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The SAT Sentence Completions: Basic Principles

Step 1: Look for Clues to Find the "Main Idea" of the Sentence
Consider the following incomplete sentence completion:
    Peter is -------.

    1. popular
    2. hyperactive
    3. tall
    4. gullible
    5. paranoid
This example is incomplete because it has no main idea; any adjective could fit here. Peter is popular. Peter is hyperactive. Peter is paranoid. (Incidentally, notice that all the choices are grammatically consistent. Here the choices are all adjectives; on another question they might be all verbs.)

You will never see such a question on the SAT because it is too simple. You are not given enough information to choose a "best" answer. Peter could be popular, hyperactive, tall, gullible, and paranoid!

On the SAT, each sentence will give you clues pointing to its main idea. Consider now the following variations of our original sentence:

Variation 1:

    Peter is -------, so he plays center for his high school basketball team.

    1. popular
    2. hyperactive
    3. tall
    4. gullible
    5. paranoid
Discussion: The clue here is the phrase following the blank. The only choice that fits now is C.

Variation 2:

    Peter is -------, so he continually looks over his shoulder for hidden dangers.

    1. popular
    2. hyperactive
    3. tall
    4. gullible
    5. paranoid
Discussion: The only choice that fits now is E. Even if you weren't familiar with the answer, you could use process of elimination to rule out the other choices.

Variation 3:

    Peter is -------, so on weekends he has more party invitations than he can handle.

    1. popular
    2. hyperactive
    3. tall
    4. gullible
    5. paranoid
Discussion: The only choice that fits now is A.

Variation 4:

    Peter is -------, so his friends are always playing practical jokes on him.

    1. popular
    2. hyperactive
    3. tall
    4. gullible
    5. paranoid
Discussion: The only choice that fits now is D. Again, if you weren't familiar with the answer, process of elimination would have allowed you to deduce the answer by eliminating the other choices.

Variation 5:

    Peter is -------, so he finds it nearly impossible to sit still through long, tedious lectures.

    1. popular
    2. hyperactive
    3. tall
    4. gullible
    5. paranoid
Discussion: The only choice that fits now is B.

Of course, SAT sentence completions will get a lot harder than that, but the basic principle is the same. Don't forget that half the questions include two blanks, but our overall method does not change significantly, so for now let's just nail down our basic approach.

Chunking the Sentence into Phrases
The sentences you'll have to answer on the test are more difficult than the ones above because they're longer. The average sentence on the SAT contains more than 20 words. With sentences that long, you'll have to dig to uncover the clues.

The way not to answer long questions is to plug in each choice and read the sentence as a whole over and over until you find the answer. This process is too confusing and time-consuming. Indeed, reading a lengthy sentence under time pressure just once is difficult enough to take in. As we discussed in The SAT: How Your Brain Can Get You in Trouble, your brain can handle only so much information in short-term memory before it crashes, just like a computer. Reading a lengthy sentence for clues can overload your short-term memory, making it very difficult to think clearly, if at all.

The solution is to work with chunks of a sentence at a time, eliminating as many choices as you can, and then working with another chunk of the sentence. By working in this way you'll find that you can often determine which word or type of word fits without reading the entire sentence.



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From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.


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