SAT Tip: Sentence Completion in Three Easy Steps

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

Many SAT students find sentence completion questions easier than reading comprehension problems because they are so much shorter, but sentence completions can contain difficult vocabulary and confusing meanings. It’s important that we follow an effective strategy to “unpack” all the little signs and signals that lead us to the correct choice.

1. Circle the clues. As you read the sentence, you will be on the lookout for keywords: words that describe the blank or relate to the overall flow of the sentence (transition words). You also might notice certain adjectives that provide information about the blank, or even punctuation such as commas and semicolons that provide hints. What do these little clues tell you about the blank? What do they say about the meaning of the entire sentence?

2. Write down a personal answer. Once you’ve analyzed the keywords and punctuation of a sentence, you can come up with a prediction for the blank. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, but you do have to write something down. If you are at a loss for words, even a simple prediction such as “a positive word” or “something like selfish” is fine. Don’t let yourself read the answer choices without a written-down prediction. If you don’t write it down, you will probably forget it as you read the answer choices. Be on the lookout for instances where you can reuse the exact words from the question-stem to fill in the blanks.

The final exam was truncated and _____ due to the teacher’s abrupt illness, cutting short class by thirty minutes. 

For this sentence, a prediction like “cut short” or “truncated” would be ideal—use what you’re given.

3. Eliminate incorrect choices. Instead of scanning the answers quickly looking for the correct one, carefully move through the choices from A to E, eliminating the answer choices that could not possibly match your prediction. If you have more than one answer choice left after eliminating, plug them into the sentence to see which one is correct.  Let’s try our strategy out:

The _______ candidate met many challenges during her arduous campaign, but she did not _______ and ultimately attained the office she had so passionately sought.

(A) reluctant…..concede

(B) dogged…..falter

(C) pugnacious…..persevere

(D) tireless…..defame

(E) reticent…..acquiesce

Here, the clues “attained” and “arduous” lead us to look for a word with a meaning like “give up” for the second blank. The first word should also be something that would describe someone who did not shy away from the “many challenges” because of the clue “but,” so a prediction like “steadfast” works for the first blank.  “Dogged” means stubborn, and “falter” means to waver. The correct answer is (B).

It may seem as if this method of  clues and predictions will slow you down, but your speed will increase with practice and this sentence completion strategy will increase your accuracy by forcing your brain to do the necessary critical thinking—after all, isn’t that what the SAT is really testing?

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