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SAT Sentence Completion Strategy


Many students are intimidated by the Sentence Completionprocess of elimination questions because they know that they will encounter many vocabulary words that they have never seen before. The way to overcome this difficulty is through the use of process of elimination, a strategy that is important on all sections of the SAT but especially powerful on questions that involve vocabulary. The key is to use the context of the sentence to determine what the word in the blank means as precisely as possible. Sometimes even pinning the word down to being either positive or negative will often be sufficient to eliminate choices. If you are able to narrow down the question down to 2 or 3 choices, you should guess.

There are basically two types of sentence completion questions. There are those in which the sentence will essentially define the word for you, and in this case the strategy is to identify the keywords in the sentence that are meant to illustrate what the word in the blank needs to mean. Here is a simple example:

Known for his _________, John is always willing to lend a kind and understanding ear whenever someone has a problem.

 A) indifference  B) spontaneity  C) cruelty  D) compassion  E) confidence

The correct answer is Choice D). In this question, the object is to identify kind and understanding as keywords and then find the choice that matches most closely with them, which is “compassion.”

The other kind of sentence completion question involves identifying the relationship between two words in the sentence. The key strategy here is to focus on transition words that indicate what this relationship is. Words such as “but” and “although” set up a contrast and words such as “consequently” and “as a result” set up a cause-effect relationship. When you are unable to determine the precise definition of the word in the blank, your next instinct should be to figure out the relationship between words in the sentence by zeroing in on these transition words. For example,

Although she was uncertain of which career she wanted to pursue, Sarah was _______ in stating that she wanted to work in the medical field.

 A) Vague  B) Argumentative  C) Unambiguous  D) Belligerent   E) Graceful

The correct answer is Choice C). In this question, the goal is recognize that the word “although” sets up a contrast between “uncertainty” (of her career) and the word in the blank. It is often helpful to put your own word in the blank before proceeding to the choice and in this case, a simple word like “clear” would work well. Next, we have to find the choice that most closely means “clear.” It is “unambiguous. Even if you happened not to know the word “unambiguous,” process of elimination can help you get the correct answer to this question. “Vague” means the same thing as “uncertain,” so this choice does not satisfy the contrast. “Graceful” is unrelated to the content of the sentence. “Argumentative” and “Belligerent” both mean aggressive, which is not the opposite of “uncertain.” By eliminating all of the incorrect choices, we arrive at “unambiguous.” Process of elimination is an extremely important strategy that every student should become familiar with.


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