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The SAT Sentence Completions: Basic Principles

Again, Don't Be Too Clever
Let's say that you're looking for a negative word on a sentence and you have the following choices to work with:

  1. honest
  2. sufficient
  3. complex
  4. impressive
  5. necessary
Clearly the only negative choice here is C; the other choices are positive-to-neutral. But there's always some smarty pants at this point who says, "Whoa, wait a second. How do we know that the word 'honest' is always positive? I can think of situations in which a person can be too honest. And for that matter, necessary could be negative, too."

Give me a break. If you get caught in the trap of finding justifications for various choices, you'll never be able to reach a decision. Your goal is to eliminate choices, not justify them.

Two-Blank Completions Give You More to Work With
So far we've discussed only one-blank sentence completions, but everything I've said so far applies equally to the two-blank versions. Two-blank sentence completions take a bit more time to analyze than one-blank questions, so it may appear that they re more difficult. Remember, however, that we have twice as much information per choice during the process of elimination stage. If you can eliminate either word of a pair, the entire choice is out.

Work with one blank at a time. Focus on one of the two blanks—whichever you have more information about and eliminate as many choices as you can. Then, apply process of elimination to the other blank of the remaining choices.

You might determine, say, that the first blank of a sentence is positive and the second blank negative. Glance at the choices and select the blank that has easier words to work with—which may be the second. Eliminate every choice that does not have a negative second word. If you're lucky you may already have found the answer! If not, simply review the remaining choices and eliminate every one that does not have a positive word in the first position.

On Two-Blank Questions, You Can Also Focus on the Relationship Between the Blanks
Although two-blank questions seem more difficult than those with one blank, remember that we now have twice as much information to work with in selecting or eliminating each choice. On a two-blank question if you can't even decide whether the blanks are positive or negative, you can often focus on the relationship between them.

Consider the following sentence:

    Like most -------, Tom was primarily interested in ------- people.
    1. leaders . . enslaving
    2. frauds . . swindling
    3. scientists . . describing
    4. teachers . . intimidating
    5. criminals . . evading
It's impossible to tell whether the blanks are positive or negative, but it is absolutely clear that the two blanks are both positive or both negative. Choice D we can quickly eliminate since only one of the words is negative. The two blanks in choices A, C, and E are somewhat consistent, but only by stretching things. The only choice that works is B.

On more difficult questions, the relationship is sometimes more difficult to establish. Consider the following sentence:

    The table was ------- as well as large, so moving it up the narrow staircase required strength as well as -------.
The two "as well as" phrases establish what English teachers call parallelism. We can make this structure more evident by setting up the phrases as follows:

    -------
    as well as
    large
    strength
    as well as
    -------

Here the first blank refers to the word "strength," while the second refers to the word "large." A possible answer would be "heavy" for the first blank and "agility" for the second.

But What Happens If You Don't Know All the Words?
So far you've learned a basic procedure for analyzing any sentence completion. Things get tougher when you don't know one or more of the words, but in the next chapter you'll learn additional techniques for handling these situations. As I've said before and I'll remind you again, the more words you know, the easier you'll find the SAT Reading Test.



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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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