SAT Tip: Using Keywords To Answer Sentence Completion Questions

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

In sentence completion questions in the SAT reading sections, blank(s) will always have a relationship to the rest of the sentence. Identifying keywords—words, phrases, and punctuation that relate to the blank(s)—help test-takers understand this relationship. Some blanks will have a “defining” relationship, meaning the blank will be defined by the rest of the sentence, so you’ll look for a word to embody the description.

Other blanks will have a “contrasting” relationship, and you’ll need to choose the word that provides the best contrast to the describing keywords. Let’s take a look at an example of a sentence completion question with a contrasting meaning:

1. Most viewed her behavior as merely ________, but some criticized her for her lack of consistency and focus.

(A) benevolent

(B) garrulous

(C) paradoxical

(D) amiable

(E) whimsical

Let’s pick out the keywords:

Most viewed her behavior as merely _______, but some criticized her for her lack of consistency and focus .

The keywords “merely” and “but” tell us that the first word will be a not-so-bad interpretation of someone who acts with a “lack of consistency and focus.”

We could choose our own words like “distracted” or “head-in-the-clouds” to use as a prediction, or we could just reuse words from the question stem and predict something like “inconsistent and unfocused, but not in a bad way.”

This question is challenging because many of these choices have positive connotations. So which one is like someone with their head-in-the-clouds? “Whimsical” most closely describes someone who is fanciful and unfocused, so the answer is (E).

After identifying the keywords and making a prediction, a process of elimination allows us to identify the correct choices quickly and effectively. There’s never a need to re-read the sentence five times with each answer choice plugged in.

Here’s a list of common “contrasting” clue words and phrases to keep an eye out for in your practice: but, however, yet, on the other hand, nonetheless, nevertheless, even so, although, though, despite, in spite of that, regardless, in any case.

Add them to your own list and keep updating it with new ones you come across in your studies.

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