SAT Tip: Spotting Parallel Ideas in Sentence Completions

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

Sentence completion questions on the SAT consist of one sentence with either one or two blanks. It’s important to be able to identify the relationship of each blank to the rest of the sentence and to identify the relationship of the blanks to each other. Always ask about each blank: How does it relate?

Commonly, the relationship between a blank and the rest of the sentence is parallel or similar. This will become apparent from the keywords that set up consistent ideas: The blank will mirror or extend the logic of the rest of the sentence. You might see common words and phrases such as: for this reason, again, along with, in addition, for example, to illustrate, thus, likewise, similarly, since, also, and, next, as well as, or additionally. These types of clues indicate some type of parallel idea. Let’s look at an example:

As a professor of mathematics, Dr. Parker demanded his students’ attention to detail in their proofs; likewise, his own calculations were often subjected to _______ critique by those same students.

A. rhetorical

B. derivative

C. tortuous

D. rigorous

E. propitious

We know this is a “parallel ideas” question because of the keyword “likewise.” The semicolon also tells us the second half of the sentence will mirror the logic of the first half. The key phrase is “demanded” which explains the relationship. Dr. Parker is a really serious teacher! We can predict something such as “demanding” for the blank, re-using the exact word from the question-stem. We need a word that shows a strong, exacting demand, something like “intense.” Here, the only word that matches our personal answer is (D), rigorous.

But what about two-blanks? Let’s try one out.

Ever-changing computer software capabilities have allowed for the cultivation of relationships that defy the restrictions of time zones and language barriers, permitting people to communicate electronically in a manner that is both ______ and ______.

(A) facile…accessible

(B) expedient…conciliatory

(C) onerous…feasible

(D) incorrigible…benign

(E) beneficial…vigilant

Because of the words “both” and “and” we are looking for two words with a complementary, parallel relationship, and both must have a positive meaning since “cultivation of relationships” and “permitting” imply the author thinks the effects of this technology have been a good thing for worldwide communication. Good predictions might be something like “easy” or “exciting.” Once we have a personal answer, we can quickly scan the answer choices.  “Facile” means easy, while “accessible” literally means able to be accessed, or easily available. The correct answer is (A).

When you’re looking for a parallel relationship, beware of words that have an opposite charge. In the last question, we knew both words would be positive, so we could have quickly removed negative-sounding words like “onerous” and “incorrigible,” even if we aren’t 100 percent sure of their exact textbook definition. Word charge is a valuable tool when examining sentence completions.

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