Right Answers vs. Best Answers
On the PSAT/SAT Math sections, you’ll be able to point to objective mathematical concepts in order to justify the right answer as correct, even in the absence of any other possible answer choices. The correct answers in the Verbal sections of the PSAT/SAT are subjectively correct in the context of the other answer choices. In the Math sections, there is always going to be a RIGHT answer. In the Verbal sections, there is one answer that is BEST out of the four options presented.
So what does this mean for my MATH test-taking strategy?
Your strategy for Math sections should be to build fluency in the math concepts tested on the PSAT/SAT, with an end goal of obtaining mastery of all math concepts that could be tested. There are quite a lot of concepts that might appear on the PSAT/SAT; so start reviewing them now!
And what does this mean for my VERBAL test-taking strategy?
Your strategy for Verbal sections should be based around the understanding that every verbal question on the PSAT and SAT has three answers that are definitely wrong, there only to justify the correct answer. Know what they look like!
OUT OF SCOPE
Correct answers should match their questions in scope. If a question is broad, asking about the main idea of the passage as a whole, a wrong answer might be too narrow, giving instead a smaller idea mentioned in only one paragraph. Alternatively, if a question is asking for the author’s purpose in using a specific phrase, a wrong answer might be too broad, perhaps giving the author’s purpose in writing the whole passage.
These are pernicious, and can be hard to spot. Even one word can make an entire answer choice wrong. Think of it this way: if you were vegan, and a friend made you lasagna, and you asked them “is this vegan?” and their answer was, “mostly”… would that be an acceptable answer?
These wrong answers will attempt to distract from the correct answer by being familiar, and thus, look more appealing to the casual reader than the correct answer. Watch out for answers that don’t correctly answer the question, but which use words or concepts from elsewhere in the passage, or which rely on outside knowledge.
Wrong answers might be more extreme than the correct answer; for example, “The author rejects the established theory” is less likely to be correct than “The author considers the alternative hypothesis to be more plausible than the established theory”. Avoid absolutes in your answer choices, and look out for answer choices that go a step too far.
Many wrong answers can be so convincing, even great test takers get taken in by them. Post the trickiest wrong answers you find in the comments section below; in a follow-up post, we’ll show you how you can avoid traps like them in the future!