Some questions on the SAT are easy enough that you know the answer as soon as you read the question. Some questions are hard enough that you can’t choose from any of the five options. However, the most exasperating type of question is one in which you can comfortably eliminate three answer choices, but never be able to decide between the other two. Every time I faced a question like this on the SAT I wondered, what is the best possible guess I can make between those two answer choices?
My objectives were twofold:
- to find the best possible single answer choice for each section (Reading, Writing and Math)
- to find the most probable pair of answer choices for each section, i.e. to which two answer choices occurred the most in pairs
I used 11 actual SAT papers to do my analysis, and analysed over 1700 answer choices. At the end of the analysis, I arrived at some interesting conclusions. (You can find the entire excel sheet here).
A couple of quick notes before I share my results.
- None of this data is to be used as a substitute for common sense. If you know an answer is wrong (or right), choose that over anything statistics might tell you.
- Wherever I have said that probabilities are reasonably higher, it only means that they are higher than their expected values. This does not mean that they are significantly large.
As expected the number of A, B, C, D and E answer choices were all around 20%. The deviation from 20% was very low, with a standard deviation of only 1.8%. The most likely single correct answer was D, with 22.7% of the share. Nothing interesting so far.
Now for the paired answers, and this is where it really gets interesting. The most common pair is CD, with 5.7% of the share. But what is more interesting is the second most common option, AD (5.1% of the total). Viewed in isolation, AD is quite boring. However, when you observe that A & D independently constitute the two most probable options (for the single correct answers), it makes a considerable difference. This is because both the individual and paired probabilities of A & D are high. This means that the likelihood of getting AD (in that order) is reasonably higher than the likelihood of any other pair of options on the Reading section.
To save your eyes some trouble, I’m going to tell you that the Math section is exactly like the Reading section in terms of the single correct options, except that the standard deviation is lower, at 1.3%. D is again the most common option with 21.5% of the share.
The paired answers are more revealing in Math than they are in any other section. Just like in the Reading section, AD is the most common option. However, two things further boost the probability of D & A. Firstly, the DA pair is the third most common option. Secondly, A & D are the two most common individual occurrences. Since AD, DA and A & D(individually)are all more likely, the probability of these pairs being the right answer is reasonably higher than the probability of any other pair being correct.
Option C takes has the highest probability here with a 23.9% chance of occurrence. There is a standard deviation of 2.9% in this section, with the percentages for each option hovering near 20%. However, option A has an unusually low occurrence of only 15.8%.
The conclusions in this section are similar to those of the previous sections. BC is the 2nd most common pair (5.6%) and CB is the 3rd most common pair (5.2%). B & C are individually the two most likely options. Using arguments similar to those used for the previous two sections, it is evident that the pair BC (in any order) has a reasonably higher likelihood of being right than any other pair does.
The overall analysis is quite lackluster. All the options have a very similar individual likelihood, and the most common pairs don’t contain the most common letters (unlike the individual sections).
So there it is, my analysis of the SAT test options. Hopefully, you won’t be as confused anymore when you have to pick between two answers on the SAT!