Apr 15 SAT Question of the Day & ACT QotD

If you are reading this in an email you received from me, do not click the link to sat.collegeboard.org below. Use the link to my website that is farther down on the email. If you are seeing this in my blog, do the SAT Question of the Day by clicking on this link:

http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-question-of-the-day?src=R&questionId=20130415 (This link takes you to today’s question. If you use my archive, you will see the question related to my SAT explanation for that date.)

The answer is D.  The sentence is comparing a “dog’s sense of smell” with a “human’s” sense of smell.  The error is one that is frequently seen on the SAT and ACT tests.  The test writers are checking to see if you know how to properly distinguish between the plural form of a noun which just adds an s (humans) and the possessive form which requires an apostrophe before the s (human’s).

What makes this question a little difficult is that “sense of smell” is omitted after “humans.”   The words are implied because they reflect back to “a dog’s sense of smell.”  In other words, there is a comparison of a dog’s sense of smell and a human’s sense of smell.  (Notice that it is a singular possessive, so it needs to be singular possessive for “human.”)  However, by omitting human’s “sense of smell” at the end of the sentence, the writer shortens the sentence without changing the meaning.  This construct is referred to as an “ellipsis” or an “elliptical construction.”  It is a useful writing technique for you to master because it displays your ability to use a variety of sentence structures which is valuable when you write.  The SAT and ACT folks use “a variety of sentence structures” as a criterion (not “criteria” the plural form) for judging your essays on the tests.  Work on it!

Let’s see what the ACT folks have prepared for us today.

http://www.act.org/qotd/ (The ACT staff does not put a date on their questions so if you click on an archived blog, you’ll get today’s question and the old explanation. Sorry. The SAT staff has dated their questions; so, the archive is helpful. The ACT folks simply don’t do that.)

The answer is C.  This is a really valuable question.  It gives us an opportunity to discuss the importance of “main idea.”  The relationship between an “essay prompt” and the main idea of the essay is critical to your success.  You must focus on the topic you are required to develop.  Be sure you respond properly in your writing.  It can lead to a score of zero if you fail to focus your essay on the prompt (or SAT “assignment”) or main idea.  In this case, including only one example (the radio) wouldn’t get you a zero but it would definitely hurt your score.  You would need to include other examples.  Electricity, light bulbs, refrigeration, the telephone, and running water in homes all come to mind.  (I have my late grandmother to thank for her descriptions of the changes in living conditions in the late teens and 1920’s.)  This essay falls short of meeting the requirements of the prompt (“technologies“) that is described in the question since the response is limited to only one example, the radio.  That leads to answer C.

In addition to the issue of “main idea” being useful for essay topics, it is incredibly important on the reading part of the test.  When you are answering questions for the reading section on both the ACT and SAT tests, the challenge is that frequently you get down to two possible answers that both look correct.  You remember that, don’t you?  Check out the two answers.  Is one of them more consistent with the main idea of the passage than the other?  If so, pick that one.  The strategy doesn’t guarantee the right answer but it sure will improve your chances of being right and improve your speed.  Ultimately, it will raise your score.

In addition, if there’s a reading test question that asks you to identify the main idea of a passage, be careful.  Be sure your choice is based on the passage as a whole.  A common distractor (wrong answer) is one that references one paragraph or an outstanding detail in the passage.  Use my “insertable” strategy.  The best answer will fit in the first paragraph without adding anything.  If an answer adds details to the first paragraph that are actually later in the passage, it is very likely a wrong answer.  Be cautious.

To change the subject, what season is it?  You probably think it is “spring,” or even “baseball season.”  It is also “testing season.”  Lots of you took the ACT this past Saturday.  Many students will be taking the SAT in a few weeks.  Here in Florida, students are taking the state exam (the FCAT) this week.  It is the time of the year for state exams across America.  (Maybe it is analogous to “flu season.”  It sounds contagious to me!)  I wish you all well on whatever tests you will be taking and hope my blog has helped you feel more confident as you approach your tests, whatever they may be.  (Think of it as a flu shot.)

Have a great week.


About Bob Alexander

Bob has been a professional educator starting with teaching biology, becoming a school administrator, and then working as an education lobbyist in Washington, DC. He got his start in national testing by becoming a consulting test writer, later joining Kaplan as a director, and finally starting his own business in 1995. He has written numerous books, consulted for school districts and colleges, developed his website and been featured on a DVD set. He offers SAT and ACT prep classes and tutors individuals and small groups of students in central Florida.
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