SAT Sentence Completion Strategies (page 2)
Uncovering Word Clues
Sentences fall into a small number of recognizable patterns. Sentences may follow chronological order, relate cause and effect, explain similarities, or add examples. They also contrast ideas or things and name exceptions to the rule. Certain words are clues to sentence structure. After you identify those words, you’ve solved the riddle. Take a look at the most prevalent clue words you may encounter on the SAT and example sentences:
After: Barney ate three dried fish after he went to the movies. (The sentence doubles back in time from the fish to the movies.)
And, also: Brunhilda added three new ants to her all-bug baseball team, and she also acquired a terrific centipede pitcher that had recently cleared waivers. (The sentence adds examples.)
But: Barbara bellowed for help for seven straight hours, but Bella barely whimpered her distress. (The sentence contrasts two Viking warriors.)
So: Bettina’s aardvark wouldn’t stop eating her pet ants, so she slapped him. (The sentence moves logically from cause to effect.)
Then: Trini went to the movies and then ate two bags of popcorn. (The sentence proceeds in a straight line chronologically from the movies to the snack.)
In addition to the five preceding common SAT clue words, check out the following list for other clue words you may encounter:
Cause and effect: Because, for, therefore, consequently, hence, thus, accordingly, as a result, ergo (only in truly boring academic writing, the type that should be banned from the planet, if not the solar system)
Comparison: Than, equally, like . . . as, similarly, similar to, like
The exception to the rule (contrasting idea): On the other hand, in contrast to, however, despite, in spite of, nevertheless, nonetheless, otherwise, although, though, even though
More of the same: And, also, as well, in addition, not only . . . but also, furthermore, moreover, besides, likewise, not the only, such as, for example, for instance, showing, illustrating
Time marches on (or back): Then, once, before, after, since, while, during, still, yet, until, up until, later, earlier, finally, in the end, when, originally
Tip: No! No! A thousand times no! Not to mention never, but, nor, neither, and other negative words. These word gremlins pop up frequently in sentence completions, a trap for the unwary. When you see a negative word, give yourself an extra moment to be sure you understand the sentence’s meaning. A Grand Canyon-size difference separates Fiona wanted to polish Nick’s teeth more than anything else in the world and Fiona didn’t want to polish Nick’s teeth more than anything else in the world. Also, be careful of double negatives. The SAT has good grammar, so you won’t find a sentence completion saying something like He didn’t want no vegetables. However, you may find this sentence: Because Mattie didn’t under- stand Martian, she had no interest in that newspaper. Okay, maybe not that exact sentence, but one with a similar structure. Be sure to decode both parts of the sentence before choos- ing a completion answer.
Completing the Sentence: Steps That Work
For both simply worded and vocabulary-laden questions, follow these steps to come up with the right answer:
1. Read the entire sentence.
This step sounds too obvious to state, but some people actually try to choose an answer after reading only a couple of words. The SAT test makers are ready for these “partial readers.” They take care to provide a choice that looks fine but is the verbal equivalent of the halfway point in a dive into a waterless swimming pool.
2. Check for clue words.
If you find any, underline them. (Not sure what a clue word is? Check out the section “Uncovering Word Clues” above.)
3. Decide what the sentence is trying to say.
You may not be able to get the whole meaning yet, but you should have some idea what target the sentence is aiming at. Don’t look at the answer choices yet.
4. If possible, make up a word or phrase that fits the blank(s).
You can’t always do so, but if you can, you’re nearly home free. Check the answers to see whether any choice matches your idea. If so, take that option and move on. If not, think about whether the answer is likely to be a positive or a negative word. Put a little plus or minus sign in the blank to remind you of the type of answer you’re searching for.
5. Eliminate the nonstarters.
You may be able to rule out some choices right away. For example, if you know that the blank indicates a change in direction for the sentence — a contrast, perhaps — you can dump all the choices that seem similar to the idea expressed in the rest of the sentence. If you’ve placed a plus sign in the blank, dump the negative words.
6. Check the remaining answers for the best match.
Even if you weren’t able to come up with a possible fill-in, the answer choices may give you some ideas. Plug each remaining choice into the sentence until one fits snugly. If more than one answer is possible, go for the one that matches a clue in the sentence. In the SAT sentence completions, you’re always looking for the best answer, not just any old answer that may be okay.
Tip: If you have absolutely no idea what some of the words mean, follow the general rule on guessing. If you can eliminate one choice, take a guess. If you can’t eliminate any choices, skip the question. No matter what, don’t waste brain cells on a question that relies on a bunch of words that have never crossed your path. Move on to the questions that you have a better shot at getting right.
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