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The SAT Sentence Completions: Basic Principles

The Role of the Colon and Semicolon Some sentence completions will contain a colon ( : ) or semicolon ( ; ). In almost every instance, the sentence direction continues after the colon or semicolon. In fact, the second half of the sentence following the colon or semicolon usually does nothing more than paraphrase the first half.

Here's an example:

    Elliot's analysis of the manuscript is disappointingly -------; Elliot seems content to remain on the surface of the intricate text.

    1. superficial
    2. overdue
    3. derivative
    4. critical
    5. scholarly
The semicolon tells us that the second half of the sentence merely echoes the first half. Since the second half tells us that Elliot remained on the surface of the text, the first half of the sentence must be saying the same thing. The only choice that fits here is A. Choices B and C are negative, as required by the word disappointingly, but are not consistent with the second half of the sentence.

Be Alert for Concept Clues
Grammatical clues (such as the words and phrases we just discussed) and punctuation clues are often enough to solve the sentence completion, but sometimes you will need to use concept clues. A concept clue is an idea that is repeated or contrasted within a sentence.

We find a simple example of this technique in the instructions. Here is the illustrative sentence:

    Trends are difficult to spot until they are well established because they usually begin as minor, seemingly ------- events.

    1. momentous
    2. popular
    3. insignificant
    4. current
    5. recent
Notice the repetition of the ideas "difficult to spot" and "minor." This concept clue points us to the answer, "insignificant."

Sometimes an idea will be contrasted with another, and such contrasts are also important concept clues. On the two-blank sentence completions, you will often find two concept clues, but the principle we have discussed is the same.

Use Common Sense
Simply using what you know about people and the world often helps you solve sentence completions. Consider the following example:

    The young poet, apparently eager to ------- academic commentators who criticized his earlier work for pandering to plebian sensibilities, began to include more erudite references and classical allusions in his poems.

    1. appease
    2. embody
    3. describe
    4. antagonize
    5. confirm
This sentence is packed with several difficult to very difficult words, so let's start by chunking the sentence and applying some common sense.

What would a young poet be eager to do regarding academic commentators of his work? Unless he were self-destructive, a young poet would be eager to please or impress commentators of his work, especially those who had criticized his work earlier. The answer to this question is choice A. Even if you weren't familiar with this word, you could have eliminated the other choices using process of elimination. Once again, notice how we can sometimes—though not always—get away with ignoring difficult words in a sentence completion.

You've learned an astonishing amount about the world and the people in it use it. As you'll see when we get to the reading passages, common sense often rescues us on those questions, too.

Don't Be Too Clever on the Sentence Completions
Sentence completions are straightforward, as are the reading questions. Unlike the kind of reading you are required to do in your school literature classes, the sentences contain no subtleties or surprises.

I say this because if I were giving a lecture right now on sentence completions to you and a dozen classmates, it's about this point that some braniac would raise his hand and challenge me with a comment like, "Well, maybe a young poet would be angry at the critics of his previous work, and so maybe he'd actually be trying to antagonize them."

Yeah, right. Heck, why stop there? Maybe the poet hates poetry and is trying to sabotage his own career. No way. Whenever a sentence includes something contrary to common sense, the sentence will highlight this fact by including a word like "surprisingly" or in some other way letting us know that something unusual is going on.

Keep things simple. If you start to overanalyze a sentence or choice, you can quickly find yourself in deep water. Being clever may win points with your English teacher, but this isn't school. On the SAT, being too clever is likely to cost you time as well as points. Let's move on to step two.



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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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