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SAT Prep: Evil SAT Trick of the Week

Posted in Test Prep on April 26, 2010 by

Alex Sarlin, Knewton’s resident Archangel, is also the Lead Verbal Developer for our SAT course, where he helps good triumph over evil, one SAT score at a time.

The SAT is not evil. It is a normal multiple-choice test that you take in a normal classroom with a normal #2 pencil. The questions all have five answers, and one is always right. They only keep you for a few hours, and they just want to know a few things about your math, writing and reading skills, if you don’t mind. The people who make the SAT live and work in a very pretty, green college town–Princeton, New Jersey. For all we know, they are loving mothers and fathers, giving brothers and sisters, kind friends and all-around pleasant people. They’re nerds who spend a lot of time thinking about gerund antecedents and the annuli of circles. We at Knewton can certainly relate to that.

However, some of the tricks that these otherwise nice people use to trap test-takers are… well, evil. Growling, snarling, howling, with bloodshot eyes and fangs. Straight out of h-e-double hockey sticks. Mean.

Happily, if you’re one of the lucky few taking the test this spring, you’re not alone. Extra happily, we at Knewton are here to help point out these evil traps, so that you can sidestep them every time. However, we’re only going to give you one each week; for more, you’ll just have to head over to and become a full-time student. Go for it.

Still here? Well then, here’s your first taste:

EVIL SAT TRICK #14: The Word Imposters

On the Reading Comprehension section of the SAT, the SAT sets a wide variety of nasty traps for test-takers who are under major time pressure. One of their nattiest tricks is to swap out one single word in an answer choice that would be correct for a word that looks almost the same, but is wrong.

Did you notice that, in the last sentence you read, we replaced the word “nastiest,” which would make sense, with the word “nattiest” (which means ‘neat’,’well-dressed’ or ‘dapper’)? Evil!!!

In particular, the SAT likes to replace words from the passage with words that look equally impressive, and mean things that seem equally vague. A phrase like “political corruption” might be replaced with “governmental consumption.” An adjective like “replaceable” might have “reproachable” as an imposter.

Check out this short passage with some tricky vocabulary. And for goodness’ sake, stay on the lookout for word imposters in the answer choices:

David Henry Hwang is widely considered the preeminent Asian American playwright working today. His work often reveals uncomfortable truths about people’s perceptions and prejudices about race; his Broadway smash plays M. Butterfly and Fob and his remake of the pre-civil rights era musical Flower Drum Song all attempted to undercut common Asian and Asian American stereotypes. Hwang has noted that his parents were “immigrants to America during a period when the culture emphasized assimilation” and that his works are, in some ways a response to their choice to try to “fit in.” His plays attempt to reconcile two potentially conflicting goals: staying true to one’s heritage and acculturating in a foreign country.

The author of the passage implies that the experiences of Hwang’s parents influenced his work by

A) showing him how people risk losing their heritage when they accumulate in a new country

B) exemplifying how emigrants can assimilate without losing their cultural heredity

C) providing a living example of immigrants who attempted to adapt to a different culture

D) inspiring him to use his screenwriting to examine the role of cultural assimilation

E) encouraging him to use art to explore the interplay of cultures among migrant workers

Which of the following best describes an aspect of Hwang’s plays as described in the passage?

A) They seek to underscore common stereotypes of Asian Americans

B) They encourage audiences to reexamine commonly held views of race

C)  They seek to discover the reality behind people’s racial preeminence

D) They reveal people’s hidden pretentions about unfamiliar cultures

E) They remind viewers of the changing views of race in the new era of civic duty

Did you spot all the word imposters? So evil…

Question 1:

A) Accumulate (which looks like “assimilate” or “acculturate,” but does not mean the same thing)

B) Emigrants (rather than “immigrants”) and Heredity (which looks like “heritage,” but refers to genetics rather than to culture)

C)  Correct. No imposters here…

D)  Screenwriting (not the same as “playwriting”)

E)  Migrant workers (not the same as “immigrants”)

Question 2:

A.  Underscore (means the exact opposite of “undercut” or “undermine”)

B.  Correct.

C.  Preeminence (sounds a bit like prejudice, but does not mean quite the same thing. Also, this word is used in the passage, in the first sentence. Evil!)

D.  Pretentions (not the same as “perceptions” or “prejudices”)

E.  Civic Duty (not the same as “civil rights”)

Obviously, the best way to avoid word imposters is to just slow down and read more carefully. Unfortunately, that’s not a luxury that you have on test day–and the test-makers know that. You are very unlikely to see questions like those above, in which all four wrong answers use imposters. But that just means that the other choices will use different evil tricks. What are they, you ask? See you next week!