Top Five SAT Land Mines

Let’s face it: the SAT test is littered with land mines seeking to lure the unwary student into careless or panic-induced mistakes. This underscores the fact that one of the best SAT preparation strategies involves learning how to keep the test from beating you. Being able to avoid the land mines separates the casual from the serious SAT test-taker.


Profile: Whenever a simple calculation error or misinterpreted term might easily lead you astray on the SAT test, you can bank on the College Board’s providing the appropriately enticing wrong answer.

Warning signs: Sudden euphoria at finding an easy question; also, wandering concentration or lack of focus.

How to avoid: Maintain a steady pace; watch out for the units asked for in math questions; check your work as you go and your answers as time permits.


Profile: Just because an answer choice may be true does not mean it is also the answer to a given SAT test question. Warning signs: “Please select the best response”; other aliases include the words “most” and “least”.

How to avoid: Always remember that the definition of “best” is not “that which can be proven true,” but rather “what the question is seeking,” and often, “what is least arguable based on the information provided.”


Profile: This perpetrator is characterized by an apparently difficult question containing an easy shortcut. Even when/if an SAT test-taker gets the right answer, he/she might have wasted a lot of time on these deceptively simple questions.

Warning signs: Questions which appear to be time-consuming; depending on whether or not you understand the material, this may induce false confidence or panic.

How to avoid: Consider whether the question truly requires much of your time (e.g., is it near the end of an SAT test section, where you’d expect harder questions?).


Profile: As if one layer of answer choices weren’t enough, this type of SAT test question throws two at you. First there’s a series of statements labeled with Roman numerals; below them the standard four or five answer choices ask you to identify which combination of statements is true based on the limited information given.

Warning signs: the Roman numerals, obviously; also, answer choices such as “I and II only” or “II, III, and IV”.

How to avoid: consider each Roman numeral separately, label it True or False as appropriate, then use your markings to evaluate the lettered answer choices; beware of
choices that are only sometimes or in some cases true.


Profile: This land mine is a variation on the decoy—the SAT test-makers give you a figure designed to trick your eyes into seeing the shape that leads to a particular wrong answer. As if to taunt you, it even proclaims that the “figure is not drawn to scale.”

Warning signs: A geometric form in which the correct answer seems all too apparent.

How to avoid: Circle the phrase “not drawn to scale” whenever you find it, and draw a version of the figure that doesn’t resemble the shape provided, but uses the information in the question to better represent the situation.

Take the time to watch for land mines and the extreme confidence or panic that often accompanies them. “Know your enemy” is a sound overall approach to SAT preparation, and that includes knowing when the enemy has set a trap. With every land mine you avoid, your true confidence will soar, and so will your scores.

For more information on how you can outsmart the SAT test, refer to our website at Bruce L. Smith is an experienced SAT content creator for – SAT test practice site.

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