Last time we looked at making the answers more similar, which can absolutely trap the unwary or careless reader; our final approach is the most devious: answers that are wrong because they are not the best answer.
4. Make more than one answer grammatically correct. This is tougher to create as a question writer and tougher to crack as a test-taker, because you need to retreat to those other things that Sentence Correction wants to test: concision, style, and the meaning of the sentence. What is the sentence trying to say, and how could that be altered in the wrong answer choices? The introduction of the subjunctive is one way to reduce concision and clarity, and sometimes change the meaning; additional relative clauses can keep the sentence grammatical, but no longer concise. The passive voice is also a good candidate; there is nothing grammatically incorrect about the passive voice, but it uses extra words and often jams in the pronoun it on top of being a less direct way of relating action.
Seismologists measure earthquakes on the Richter Scale; the higher the rating that is assigned to it, the more intense the earthquake was.
A. the higher the rating that is assigned to it, the more intense
B. the higher the rating, the more intense
C. the higher the rating is considered, the more intense
D. the higher we might rate the earthquake, the more intense it could be that
E. a higher number on the Richter Scale is indicative of how much more intense
Choice A is grammatically correct (as one would expect with so many words in the intro on the subject) but not ideal. There are some assumptions you are allowed to make (even on Critical Reasoning!) all the time; here, we can assume that since the first clause talks about measurement on a scale, the rating in second clause (in the same sentence!) is a continuation of that idea. We don’t need to specify that the rating is assigned to it, we know that already. Choice B is our winner, which ought to be pretty familiar by now. Choice C breaks the parallelism a bit, and shifts the meaning: we go from assigned ratings to how they’re considered (or thought of), which implies some subjectivity, as if in some part of the world an earthquake that’s a 5 would only be rated a 3 somewhere else. The Richter Scale is not like Olympic judging! Choice D adds in the subjunctive, the mood of many uses; when it’s used for no other reason, it indicates lack of certainty, which has less of a place in a sentence about science and how a certain measurement works. Choice E is also grammatical and true — each number up on the Richter Scale indicates an intensity that is higher by a factor of 10, so it does indicate how much more intense the quake is — but this is more specific and more wordy than the original sentence calls for.
That rounds out our “usual suspects” for making SC questions. Try these out on your friends or fellow forum-readers, and help each other get the best scores you can!