ACT and SAT Reading Tips: Opposite Answer Traps

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If only one answer Opposite.jpgcan be right on the ACT and SAT Reading sections, then three other answers are wrong. The test makers carefully write these wrong answer choices, intentionally using language and ideas that trick unsuspecting test takers. Learning how these incorrect answers are crafted can help you spot them, which is why eliminating wrong answers can sometimes be easier than determining the right answer.

One type of answer trap is the Opposite Answer.  Be on the lookout for an answer choice that has a meaning that is opposite of your prephrase, or your predicted answer. These Opposite Answers play on students’ self-doubt, as many test takers will assume they misunderstood the passage and that it actually said the opposite of what they originally understood. Do not doubt your initial reading unless you reread the text and have a new understanding!

Let’s look at an example of an Opposite Answer using a simplified passage:


Start by rephrasing the question: Why does the narrator remember the festival with fondness?

Then create a prephrase before looking at the answer choices: he loved the festival because he could acknowledge his German ancestry and participate in traditional German activities.

Now match an answer: the best choice is (D).

Some students, however, will read choice (B) and hesitate. It uses the phrase German heritage from lines 1-2, but it presents an OPPOSITE idea from your prephrase: that instead of acknowledging his culture, he hid it, as conceal  is the opposite of acknowledge. Sadly, some students will read this answer choice and assume they misread the passage. They select (B) without ever reading the last two answer choices.

This is obviously a very simplified version of an Opposite Answer, but you can imagine how answers like these become fairly attractive in long, dense passages where students already question their ability to understand such text. Be confident in your prephrase or in your reading of the text and avoid answers with an opposite meaning.

Want to see examples of these answer traps on the ACT and SAT? Check out the following questions using the tests here:

ACT: Test #1, Section 3, #8:
The answer is (H), "jealousy." But look at both (F), "joy" and (J), "respect." Both are the opposite of jealousy.

SAT: Test #5, Section 1, #42:The answer is (C), "call into question." But notice (A), "demonstrate the validity." Proving that something is true is the opposite of challenging it.

Need more tips? Consider an ACT tutor or course!

Image: "Opposites" courtesy of GavinLi