In other words, there is no attempt by the author to explain something away by relying on, or referring to, fate.

(E) doesn’t work because the townspeople are ridiculing the author, not the boy. This is another example of how the College Board likes to create wrong answers that involve major concepts from the text but don’t reflect the correct relationships among those concepts.

Page 985, Question 16

This is another question that asks us how the author of one passage might respond to something from another passage. As always, we’ll find the answer spelled out directly in the text.

The academic historians in the first passage “have not given [Williamsburg] the significance it deserves,” according to lines 8 and 9, and have “dismiss[ed] it” and seen it as “harmless but amusing.”

But, starting in line 82, the author of passage 2 says that Williamsburg is a “crime against art and history” that is evidence of “an established element of popular culture” that “has also given a license to destroy.”

Choice (E) is correct then. The phrase “fail to take seriously” in the answer choice goes with the phrases “dismiss” and “harmless but amusing” in passage 1. The phrase “damage done” in the answer choice goes with the idea of the “license to destroy” in passage 2. The phrase “cultural trend” in the answer choice goes with the phrase “established element of popular culture” in passage 2.

(A) is incorrect because the academics in passage 1 never say anything about how much history can be learned.

(B) is incorrect because the author of passage 2 also thinks the environments are an “established element of popular culture.”

(C) doesn’t work because the academics don’t say anything about the necessity of simplifying history.

(D) doesn’t work because the academics don’t endorse anything.


Now that we’ve gone through a lot of these Passage-Based Reading questions, you’re probably beginning to be able to find the correct answers pretty reliably. Your abilities will improve with practice, especially when you have to figure out questions that seem challenging at first. Hang in there, and keep the rules of the test in mind!

If you’d like to see a selection of free video solutions to help you keep improving, then check out