How to Answer Inference Questions on SAT Critical Reading Passages

By | May 20, 2010

Students often struggle with inference questions on the SAT because the inferences by the SAT standard are probably very different from those you make from daily conversations.

You should not treat the inferences you make on the SAT as you would when you’re talking to your friends, your parents, or even your teachers.  You should not jump to any conclusions on your own, or make your own assumptions.

Let me provide you with a simple example:

In your daily lives, someone may tell you, “James is fat.”

Based on this information, you may draw the assumption (or infer) any number of things:

– “James probably likes food”

– “James eats a lot”

– “James is lazy”

– etc, etc.

HOWEVER, on the SAT you can’t make such a conclusion.  A better answer may simply be that “James is a portly individual.”

I know this is a way oversimplified example, but it gets my point across. The reason that you can’t draw your own conclusions on the SAT is that the SAT is a standardized, or objective, test. This means that the only answers that could be deemed correct are the ones that every student can come to conclude is true based on what’s given.

This brings me to my second, and more important, tip: learn to evaluate the answer choices. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but your focus should be on the answer choices more than on the passages themselves. If you think about it, each passage-based question can only have one correct answer, which means that the test-makers have to devise four other choices that are intentionally meant to fool you and draw you to them. If you analyze the answer choices, you’ll notice that there are some patterns in these answer choices that’ll help you determine which ones are incorrect. The same goes for identifying the correct answer.

I’ve written about how to handle SAT Critical Reading passages extensively in the past.  If you want to learn more about this, check out these older posts:

How I Improved My SAT Critical Reading Score by 150 Points


How to Answer SAT Critical Reading Passages WITHOUT Reading the Passages

Also, if you’re just starting to prepare for the SAT, make sure you check out my updated review of the Best SAT Prep Books for 2010.  For specific help on the SAT Critical Reading Sections, I highly recommend you get Adam Robinson’s Rocket Review Revolution: the Ultimate Guide to the New SAT.

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Topics: SAT Critical Reading | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “How to Answer Inference Questions on SAT Critical Reading Passages”

  1. hellosunshine Says:
    September 20th, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Can I ask you a more specific question?

    This was the passage:
    While the most prominent figures in the history of early aviation may be the Wright brothers, another pair of brothers, Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier, should perhaps be given a comparable distinction for their advances in that field. In 1782, the Montgolfier brothers discovered that they could make a fabric bag filled with heated air rise up for extended periods. That year, the Montgolfiers tested their hot-air balloons with unmanned flights. Their first passenger flight, executed before King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, included a rooster, a duck, and a sheep; lasted 8 mintures; and landed two miles from its point of origin. That flight, and subsequent flights carrying humans, inaugurated an era of “balloon mania” in France.

    7. The author’s mention of King Louis and his wife serve to introduce the idea that
    a)aviation would be remembered as a French invention

    b)members of the court frequently sponsored innovators and pioneers

    c)France had a stake in advancing aviation

    d)it was esstential that the flights include passengers

    e) interest in hot air ballooning was not strictly limited to the scientific community

    I don’t have the answer key to this question so I was wondering what you thought the answer was.

  2. Kcazman Says:
    October 28th, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I say E

  3. yo Says:
    March 5th, 2011 at 11:38 pm


  4. Sam Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Excellent advice! I taught SAT Reading and Math for several years for the Princeton Review, and this was one of the little secrets that hadn’t really made it into the books but which I always relied on to get perfect verbal scores.

    Actually, I think your simplification is good. The feeling you should get on answering one of those hard “inference” questions is, “That’s not implied, that’s just stated”.

    E — the next phrase goes on to talk about “balloon mania”.

  5. Kelly Nguyen Says:
    June 25th, 2012 at 1:22 am

    I say E to that answer because all the other choices cannot be inferred from the passage! :)Your strategy helped !:)

  6. Ian Says:
    September 22nd, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    hi, where can I find practice on inference questions? those are the only questions I really have trouble with.


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