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Unwritten “Rules” of ACT and SAT Multiple Choice

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In this lesson we’re going to go “under the hood” of ACT and SAT multiple choice questions. Specifically, we’re going to examine three unwritten “rules” that apply to every multiple choice section of each exam. Understanding these rules can give you an edge when dealing with a difficult question that seems to have no clearly correct answer.


One Correct Answer per Question

Each question on the ACT and SAT much be designed in such a way that there can be only a single correct answer. This means that concepts, such as critical reading, that don’t naturally lend themselves to simple right or wrong answers must be radically simplified. ACT and SAT Reading cannot ask open-ended or deliberately-vague questions, corrects answer must be directly supported by the text, and each answer choice must be different. On ACT English and SAT Writing and Language, neither exam can include questions that deal with grammar rules that fall into the realm of “contested usage.” For example, the exams are not allowed to make you choose between including and omitting a final comma before a conjunction in a list of three or more items.


The Same Type of Error in Multiple Answer Choices

Learning to identify the same type of error among answer choices can help you to quickly eliminate wrong answers. When you see one type of error in an answer choice, there is a good chance that at least one more of the answer choices for that question commit the same error. Let’s say a particular ACT English answer choice would produce a comma splice. It is likely that one or more of the remaining choices would create a comma splice, fused sentence, or run-on sentence.


A Unique Choice is more likely to be Correct

This one is closely-related to the previous rule. The more things that answer choices have in common, the lower the chances that those choices are correct. While this doesn’t guarantee that a “unique” answer choice is the correct choice, it does dramatically increase the chance of it being so. Using ACT English as an example again, if three of the choices insert commas in various places and the remaining choice contains no commas, the “no comma” choice is most likely the right choice.

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