In my last post I talked about the rules for semicolons, and the big takeaway was that semicolons and periods are the same thing.  There is a strategy that I alluded to last time to take advantage of answer choices that mean the same thing, so today I figured would be a good time to get into that.

For a few types of questions on the SAT Writing (or ACT English) exam, it is not unusual to have two answer choices that mean the same thing.  Look at the question below, taken from an actual College Board practice test.

Fred Harvey, an English born entrepreneur.  He decided to open his own restaurant business to serve rail customers.

(a) no change

(b) entrepreneur:

(c) entrepreneur; he

(d) entrepreneur,

Alright, clearly a punctuation question.  Now before you do anything else, look at the way that it is currently written, and then look at answer choice C.  What’s the difference?  Well, as written the sentence contains a period, but in C the period has been replaced by a semicolon.

As we now know though, periods and semicolons are the same thing! Therefore, there is no way that one would be correct and the other would be incorrect.  It would be like one answer on the math section being 3/6, and another answer being 4/8.  Those fractions are equal, so there’s no way you could have one be right and the other be wrong.

Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently eliminate both answers A and C for the question above, as they mean the same thing as each other.  This exact situation has appeared multiple times on the new SAT, so this is an easy to apply and effective strategy for the writing section.

Another type of question where you can get two answer choices that mean the same thing is transition words.

Here is a question from another College Board test.

Therefore, between 1992 and 1996 more than 400 independent philosophy programs were eliminated from institutions.

(a) no change

(b) Thus,

(c) Moreover,

(d) However,

Look at answers A and B.  Therefore and thus.  Both of these words are used in the exact same way: to introduce cause and effect.  Therefore(thus), we can eliminate both answer choices.  Same thing with “furthermore” and “moreover.”  Same thing with “however” and “nevertheless.”  All of these pairs have appeared together on the new SAT, and knowing which transition words have identical meanings can really help for these questions.

A third type of question where you sometimes see identical answer choices is for wordiness questions.  For example, there was a question on an SAT where the four options were

(a) per year

(b) every year

(c) each year

(d) Delete the underlined phrase

What’s the difference between A, B, and C?  Those 3 phrases all mean the same thing to me, and I can’t imagine a grammatical rule that makes one of those right and the other two wrong.  Good bet we want to delete the underlined phrase.

Now, you don’t want to overuse this strategy.  Oftentimes different answer choices will be similar, but that doesn’t mean they are the grammatically identical.  The specific question types in which I have encountered truly identical answer choices are

  1. semicolons and periods
  2. transition words (thus and therefore, etc)
  3. wordiness

When using this strategy, always make sure that there isn’t another difference in the answer choice.  For example, if one answer choice has a semicolon in place of a period AND an additional word added, then those answers wouldn’t be identical.

Overall though, this is a great strategy for the SAT Writing and ACT English sections, so be on the lookout for these types of questions!

Till next time!