In school, how does your school teacher evaluate your performance (i.e., what is your final grade based upon)? Usually, it’s a combination of in-class discussion/participation, papers/essays, and free-response homework assignments. Your teacher will consider how much effort you put into the assignment and will usually add bonus points for creative or thoughtful interpretations of the text (e.g., the real antagonist in Hubert Selby Jr.’s Requiem for a Dream is hope, not Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is really about cyborgs).
On the SAT, you’re evaluated on whether you bubbled in the correct answers. Creative interpretation of the text and reading between the lines is strongly discouraged. In fact, unless you can point to a specific portion of the passage that supports the answer you choose, the answer is definitely incorrect. That’s right: every single correct answer in Critical Reading must have direct support from the passage. Do you know what that means? NO READING BETWEEN THE LINES. Instead, read the lines and only the lines.
But you respectfully object: “What if the question uses words such as imply, infer, or suggest?” I reply, “First of all, excellent distinction between ‘like’ and ‘such as.’ Second, the way we use those words in everyday life differs greatly from how the writers of the test use them. Let’s illustrate with a hypothetical scenario:
Scenario: Patrick enters the room. His hair is wet.
Everyday Life Explanations
- It must be raining and he forgot an umbrella.
- He just took a shower.
- He went for a swim recently.
- His hair was messy and he tried to fix it.
- Someone hit him with a water balloon.
- A liquid has come in contact with his hair and hasn't yet evaporated.
Do you see the difference? Using the wrong definitions of words such as imply, infer, conclude, or suggest is going to get you in trouble. You’re going to need to stick to simplistic interpretations of the text. You’re not a detective here. You only need to figure out what MUST be true based on the information in the passage.