Types of Questions and Answers

Popular choices on difficult SAT questions are traps.

Easy Questions Have Easy, Obvious, Popular Answers—Hard Questions Have Hard, Unexpected, Unpopular Answers
It helps to think of SAT questions as popularity contests. The answer to an easy question is the most popular choice. The answer to a difficult question is the least popular choice. In other words, popular choices on difficult questions are traps.

If you think about the SAT for a moment, you'll realize that questions have to be designed this way. Since a multiple-choice question provides the answer, the only way they can make a question difficult is to camouflage the answer and make the wrong choices more appealing. Another way to look at the choices is whether they are attractive or unattractive. The answer to an easy question will be an attractive choice; that's why it's an easy question. The answer to a difficult question is an unattractive choice; that's why it's a hard question.

What makes a choice attractive or popular will depend on the type of question. On a math question, any easy numbers that seem to solve the problem will be popular choices. On a sentence completion, any easy words that seem reasonable will be popular choices. Sometimes a question will have more than one attractive choice; sometimes it won't have any.

If you're stuck on an easy question, remind yourself that the answer should be easy and obvious. If you're stuck on a hard question, remind yourself that the answer should be hard and unexpected. And if you're stuck on a medium question, remind yourself that the answer shouldn't be too easy or too hard.

Knowing the difficulty of the question you're working on is a powerful clue for checking your work. If you've solved a difficult question but your solution is an obvious choice, one that would attract other students—you've probably made a mistake. Knowing the difficulty of the question is also a powerful tool when you're forced to guess.

Later I'll show you how to apply this principle to the different question types.

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