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The SAT Sentence Completions: Basic Principles

Step 2: Fill in the Blank (or Blanks) Before Looking at the Choices
Once you've determined the direction of a sentence, you should be able to make a good guess about a word that would complete the main idea. Some students actually quickly write a word in the blank, though this is not necessary.

The point of coming up with the word on your own, before you glance at the choices, is not to let the choices confuse your analysis. Now when you look at the choices you're like a heat-seeking missile: you have a definite target in mind.

If You Can't Come Up with a Specific Word for the Blank, Use the Positive-Negative Method
Sometimes the clues don't immediately suggest a specific word. Since you don't have a lot of time during the test to ponder over the sentence, your quick fall back position is to use the positive-negative method. Even when you can't determine a precise word that would fill the blank, you can usually figure out whether the missing word is positive or negative.

Consider the following example and decide whether a positive or negative word would fit. Be careful!

    The point of most advertising of new products, after all, is to make us on some level feel ------- our current lives so that we feel compelled to purchase the products being peddled.

    1. aware of
    2. discontent with
    3. consumed with
    4. hopeful about
    5. harmonious with
While advertising is supposed to make us want to buy a particular product or service, it accomplishes this by making us feel discontented with our current situation. (The concept clue in the repeated theme of "new" and "current" helped here.)

Be careful using the positive-negative method. Whether the missing word is positive or negative often depends on the particular context. Consider the following example:

    Unfortunately, in preliminary trials the experimental vaccination actually ------- the spread of the harmful bacteria.

    1. curbed
    2. altered
    3. defined
    4. cured
    5. promoted
Clearly the main idea of the sentence is negative, but since we're talking about harmful bacteria, the blank would actually be a positive word like "accelerated." The answer is choice E, "promoted," a positive word.

If You Can't Even Decide Whether the Missing Word Should Be Positive or Negative
If you're really stymied, glance at the choices for inspiration. Sometimes a choice triggers an association that will reveal the main idea you're looking for.

Here's another point worth making. Whenever a sentence discusses a woman or a member of a minority group—and especially his or her achievements—the main idea is invariably positive. The test writers go out of their way not to offend anyone, so the tone of sentence completions or reading passages that discuss members of a minority is always upbeat and laudatory.

(This political correctness extends—I kid you not—to the SAT's math problems. If there's an SAT word problem involving boys and girls, I promise you that a girl or girls will win the race or have the highest grade point average or whatever. It never fails.)

Step 3:Attack the Choices Using Process of Elimination
You've already done the hard work, now all you have to do is go through the choices, matching them against the word you anticipated or against the positive-negative connotation you determined.

Don't, however, expect an exact match for the word you anticipated in the previous step, although this often happens. Instead you now have a "key" that allows you to assess each choice quickly using process of elimination. If a particular choice is not consistent with the word you devised, that choice can safely be eliminated—so long as you're sure of the choice's definition, or at least sure whether the choice is positive or negative.

Let's say on a question that the word you came up with is "regular," or something close in meaning. At the very least you've determined that the word should be positive. Consider the following five choices:

  1. imprecise
  2. fortunate
  3. likely
  4. unbalanced
  5. expected
Let's work with the connotation first—always safer than going out on a limb looking for a precise word. We're looking for a positive word, so we can eliminate any negative choices. Choices A and D are out. Now we match each of the remaining choices against our target word—"regular"—and eliminate any that are inconsistent. The only choice consistent with regular is choice E, "expected." Of course, if none of the choices comes close to the word you were expecting, you should reevaluate the 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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