Tip #6 to Get a Top SAT Critical Reading Score (page 2)
Okay, right about now, you might be thinking, "Okay professional SAT teacher, you might know what 'sycophant' means, but I sure do not. How does looking for a + or – word help me? How do I know if sycophant is + or – ?" Well, the weird thing is that you can almost always tell if a word is + or –. I call this strategy "Compliment or insult." If someone called you a sycophant, would you feel happy or hurt? Think about it, it does not sound like a compliment, and it kinda sounds negative. You don't want to be called a sycophant. In fact, "sycophant" means "suck-up" and is definitely an insult, a negative word.
Here's another example. The word "lackluster" showed up as an answer choice on an SAT a few years back. We needed a positive word to fill the blank, but tons of kids got to lackluster and said, "I don't know that word." Maybe they never saw the word before, but there is no way "lackluster" is a positive word. It has "lack" in it. In fact, it basically says, "lacking luster" or "without shine." And, that's exactly what it means, "dull." So if you get a sense that a word is positive or negative, trust it. You can always test a word by asking, "Would I want to be called that? Would I feel complimented or insulted?"
Let's look at this question:
Solution: Before you might have said, "I don't know some of these words; I'll just skip it." But now you say, "Well let's see, I don't know 'decry,' so I cross it out. I probably don't need it (Skill 3)." Then choose a word to fill the blank (Skill 1). If it's hard to do that here, decide if you want a + or – word (Skill 3). Since the blank is describing what the critics say, we want a negative word. Go to the choices and cross out any positive words (Skills 4 and 6), and then choose the best from what's left.
insightful—Nope, "insightful" sounds like a compliment. ("Insightful" means "perceptive.") profound—Nope, "profound" sounds like a compliment. ("Profound" means "deep.") alleviating—Nope, "alleviating" sounds positive. ("Alleviating" means "relieving.")
- vapid—Yep, "vapid" definitely sounds negative. You'd be irked if your girlfriend called you vapid.
lucid—Nope, "lucid" sounds like the Spanish or French word for light, it's either positive or neutral.
- Correct answer: D
Before we use this strategy on SAT sentence completions, let's practice predicting if words are positive, negative, or neither. You'll be surprised how often you can tell, even when you think that you don't know the word. Look at these super-high-level vocab words and decide if they are a compliment or an insult. Look at each word and ask, "Would I be psyched or insulted if Jenny called me a(n) _____?" Write +, –, or neither. Then check the solutions to see if your feeling was correct.
Now let's take this strategy out for a spin. For each question, think of a word you would like to fill each blank (and consider if it should be +, –, or neither). Then eliminate choices that do not mean what you are looking for. Use "compliment or insult" on words that you don't know—decide if they are positive, negative, or neither. Then choose the best of the remaining answers.
- To avoid being _____, the teacher often includes jokes and amusing anecdotes in her lectures.
- The miners of the gold rush dug so deeply into the mountain that any more excavation could have had _____ consequences, causing a cave-in or complete collapse.
- Despite the committee's efforts to _____ the discord between the two factions, no progress was made and the two groups remain sworn enemies.
- Just as a rhino's tough hide gives it both protection from predators and insulation from heat and cold, the exterior walls of old castles provided _____ from attackers and _____ from the wind.
- dispersion . . wadding
- admission . . convection
- safety . . conduction
- fortification . . transmission
- asylum . . sanctuary
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