SAT Tip: Using Logic on Sentence Completion Questions

SAT Tip: Using Logic on Sentence Completion Questions
Basic logic can help eliminate answer choices and improve your chances of answering sentence-completion questions correctly (Photograph by Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

No SAT sentence completion questions are easy, but on the harder ones you will see a more complex relationship (such as “cause and effect”) between the keywords and phrases in the sentence and the rest of the paragraph. While it’s true that it can sometimes be tough to predict an answer for the blank in these questions, they provide a great opportunity to use logic to help you eliminate answer choices. Consider the following:

1. The critic’s dislike of _____ made him give the novelist’s_____ work a scathing review.

A. circumlocution….long-winded

B.  metaphor…illustrative

C.  scholarship…esoteric

D. opacity…interminable

E.  chicanery…treacly

It’s easier to predict an answer for the second blank first since we aren’t quite sure what the critic dislikes yet. If the critic felt “dislike” for the work, then it probably wasn’t very good, therefore we know the second blank must be something negative. Since “illustrative” isn’t a negative word, we can eliminate choice B. We may not know what “esoteric” and “treacly” mean (bonus points if you do), so we must keep them for now.

Now let’s think logically. We know the blanks are related here. The first blank will be a quality that the critic doesn’t like. The second blank will be a characteristic of that quality. So we can go through the answer choices and ask, “is being [second blank] a characteristic of [first blank]?”

A. Is being long-winded a characteristic of circumlocution?

Someone who is long-winded talks and talks and talks. We may not be 100 percent sure what circumlocution means but we might recognize “circum-” as meaning “around” and “locution” having to do with speaking. That’s enough of a match to keep it for now.

C. Is being esoteric a characteristic of scholarship?

“Esoteric” is a word we may not know, so let’s use logic again. Is there anything that is a “characteristic” of scholarship? Not really. We can eliminate this one.

D. Is being interminable a characteristic of opacity?

Something “interminable” is never-ending. You might notice that “opacity” has the same root word as “opaque” which means “difficult to understand.” Something being long and something being difficult to understand are two different qualities. We can safely eliminate this one.

E. Is being treacly a characteristic of chicanery?

After using our logic, we’ve been able to eliminate C and D, and we have confidence that either A or E is the correct answer. A seems to work although “circumlocution” is a challenging word, and E contains two tough words. In a case like this, where you have one that seems to work, and another that you can’t make heads or tails of, always go with the one that seems to work.  In fact, A is the correct answer here.

Don’t pick words you don’t know just because they look fancy. Here we used logic to break down the relationship between the blanks and selected A, getting this extremely tough sentence completion question 100 percent correct. Remember, even if you don’t know the difficult vocabulary, you can still answer the question correctly.

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