While most students groan at the sight of the long-winded passages in the Critical Reading sections, quite a few lose points in the seemingly simple sentence completion part. The following are three such questions from an old SAT. Would you be able to fill in the blank with the appropriate word?
1. The prose of Richard Wright’s autobiographical Black Boy (1945) is __________, free of stylistic tricks or evasiveness.
2. The ambassador argues that, in diplomacy, there is a subtle but important difference between a country’s showing a willingness to ____ and a too-obvious readiness to make _____.
a) negotiate… concessions
b) antagonize… friends
c) surrender… enemies
d) dominate… inquiries
e) equivocate… denunciations
3. The general was so widely suspected of ____ during the war that his name eventually became synonymous with disloyalty.
The Princeton Review and McGraw-Hill crews have written prep guides with a few common pieces of advice here: first, cover up the answer choices and fill in the blank yourself. Then try to match that word with the choices.
If you can’t do that, at least eliminate two that you believe would not work in the sentences. Then make another attempt by determining the tone of the missing word(s). Should they be positive or negative? Would they be synonymous or opposite to the other adjective/adverb modifiers in the sentence?
Another tip: if you’re struggling- skip the hard ones! The sentence completion questions are in order of difficulty, as are the above examples. Look at the above examples again. Did you stare at the answer choices for #3 a lot longer than those of the other questions? If you spend precious minutes on the highest level sentence completion questions, you might panic at the sight of the long reading passages appearing on the next pages. After all, you get the same number of points for the hard questions as you do for the easy ones.
The writers of the Princeton Review guide would also bring up the Joe Bloggs concept: which choice is geared to trick the average Joe? Look at the answer choices of #3. Doesn’t belligerent mean war-like? Don’t fall for it! The hardest questions have answers that are full of traps.
Of course having a strong vocabulary is the key to success in the sentence completion section. When learning your SAT words, however, don’t just rely on a flashcard with the word on one side and a definition on the back. The folks at McGraw-Hill came up with a great system that forces your brain to process new definitions using multiple senses. Draw a captioned visual, like a cartoon, to act out the meaning of the word on one side of the card. (Yes, stick figures will work!) In addition, make use of the sound of the word- what does it sound like? Laconic sounds like “the comic” to me. So I’ll draw a picture of a laconic comic getting nervous on stage in front of an angry audience.
At test time, when the anxiety is high, it wouldn’t hurt to smile at some of the silly cartoons your brain will flash at you while you sort through your new definitions.
Answers: B, A and C. These questions and many more can be found in the College Board’s “The Official SAT Guide”. The Princeton Review updates “Cracking the SATs” every year . McGraw-Hill does as well with their prep book, “SAT”.