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Though direct analogy questions were eliminated along with the old SAT Verbal Reasoning section in 2005, analogy questions remain in place in a more abstract form in the Critical Reading section.

In this article, I’ll show you what analogy questions look like, the best way to approach them, and some step by step examples for solving them with real questions from the SAT!

What Is An Analogy Question?

Before we learn how to solve these types of questions, we need to learn how to spot them in the first place.

Analogy questions will ask you to make comparisons. They might ask you to compare a relationship between two things in the passage with a relationship between two things in the answer choices, or they might just ask for the answer choice that is most similar to something in the passage.

Here’s an example of an analogy question:

Which of the following most resembles the relationship between "black hole activity" and "star formation" (lines 11-12) as described in the passage?

A. A volcanic eruption on one continent results in higher rainfall totals on another continent.
B. Industrial emissions in one region lead to an increase in airborne pollutants in adjacent regions.
C. A drought in a wilderness area causes a significant loss of vegetation in that area.
D. Decreased oil production in one country results in higher gas prices in oil-dependent countries.
E. Overfishing in a gulf leads to an increase in the population of smaller aquatic organisms.

In this case, you would have to examine the cause and effect relationship between black hole activity and star formation described in the passage and see which of the five choices is most similar to that relationship.

Analogy questions are a subset of inference questions because they require you to understand a relationship or condition in the passage and then take it one step further to infer the similarity of something NOT mentioned in the passage.

How Do I Solve Analogy Questions?

You’re going to have to take a couple of mental steps to solve analogy questions (which is why they can be one of the more confusing question types).

Step 1: Read the question carefully.

This is important because some analogy questions will ask you for the relationship that is LEAST like the one in the passage. Make sure you know what you’re looking for!

Step 2: Understand the relationship or condition in the passage.

Go back and read the relevant section of the passage. If you think it will help you to remember the nature of the relationship or condition mentioned in the question, sum it up in simpler terms. Make sure you fully understand what specifically you’re going to be comparing to the potential answer choices.

Step 3: Go through the answer choices, break them down, and eliminate the duds.

Look at each relationship or condition presented in the answer choices, and see if it is functionally the same as what you found in the passage. Remember that the point of an analogy question is that the concrete details are different, but the core relationship or condition is a match between the passage and the answer choice. If this is not the case, eliminate it (unless it’s a LEAST question, of course).

Keep going with this until you have only one correct answer!

Ok, that sounds doable. Let’s try a sample question.

Time to get our feet wet. Good thing we painted our toes "College Board blue".

Analogies in Action

Now for our first real SAT analogy question!

Here it is:

Which most resembles the "irony" mentioned in line 34?

A. A worker moving to a distant state to take a job, only to be fired without warning
B. An executive making an important decision, only to regret it later
C. An athlete earning a starting position on a good team, only to quit midseason
D. A student studying for a major exam, only to learn that it has been postponed
E. A person purchasing an expensive umbrella, only to lose it on the first rainy day

First, let’s make sure we read the question carefully - looks like this one is pretty straightforward. No LEASTs here. We are clearly looking for the answer choice that is most similar to a condition in the passage.

Ok, now we will refer to the passage. Here’s the sentence we need to reference:

As she wrote a final letter on her typewriter - she did hate letting the old machine go - Georgia did considerable philosophizing about the irony of working for things only to the end of giving them up.

What is the irony mentioned in the passage? Looks like it's “working for things only to the end of giving them up.” So: we are going to be looking for an answer that demonstrates working hard for something but later deciding to abandon it.

Now we can go through the answer choices to find our winner! For these answer choices, I thought it was helpful to break them down into two parts to show exactly why each incorrect choice was eliminated.

Choice A: A worker moving to a distant state to take a job, only to be fired without warning

A worker moving to a distant state to take a job - Ok, the first part of this answer sounds promising. That's definitely an example of someone putting in effort for something. Now let's look at the second part.

Only to be fired without warning - No, that’s not going to fit. Being fired doesn’t mean you gave up, it means someone else gave up on you.

This doesn’t match the irony described in the passage, so let's eliminate it!

Choice B: An executive making an important decision, only to regret it later

An executive making an important decision - Eh, that doesn’t really fit with working towards something.

Only to regret it later - Regret isn't the same as giving up, so this part doesn't work either.

This doesn’t match the irony described in the passage either - get rid of it!

Choice C: An athlete earning a starting position on a good team, only to quit in midseason

An athlete earning a starting position on a good team - Ok, that’s definitely working towards something.

Only to quit in midseason - Yes, that’s absolutely giving up.

Looks like it matches the irony described in the passage. This choice works!

Choice D: A student studying for a major exam, only to learn that it has been postponed

A student studying for a major exam - Yes, this part makes sense as working towards something.

Only to learn that it has been postponed - No, this isn't the same as giving up because something happened that was outside of the student’s control.

It doesn’t match the irony described in the passage, so cross it out!

Choice E: A person purchasing an expensive umbrella, only to lose it on the first rainy day

A person purchasing an expensive umbrella - Nope, that's not really an example of working towards a goal unless your priorities are seriously weird.

Only to lose it on the first rainy day - That’s not giving up, this person is just frivolous AND careless. I’m glad they lost their umbrella.

This doesn’t match the irony described in the passage either - eliminate it!

Great, so we have Choice C as our answer!

"O Umbrella, why did you leave me? O cruel vagaries of fate!" - quote from the poor sap in choice E

Let's try another one.

The first sample analogy question that I showed you about black holes is pretty tough, but I think we're ready for it. Here it is again:

Which of the following most resembles the relationship between "black hole activity" and "star formation" (lines 11-12) as described in the passage?

A. A volcanic eruption on one continent results in higher rainfall totals on another continent.
B. Industrial emissions in one region lead to an increase in airborne pollutants in adjacent regions.
C. A drought in a wilderness area causes a significant loss of vegetation in that area.
D. Decreased oil production in one country results in higher gas prices in oil-dependent countries.
E. Overfishing in a gulf leads to an increase in the population of smaller aquatic organisms.

OK, first we need to read the question carefully. We are going to be comparing two relationships for this question, and there's no LEAST, so we want to find the answer choice that is most similar to the relationship in the passage.

Now let's read the lines from the passage. Here's our relevant excerpt:

Accordingly, astronomers long assumed that supermassive holes, let alone their smaller cousins, would have little effect beyond their immediate neighborhoods. So it has come as a surprise over the past decade that black hole activity is closely intertwined with star formation occurring farther out in the galaxy.

What's the relationship between black hole activity and star formation? They are "closely intertwined," implying a cause-effect relationship of some kind, although the star formation is occurring very far away from the black hole activity. So we are looking for a vague cause and effect relationship between two events that are occurring far apart from one another.

Now let's examine our answer choices to see which one matches up with this relationship.

Choice A: A volcanic eruption on one continent results in higher rainfall totals on another continent.

This answer seems to work. The volcanic eruption and the higher rainfall totals are occurring in two separate regions, just like the black hole activity and star formation.

This answer also demonstrates a cause and effect relationship that is somewhat ambiguous - though the events are related, they do not directly lead into one another. The nature of this relationship is the same as that of the relationship between black hole activity and star formation.

Choice B: Industrial emissions in one region lead to an increase in airborne pollutants in adjacent regions.

The key to detecting this wrong answer is the word "adjacent". Black hole activity and star formation in the passage are occurring very far away from each other, not in nearby regions of the galaxy.

This answer also describes a direct causal relationship that makes straightforward logical sense - that's different from the vague nature of the relationship in the passage. Get rid of this one!

Choice C: A drought in a wilderness area causes a significant loss of vegetation in that area.

This answer is incorrect because both events are occurring in the same area. This makes it even more clearly wrong than Choice B, where the events happened in adjacent regions.

This answer also describes a very logical relationship that demonstrates obvious cause and effect between drought and loss of vegetation. This is not the same as the relationship between black hole activity and star formation. Eliminate this one too!

Choice D: Decreased oil production in one country results in higher gas prices in oil-dependent countries.

Though the two events in this relationship are occurring in regions that are far away from one another, this answer still doesn't work. This relationship demonstrates a direct and logical cause and effect chain of events. This was not the case with black hole activity and star formation. Cross it out!

Choice E: Overfishing in a gulf leads to an increase in the population of smaller aquatic organisms.

This once again refers to a scenario where both events are occurring in the same place, whereas a key feature of the relationship in the passage was that black hole activity and star formation happened far away from each other. This one's wrong too!

Looks like Choice A is our answer!

That was a really tough one, but if you understood why we eliminated the four incorrect answers, you shouldn't have to worry about any super challenging analogy questions sneaking up on you on the SAT. You've already got the skills to beat them.

Your brain must be like a black hole for SAT knowledge!

Summary

Analogy questions (in a less direct form) are still a part of the SAT Critical Reading section. These questions will ask you to make a comparison between a condition or relationship in a reading passage and a different condition or relationship that’s not referenced in the passage.

When you see an analogy question, remember to:

Go back to the passage and make sure you fully understand the condition or relationship you are being asked to compare.

Read each of the answer choices and break them down so that you can make a direct comparison to what’s in the passage.

Eliminate four choices, and find the one that works!

Remember, you can do it!

What's Next?

Want more skills-focused SAT Reading articles? Start with these articles on sentence completion questions and vocab-in-context questions, and check back in the next week for more!

What's the best way to get information out of a passage on SAT Reading? Find out the best way to read the passage and what's actually on SAT Reading.

Worried that vocab is going to trip you up? Don't worry - we can help.