How to Decode Fact-Based Questions in SAT Passages

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

Fact-based questions on the SAT zero in on statements in a passage. They test whether you comprehend the meaning of what you’re actually reading. For example, in a descriptive paragraph, a fact-based question may ask whether the neighborhood is crowded or sparsely populated. In a science passage, you may be asked the result of an experiment.

Never skip a fact-based question because it’s almost impossible to end up with a wrong answer. Amazingly enough, the test-makers often refer you to the very line in the passage that contains the answer.

SAT fact-based questions do have a couple of traps built in. Sometimes the test-writers word the passage in a confusing way. Successfully decoding a question’s meaning depends on your ability to pick up the word clues embedded in the passage. Here are a few of the words SAT-makers love to use to keep you on your toes, and some explanations of what they really mean. (You may want to memorize these words so they’re in neon lights in your brain.)

  • Except, but, not, in contrast to, otherwise, although, even though, despite, in spite of: These words indicate contrast, identifying something that doesn’t fit the pattern.

  • And, also, in addition to, as well as, moreover, furthermore, not only . . . but also, likewise, not the only: When you see these clue words, you’re probably looking for something that does fit the pattern.

  • Therefore, because, consequently, hence, thus, accordingly, as a result: Now you’re in cause-and-effect land. Look for something that causes or leads to something else (or something caused by something else).

  • Than, like, equally, similarly: Time to compare two ideas, two quantities, two people, two actions — you get the idea.

  • Until, after, later, then, once, before, since, while, during, still, yet, earlier, finally, when: You’re watching the clock (or calendar) when you see these clue words. Think about the order of events.

Time for a sample question, based on this excerpt from a science passage about an unusual animal.

Sample Passage

As a rule the dancing mouse is considerably smaller than the common mouse. All the dancing mice have black eyes and are smaller as well as weaker than the common gray house mouse. The weakness, indicated by their inability to hold up their own weight or to cling to an object, curiously enough does not manifest itself in their dancing; in this they are tireless. Frequently they run in circles or whirl about with astonishing rapidity for several minutes at a time.

  1. According to the passage, in what way is a dancing mouse superior to other types of mice?

    (A) endurance

    (B) muscle strength

    (C) ability to cling

    (D) weight

Sentence 3 tells you that the dancing mouse is “tireless,” so Choice (A) is a good bet. Before you settle there, test the other choices. The passage tells you that these mice are “smaller as well as weaker” (Sentence 2), so you can rule out Choices (B) and (D). Because dancing mice are unable “to cling to an object” (Sentence 3), Choice (C) is wrong. You’re left with Choice (A), the right answer.