The SSAT’s Trick “Right” Answers

While it’s no secret that fractions and metaphors appear on the SSAT, wading through its incorrect answers could be a test all its own! The SSAT purposefully makes their incorrect answers temping, making seperating a correct answer from four incorrect ones more like prying than coaxing. 

But don’t fret! This test makes quick work of skimmers, fence-sitters, and panickers, so slow down and make use of these tips to identify and avoid trick “right” answers.  

The Associated Word

The Verbal section is challenging, to say the least. Do you know three languages? How about basic legalese? Horse breeds?

Even if you answered “Yes!”, you could still fall into the pithole of the Associated Word. Not glaringly incorrect, this word usually exists in the same context as the word in question, eliciting that same spark of recognition that accompanies finding the actual correct answer. For example:


(A) cavity
(B) lake
(C) mountain
(D) sphere

Pretend you don’t know what a crater is. Using context, you might realize that you’ve heard this word before when studying the planets, namely the Moon. And look, that’s one of the options! But before you scribble in that bubble, remember that although craters are a part of moons, they aren’t synonymous. Look at the Moon- it’s pretty hole-y! Like that CAVITY you had to get filled…

Try thinking up a sentence with the question’s word and sub in your selection to see if it still makes sense. This will catch most Associated Words while defining your word’s context and part of speech, both of which help define what a truly synonymous word is.   

The Miscalculation 

The SSAT Math sections are their own special kind of tricksy. Even independent of the SSAT, math is unforgiving in that you must do every single step exactly correctly or you will get the entire question wrong. With this in mind, the SSAT surrounds each question’s correct answer with the products of four different misreadings or miscalculations:  

Adam is going to split his field in half lengthwise to share with his cousin. If the entire field is twice as long as it is wide and 40 meters long, what is the area of Adam’s cousin’s share in meters squared?

(A) 80
(B) 120
(C) 400
(D) 1800
(E) 1,600

Did you forget to cut the field in half? Maybe see “perimeter” instead of “area”? Think the field’s length is half its width? Answers you would have gotten after making those mistakes and more are all present in the options, waiting…

Tackle each question step-by-step and underline your exact goal to cut out any confusion. You might also label each amount you find to keep all those numbers straight. This will eventually lead you to realizations such as a square’s perimeter could be the same as its area, but don’t worry; that’s not the SSAT trying to foil you, just math itself.  

The Bait-and-Switch

Admiral Ackbar would definitely have something to say about the Reading section’s “correct correct correct oh wait no” answer option. These kinds of options would be correct if not for their almost imperceptible divergence from the text, making both them and the urge to doubt yourself tempting. “Well, this is mostly right, so maybe I just misread the passage” you might muse. 

You didn’t misread the passage, the answer option did! For example:

“Edison was constantly experimenting. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical light bulb. A local newspaper reporter nicknamed him “The Wizard of Menlo Park” because he was one of the most prolific inventors in history.” 

According to line 8-9, Edison was most likely called “The Wizard of Menlo Park” because

(A) He used magic
(B) He taught at an academy in Menlo Park
(C) He convinced the residents of Menlo Park that he had supernatural powers
(D) He produced an impressive number of inventions in Menlo Park
(E) He was a skilled newspaper writer

Look at all those common words! Options (B) and (C) take “Menlo Park” from the passage and question to tempt you, while (A) and (C) both rely on “Wizard” to make you think Edison’s label meant he had literal magic or supernatural powers. Finally, (E) includes “newspaper” from the passage’s final sentence. All are incorrect. 

Attractive to skimmers who, by definition, rely merely on key words instead of their sum, this word-jumbling easily creates confusion.    

However, you can conquer these questions in two ways. The first is ignorance. Only applicable to questions that are completely independent of their answer options (i.e. “What does Anna call her father’s horse?”), this strategy requires you to ignore the answer options altogether, looking only for the key words in the passage that make up the question. This way, you can build your own answer directly from the passage to compare to the options and select whichever most closely matches.  

Of course, questions that require you to read the options (“Which of the following is stated or implied in the passage?”) need a slightly different approach. Scan the passage for key words from the answer options, then read (not skim) that information to see whether it matches.  

Next time you’re practicing, try covering up answer options. Answering questions independent of the answer options forces you to read them carefully, keeping you safe from these trick ‘right’ answers and skimming, the very thing the former relies on. Courageously leave behind that scaffolding and put your faith in yourself.

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