Conservatively Worded Answers & Summary

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Conservatively Worded Answers

Finally, let’s revisit another feature of more desirable answers that are specific to According to the Passage, Inference, and Restricted Scope Questions: Conservatively Worded Answer Choices.

We saw earlier in the Inference Questions Chapter that the threshold of proof is something that we must consider when comparing answer choices. A neutral, weakly worded, ambiguous, or conservatively phrased answer is going to have a lower threshold of proof. That means it will be easier to prove given the passage.

Since the correct answer must be backed up by the text as much as possible, answers whose wording is easier to prove will be more attractive. For instance, if an answer said that the author “hated” a certain opponent’s position, then we would need to find evidence of this “hatred” within the text of the passage. But if an answer said that the author “disapproved” of the opposing position, then as long as there is any evidence of aversion, no matter how mild, then this answer can possibly be proven.

Similarly, if an answer choice stated that “the majority” of legislators approved of the amendment, then we’ll need evidence that >50% of all legislators approved. But if the wording was “some” legislators approved of the amendment, then all we need is for one legislator to have approved – something much easier to find from the passage.

But of course, your job is to find the most accurate answer choice in the first place. So if the author is actually displaying “hatred” for an opponent, as evident from the text of the passage, by all means select that answer instead. If the passage stated that 150/200 legislators voted to approve the amendment, then select the answer that said “most” legislators without further consternation.

It is when we are unclear about the exact support each answer choice has that we would want to err on the side of caution, and that means choosing the option with the lowest threshold of proof to maximize our chances.

Lastly, this rule for ranking answers only apply to questions that derive their answers from the passage. If we are faced with a non-restricted scope question like a Strengthen or a Weaken Question, then we would be looking for the answer with the clearest impact instead. (See Chapter 13 for additional details)


After an initial round of eliminations, if we still have several potential candidates for the correct answer choice, it’s time to rank them in terms of preferability. In this chapter we looked at some of the ways in which we determine preferability, and certain things that we must remind ourselves of during this ranking phase.

We saw that in harder RC questions, more than one answer choice can ostensibly have support from the passage. Hence it is our job to identify the location of the textual support, and compare the answers again in light of the support they depend on. Is one answer only partially supported by the text, while another is fully supported? Does one answer require us to make a lengthy inference, while another answer is more explicitly backed by a specific sentence? Our job is to choose the answer choice that is more fully and explicitly supported by the information found in the passage.

Several additional factors to consider when ranking answer choices:

Just because an answer doesn’t match what we were anticipating doesn’t make it wrong. As we have seen in multiple instances, the correct answer choice to a question turned out to be very different from what we were expecting. Maybe it was worded in an unfamiliar or vague manner, or perhaps it was indirect and convoluted. But in order to maximize our chances for success, we should do our best to parse these answers, try to understand what they are saying, and see if the answer can still be matched up with what we were looking for in the first place.

Finally, for Main Point Questions, if there are multiple contenders that all happen to encapsulate the passage’s central thesis, go with the answer that offers the most complete coverage of the reading’s key points.

For questions that derive their answers from the passage, a general rule of thumb is that conservatively worded answer choices are usually safer bets. If none of the remaining answer choices contravene the content of the passage, and you can’t find one specific answer that most accurately mirrors the text, pick the answer choice with the lowest threshold of proof.

These are habits that I found helpful in helping me and my students when it comes to answer choice ranking. But for the hardest questions, this may not be enough. We’ll look at advanced ranking techniques reserved for the hardest RC questions in the next chapter.

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