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Test Rules that Apply to Both the ACT and SAT





SAT/ACT Test Preparation Slide Image

This week, we’re going to look at test “rules” that apply equally to both the ACT and SAT. While the ACT and SAT have several important design differences, they also operate in a similar manner “under the hood.” This is especially true now that the SAT has been redesigned as the new format is much closer to the ACT than the previous version was.


Shorter and simpler is better

All things being equal, the shortest and simplest answer to an ACT or SAT question will be the correct one. This rule is most obvious on the ACT English and SAT Writing and Language sections, which prioritize clarity, consistency, and concision.  However, “simpler is better” holds true for other sections of the tests as well. For instance, correct answers to ACT and SAT Reading questions that ask students what a pair of passages have in common are looking for the broadest similarity between the passages. Another example can be found on ACT Science data presentations and the various charts, graphs, and tables scattered throughout the SAT. The answer that offers the simplest interpretation and makes the fewest assumptions is almost always the correct choice.


Wrong answers represent common mistakes

Virtually none of the wrong answer choices on either the ACT or SAT are random. On the contrary, wrong choices usually represent the kinds of mistakes that the test designers expect students to make. The wrong answers to ACT and SAT Math questions are all “solutions” a student can arrive at if he or she skips a step, sets an equation up incorrectly, or makes another basic math error. Incorrect choices on the Reading sections involve common critical reading mistakes, such as confusing key concepts or making overly-broad assumptions about concepts implied but not directly stated in the passage. Wrong answers to ACT English and SAT Writing grammar questions almost always contain minor punctuation errors that a student can miss if he or she is not paying close enough attention to details.


Some answer choices are never correct

Designing multiple standardized tests every school year represents a massive workload. Understandably, ACT and SAT test designers have a number of shortcuts to make this process just a bit more manageable. One of these shortcuts is a collection of stock answer choices that cannot ever be correct. If a designer has exhausted the options for “common errors” answers, he or she will typically fill the remaining choice(s) with one of these “automatically wrong” answers. A good example is the use of its’ on the ACT English and SAT Writing sections. Because its’ is a made up word, it is always wrong, regardless of the question. Another example from the English and Writing sections is the word being, which is always used incorrectly in answer choices.

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