15 Seconds Could Lower Your SAT Score by 15% or More
A new ad campaign from Geico's creative team is an excellent tool for teaching students about the process of elimination on the SAT Critical Reading. No, seriously.
Let me begin by acknowledging that Geico's Great Answer ad campaign doesn't rank in the top 10 Geico campaigns. Don't get me wrong. It's a solid ad campaign. It's just that Geico has cranked out so many iconic advertisements that Great Answer can't compete. Be sure to check out my Top 10 List at the end of this post.
But first, let's examine how the Great Answer campaign reveals an amazing SAT strategy that helps SAT Tutors improve results with their test prep students. The Great Answer commercials follow a super basic formula. First, a question is posed someone in the commercial. Consider an example:
The Thief Objects
UPDATE: The Thief Objects video has been pulled from YouTube, so you'll have to make do with this synopsis: A man sweats on the witness stand while the prosecution asks him about a series of increasingly damning pieces of evidence indicating that he robbed a safe. Finally, the prosecutor asks, "What are we supposed to think?"
Obviously, there's no good answer. The thief is facing an air-tight case that includes finger prints, photo evidence, and a confession on social media. He's been caught dead-to-rights.
PROSECUTOR: What are we supposed to think?
THIEF: Switching to Geico could save you a bunch of money on car insurance?
JUDGE: Excellent point. Case dismissed!
VOICEOVER: Geico -- because saving 15% on car insurance is always a great answer!
That's the deeper point of the commercial. Even when Geico Insurance doesn't directly solve a problem, it's still such a great product that -- in TV commercial reality -- recommending Geico is actually BETTER than any other answer.
So What's The Point?
At its core, the premise of these commercials is that "Geico could save you 15% on car insurance" is such a good answer that it really doesn't matter what the question asks. In fact, it's a better answer any answer you, the viewer, could have imagined. Think about it. Could you come up with anything that the thief could have said to get that case dismissed?
I surely can't. Geico's creative department has succeeded in creating a world in which some answers are so good that they're correct regardless of what question they address. Now think about that.
Obviously, it's unwise to believe anything of the sort in real life. But this is especially bad as an SAT strategy or ACT strategy. These are tests where most answers a student reads are deliberately confusing and incorrect. Even so, many of these answers are comprised of statements that are either TRUE or IMPORTANT or BOTH. And that's what makes them so difficult to eliminate.
If you as a test prep tutor allow your students to approach the ACT or SAT Reading sections in search of correct answers, your SAT students will search for answers that sound good or seem reasonable. This leads to disaster as students search for answers that feel correct -- independent of the question they address. Following this approach can leave even top-performing students susceptible to tempting trap answers.
That's why it's essential that students begin by reading each answer critically with the intention of identifying incorrect as many answers as possible before they even consider selecting the "correct" answer.
The takeaway here is that no answer is so good that its rightness is independent of its relation to the question being asked. That may seem obvious to you as a tutor, but our experience shows that many students get tricked by answers containing TRUE and IMPORTANT statements that ultimately do not answer the question that was asked.
Consider an example
Suppose you're reading a Social Studies passage that focuses on the tactics of an aspiring despot. For our purposes, I've comprised a summary.
The passage chronicles the candidate's clever use of populist rhetoric to rally support among the disenfranchised masses on the campaign trail. Next, it details the man's efforts to curtail official press briefings once in office. Then the author examines the motivation behind efforts to "crack down on leaks" and criticize news outlets that report unfavorable information about the administration. Later, the author cites parallels between this candidate's ascent to power and the rise of earlier political movements that sought to restrict the power of the press. Near the end, the author stresses that concerned citizens must be willing subscribe to newspapers in order to fund investigative journalism. The author ends with a foreboding picture of a world in which everyone relies on click-bait headlines from news aggregator websites and official statements from the administration itself.
Note: Obviously, this is 100% fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, elected or unelected, is purely coincidental.
Now, consider how you feel as you read an answer choice that states "Freedom of the press provides an important check against tyranny." This is an empirically true statement. And it deals with a very important subject, protecting against tyranny. But is it the correct answer?
That depends profoundly on the question we're being asked.
What's the Question?
Are we being asked what the author most likely believes about the free press?
Are we being asked what the aspiring tyrant most likely believes about the press?
Are we being asked which of the following the author and aspiring tyrant would most likely agree upon?
Whether or not a statement is TRUE or IMPORTANT doesn't help us at all in determining whether it is THE CORRECT ANSWER. Even if we can be 100% sure that it's true, we still have all our work ahead of us in determining whether or not it's the correct answer choice.
And that determination cannot be made without careful consideration of three criteria:
Does it answer the question DIRECTLY?
Does it answer the question COMPLETELY?
Does it answer the question and WITHOUT ADDING INCORRECT/IRRELEVANT INFORMATION?
Learning to apply the correct criteria to each and every answer choice (under time constraints, of course!) is the single greatest factor in improving a student's SAT Reading score. That is what sets top-scoring students apart.
To put it another way, students who struggle on the SAT Reading section choose trap answers because they're looking for answers the correct answer. They're scanning for words and phrases that feel correct (i.e. TRUE and IMPORTANT). That's why they get tricked!
Students who dominate the SAT Reading section go about it in exactly the opposite way. And because you've read this whole blog post, I'm going to reward your patience by sharing that secret.
How to Dominate the SAT Reading Section
Begin by carefully reading the question to make certain you understand exactly what constitutes a correct or incorrect answer.
Then quickly formulate the best possible answer in your head. Do NOT read the answer choices until after you've done so; you'll just fill your head with wrong answers.
If necessary, return to your passage (beginning with the notes you took as you read the passage) to validate the answer you've come up with in your head. Be prepared to update the answer you came up with in your head based on information you spot in the passage. NOTE: If the question contains a line reference, then it's almost certainly worth your time to look back at that section of the passage.
Once you've validated your answer, attack the answer choices with a hyper-critical approach, scrutinizing every word:
Eliminate each answer that does not DIRECTLY answer the question.
Eliminate each answer that does not COMPLETELY answer the question.
Eliminate each answer that includes INCORRECT or IRRELEVANT information.
Ideally, you'll be able to eliminate all but one answer choice. If you cannot narrow it down beyond the last two, then pick the best remaining answer choice. But be careful not to give preference to statements that match your own views of what's TRUE and IMPORTANT!
What Does It All Mean?
That's up to you. Meaning is where you find it. I found a 1600-word essay on critical reading and test prep strategy lurking in a Geico ad campaign. I encourage you to read this post -- and literally everything else you come across -- critically and skeptically.
Eliminate anything you read that doesn't help you or your students to better understand the unique challenges posed by SAT and ACT Reading tests.
Want More Free Tools for Tutors?
The Top 10 GEICO Ad Campaigns
Number 10: Dumb Things
Number 9: Easier Way to Save Money
Number 8: Rhetorical Question
Number 7: The Parodies
Number 6: Maxwell the Pig
Number 5: I've Got Good News
Number 4: Get Happy; Get Geico!
Number 3: It's What You Do
Number 2: The Gecko
Number 1: Cavemen
There you have it: Geico's 10 best ad campaigns of all time!
Got a favorite that didn't make the cut? Comment below to tell me where I blew it. Thanks!
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