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ACT and SAT Reading: Reasonable Inferences

Madison E.

Every correct answer on the ACT and SAT Reading sections must be directly supported by the passages in some way. The exams try to obscure this seemingly-simple fact with questions that sound more open-ended than they actually are. One common example of this obfuscation is questions that ask what can “reasonably be inferred” from a passage.


In order to conform to the “directly supported” rule, ACT and SAT inferences must be more limited and literal than the kinds of inferences you can make in a high school literature class. Here are some examples of what the ACT and SAT do and do not consider a “reasonable inference.”


Inferences from a Single Sentence

When Angela met Rick at the park, she was wearing a Braves baseball cap that he had never seen her wear before.


Reasonable Inferences

  • Angela has never worn her Braves baseball cap in the presence of Rick.
  • Angel put the Braves cap on before she met Rick at the park.


Unreasonable Inferences

  • Angela got the cap recently. (The sentence doesn’t say how long Angela has had the cap.)
  • Angela has never worn the cap before. (She could have worn the cap outside the presence of Rick on any number of occasions.)
  • Angela bought the cap, OR Angela borrowed the cap. (We don’t have enough information to say how Angela came to possess the cap.)
  • Angela wore the cap because it was hot outside. (It could have been a fashion choice.)


Inferences from Two or More Sentences

Julian enjoys watching soccer.

Julian prefers to watch American sports leagues.


Reasonable Inferences

  • Julian prefers watching Major League Soccer (an American soccer league) over Premier League (an English soccer league).
  • Given the choice, Julian would prefer to watch an American soccer game over a game from another country.


Unreasonable Inferences

  • The only sport Julian watches is soccer. (The sentences don’t say that Julian watches soccer exclusively.)
  • Julian only watches American soccer leagues. (Preferring to watch one type of league does not exclude the possibility of watching other types of leagues.)
  • Julian enjoys playing soccer. (Watching a sport is not equivalent to playing that sport.)


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