May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor on Test Day

Ever notice how the answer choices on the SAT (and ACT) critical reading passages are, well, not exactly right and not totally wrong? This ambiguity is intentional by the SAT writers. They will make sure that none of the answer choices are a straight-forward answer to the question. That’s why we tell students to look for “The Least Stupid Answer” rather than looking for the right answer. To illustrate how the SAT does this, let’s take a look at a short passage from The Hunger Games, a book that most of us probably know:

The Following is an excerpt from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a dystopic novel set in the near-future.

Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam. I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbed-wire loops. In theory, it’s supposed to be electrified twenty-four hours a day as a deterrent to predators that live in the woods – packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears –that used to threaten our streets. But since we’re lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings, it’s usually safe to touch. Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live. Right now, it’s silent as a stone. Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out on my belly and slide under a two-foot stretch that’s been loose for years. There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this one is so close to home I almost always enter the woods here.

As soon as I’m in the trees, I retrieve a bow and sheath of arrows from a hollow log. Electrified or not, the fence has been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12. Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths to follow. But there’s also food if you know how to find it. My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury. I was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming for him to run.

1. The tone of the first paragraph is primarily one of

A)     Qualified skepticism

B)      Anxious dread

C)      Detached analysis

D)     Nostalgic longing

E)      Sardonic conviction

2. It can be inferred from the passage that

A)     The narrator is not supposed to go past the fence.

B)      The Meadow is part of District 12.

C)      The fence is the only means of protection from wild animals.

D)     This is the narrator’s first time to venture into the Meadow.

E)      Predators sometimes get through the weak spots in the fence.

3. The purpose of the lines “My father knew and he taught me some…Five years later, I still wake up screaming for him to run” is to convey the narrator’s

A)     Confidence in her ability to find food

B)      Apprehensions about going into the Meadow

C)      Inability to let go of the past

D)     Skepticism that her father’s death was an accident

E)      Regret for something she had failed to do

Answers: 1) C, 2) A, 3) A

Notice how the SAT questions and answer choices can make a story that most of us have seen or read tricky! This is on purpose to make you reason through the questions. As you look forward to the SAT and ACT, be sure to ELIMATE WRONG ANSWERS and look for the LEAST STUPID ANSWER.

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