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What Ambiguous-Sounding SAT and ACT Verbal Questions Words Really Mean

The SAT and ACT are standardized tests, meaning they can have only one correct answer for each multiple choice question. As we’ve talked about in the past, however, both exams like to use ambiguous-sounding language to make questions appear more open-ended than they actually are. This trick is especially prevalent on the SAT and ACT verbal sections. Certain key words in the questions have different meanings than they do in the real world. In this lesson, we’re going to examine some of the favorite words used by test designers on the verbal sections and what these words really mean on the SAT and ACT.


Least and Best

On the SAT and ACT least means “incorrect” and best means “correct.”


Here is an example of a least question commonly-used on ACT English:


Which of the following choices would be the LEAST acceptable?


Now here is what this sentence actually means:


One of the following answer choices is incorrect. Pick that choice.


Best shows up on both ACT and SAT Reading. However, it is particularly prominent on the latter because of SAT Reading “best evidence” questions:


Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?


In this type of question, best means pick the answer that correctly presents the same information as the correct answer to the “previous” question but in a slightly different way.


Implied and Inferred

In the world of SAT and ACT Reading, implied and inferred translate to “connect the dots” or “the next logical step.” The ideas you need to answer an implied/inferred question are still found in the passage. They just aren’t spelled out for you.


Here is an example of how an inferred question might be phrased on ACT Reading:


It can reasonably be inferred that in relation to the events in the passage, the party referred to by the narrator in the second paragraph takes place:


  1. On the same day
  2. Several days earlier
  3. Several days later
  4. Several years later


Now let’s pretend that we’ve read this imaginary passage. In the second paragraph, we found the following detail:


“She was preparing for a party this Thursday…”


We know that the answer can’t be choice “A” because the party is not “today.” We also know that it can’t be “B” because “this” indicates a future event. The month and year of the party are not mentioned in the passage, so we can assume the passage is talking about the near future. Therefore, choice “C” must be correct.