SAT English Study Tip #1 – SAT Sentence Completion – Part I

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As many of you already know, the Sentence Completion questions found on the SAT are arranged in order of difficulty, easiest questions coming first. But, so what? How does this help you to put your mind at ease? How does this help you to stay focused when you very well might be completely confused by one of the very first (so-called easiest) questions in this section of the SAT? The answer is simple – it won’t. Knowing how the questions are arranged won’t help you to arrive at the correct solution. You need a strategy – a ‘thinking strategy’ – a technique that will help you to arrive at the correct solution, no matter if the question is easy or difficult.

So, what’s a ‘thinking strategy’, right? Good question. A thinking strategy is a way to approach each and every sentence completion and to help you to deduce the correct answer from the multiple-choice options. Think of it as a recipe – a recipe for helping you to take the information you’ve read in the question and make something of it, make sense of it, and make a very logical, confident conclusion of which answer is the obvious choice.

The strategy you are about to practice does just that. When you follow the steps for each and every question, you will not only find the questions become less intimidating, but also become less time consuming. You will start to see the answers come to life more quickly with each question you read and, most importantly, you will see your scores grow higher and higher. The good news is that the technique is 3 steps – easy to use, easy to personalize, easy to perfect. If you are diligent about using the steps, you will become a force to be reckoned with when it comes to acing the SAT Sentence Completions!

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Step 1 – Cover the Multiple-Choice Options

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when working through Sentence Completion questions is to look at the multiple choices too soon. Most people read the question and then go right into reading the multiple-choice options as if they are part of the question stem itself. This is a huge mistake! Doing so clouds your judgment, wastes valuable time by considering answers that are incorrect, and works against any sort of natural thought processes you already have. You will end up having to re-read the question anyway, but now you will have all those wrong answers bouncing around in your head. Use your hand or another piece of paper to cover the options – you will be happy you did!

Step 2 – Read, Paraphrase, Look for Hints

Read through the question and paraphrase as you go. Read small sections at a time, making sure you are able to articulate what it means ‘in your own words’, little by little. Now, as you’re paraphrasing, you will naturally start to try to fill-in-the-blanks on your own – you can’t help it! The trouble, however, is that it is nearly impossible to predict the exact word that would fit in the blank. So, to help your predictions, look for those obvious hints (keywords) that point you in a more specific direction. Words like ‘although’ or ‘despite’, for example, are great hints because these are words that will single ‘opposite’ ideas are about to be expressed (i.e. the sentence meaning is about to take a turn). You are now ready to put-it-all-together.

Step 3 – Categorize & Match

Once you realize what direction the sentence is going, you are ready to categorize possible word choices. Based on your paraphrasing and keywords, you should have a pretty good idea of the type of word that would logically fit in the blank. Try to categorize the word as having a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ feel to it. Positive words are those that would go along with the natural flow of the sentence thus far, words that would support the ideas being expressed, or words that would describe a pleasant scenario. Negative words do the opposite – they go against the flow of the sentence, they lean towards an opposite idea being expressed, or they describe a negative characteristic or trait. Now, let your instinct guide you. Look at the multiple-choice options and find the words that match your category. If you think the word should be positive, eliminate those that you would consider negative words. Substitute the positive choices into the sentence to see which makes the most sense. It may sound a bit confusing, but Step 3 is the part of the technique that helps the most. Let’s try one to see how it all comes together:


The professor displayed extreme stubbornness that day; although she __________ the underlying logic of the student’s arguments, she _________ to indicate his conclusion as valid or correct.


                        (a) accepted … refused

                        (b) concluded … consented

                        (c) denounced … declined

                        (d) rejected … preferred

                        (e) asserted … acceded



Step 1 – Cover the Multiple-Choice Options

Step 2 – Read, Paraphrase, Look for Hints

          > So, the prof is stubborn – extremely stubborn, in fact. We can assume that whatever the student did, there was going to be resistance from the professor, right? Now, are there any ‘hints’ to help us to begin to categorize? YES, the word ‘although’ helps you to predict opposites are coming up - Although the prof thought this, she really did that – words of opposite meaning will be the correct choices here. Finally, let’s determine if the words are going to have a ‘positive or negative’ feel to them. Although the professor ‘liked’ the student’s logic (positive word), she ‘didn’t acknowledge’ the conclusion as correct (negative word) because she was so stubborn.

Step 3 – Categorize & Match

          So, you are looking for a positive word followed by a negative word, opposite in meaning. The only two options that could work here are choice (a) or (c) because they have negative words in the second position. However, only choice (a) will work because it has a positive word in the first position. Choice (a) is correct.

Hopefully you can see how this strategy has the potential to really help you to gain confidence and to achieve success with the SAT English Sentence Completions. It does take some practice, though. Try the examples in Part II and you will see how quickly you can become an expert!

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