Tackling Inference Questions on the SAT

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The SAT Reading section features many inference questions. With these questions, you get a certain amount of information, and then you have to stretch it a little to find the answer.

You make inferences every day. (An inference is a conclusion you reach based on evidence.) Perhaps you come home and your mother is chewing on the phone bill and throwing your bowling trophies out the window. Even though she hasn’t stated the problem, you can guess that the call you made to the bowling team in Helsinki wasn’t included in your basic monthly calling plan.

Inference questions on the SAT may resemble the following:

  • What may be inferred from the author’s statement that “further study should include archaeological digs” (Line 66)?
  • The author implies in Line 12 that the documents were . . .
  • The author would probably agree with which of the following statements?

To crack an inference question, act like the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. You have a few clues, perhaps some statements about historical documents: No one has decoded the writing system from that era. One document is missing key pages. The authors of that culture gave equal weight to mythological and governmental accounts. You get the picture? Then ask yourself what sort of conclusion you can come to, given the evidence. You may decide that the author recommends archaeological investigation because he or she sees what’s lacking in other sorts of historical records. After you reach a conclusion, check the choices for one that matches your idea.

If you’re asked to infer, don’t look for a statement that’s actually in the passage. By definition, inferences reside (dwell, live) between the lines. If you think you found a direct statement in the passage, it’s the wrong answer.

Try your hand at an inference question, based on the following sentences about the westward journey of settlers during the 19th century.

Sample question

The women generally do the driving, while the men and boys bring up the rear with horses and cattle of all grades, from poor weak calves to fine, fat animals, that show they have had a good living where they came from.

  1. With which statement would the travelers described in this passage probably agree?

A. Gender distinctions are valid considerations in assigning work.

B. All livestock should be treated equally.

C. Only healthy animals can survive a long journey.

D. Many pioneers are motivated by greed.

The passage tells you that women drive while “men and boys” are in the rear with “horses and cattle.” Clearly, gender plays a part in assigning work, so Choice (A) is your answer here.