7 Strategies to Ace the SAT Sentence Completion Problems - 7

By | April 19, 2008

1. For the first few questions, go with your intuition – The SAT Sentence Completion questions, unlike the rest of the Critical Reading or Writing Sections are presented in order of perceived difficulty; in other words, the easiest questions come first, followed by moderately difficult questions, and finally, the “hard” questions. What this means is that if you have a hunch about the first few questions (#’s 1, 2, and 3), you’re probably right.

2. This also means that your intuition may deceive you on the last few questions of the Sentence Completions – Well that’s not entirely true. If you have a strong command of SAT vocabulary, the last few questions may actually be the easiest. It’s not that the sentence structure of the last questions is difficult; it’s simply that they have more “difficult” words, both among the answer choices and the sentence itself. If you’re struggling with one of the last few questions, don’t cross-off a word because you don’t know it (in fact, if you don’t know a word, you should never cross it off).

Take a look at the following “difficult” sentence completion question from the CollegeBoard’s Official SAT Study Guide Practice Test #, Section 2; this is sentence completion question #8, out of eight questions.

Actors in melodramas often emphasized tense moments by being _______, for example, raising their voices and pretending to swoon.

(A) imperious

(B) inscrutable

(C) convivial

(D) histrionic

(E) solicitous

Those of you who have a strong vocabulary will recognize that the question is, in fact, not difficult at all. If you know that histrionic is a word related to acting, meaning “overly theatrical or dramatic,” then you could easily figure out that the correct answer is (D). But those of you who are less knowledgeable may have been tricked into thinking that histrionic had something to do with history, perhaps, and crossed it off entirely. Further, you may have been tempted into thinking that the correct answer was (C) convivial because it has to do with being festive and sociable, and reasoned to yourself that festive people can be dramatic people, and therefore selected it as the correct answer. This brings me to my next point.

3. Don’t be too smart for the sentence completion questions. All the questions on the SAT are self-sustaining questions, meaning you don’t need to think beyond the limits of what’s given. In fact, this will probably get you into trouble. If you find yourself justifying an answer through extended reasoning, like in the problem above, you may read too into it and lead yourself to select an incorrect answer. In fact, if you find yourself justifying an answer by adding another factor to the given facts, it’s probably the incorrect answer. Look at the following example:

Recognizing that the new line of tools broke or bent out of shape when stressed, the manufacturer assigned scientists to improve their _______.

(A) vulnerability

(B) density

(C) resilience

(D) solvency

(E) volatility

While the answer is clearly (C) resilience, meaning ability to return to original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched, if you were “too smart for the test,” you may have chosen (B) density by justifying to yourself, “perhaps if the tools were more dense, they would be less susceptible to break or bend.” Another trap about this problem is the use of scientists. By focusing on the noun scientists, you may have fallen into the trap of choosing either (B) density or (D) solvency because of the association of these words to science.

4. Instead, you should focus on the descriptive words – usually adjectives or verbs, but can also be a descriptive noun. In the example above, the descriptive words were bent out of shape when stressed. That’s the clue that tells you that the manufacturer wants to improve their resiliency. See if you can figure out the descriptive words in the example below:

Because the pandas had already been weakened by disease and drought, a harsh winter would have had _______ consequences for them.

(A) erratic

(B) informal

(C) catastrophic

(D) unforeseen

(E) moderate

If you correctly identified the descriptive words as weakened by disease and drought, then you probably correctly identified the answer as (C) catastrophic.

5. Look to the other clause for help. Keep in mind that all the sentence completion questions are compound sentences (with two clauses). This will help you to identify the descriptive words. The key descriptive words will usually be in a separate clause from the blank(s). The clauses will usually be separated with a comma, but could also be separated with a semicolon (;) or a colon (:). Look on the other side of these punctuation marks for clues.

6. If there is more than one blank in a given sentence, it may help to tackle one at a time. Chose one of the blanks, and then select the plausible answers that correspond to that blank. Then from among your answers, chose the one that also works with the other blank. A good strategy that often works for me is starting with the second blank and choosing from the second column of the answer choices. Then going back and seeing which one of those has a choice in the first column that works for the first blank. With this strategy, you’ll often find that problems with two blanks are easier than when there is just one.

7. Know your vocabulary. The fact of the matter is that the more vocabulary words you know, the better you’ll do on all the Critical Reading sections. The SAT Critical Reading Sections are mostly a test of Vocabulary – In fact, 1/3 of the all Critical Reading questions relies heavily on vocabulary, even the Reading Passages. If you follow the strategies above and study your SAT vocabulary, you should find the sentence completion problem fairly easy to solve.

Topics: SAT Critical Reading, Sentence Completion Questions | 7 Comments »

How to Answer SAT Critical Reading Questions without Reading the Passages - 24

By | April 17, 2008

In my last post – How I improved my SAT Critical Reading Score By 150 Points – I emphasized the importance of focusing on the Questions and Answer Choices, rather than the reading passages themselves. In that post, I explained how to avoid some of the pitfalls in the reading comprehension questions by noticing indicators of poor answer choices. If you need to improve your Critical Reading score, I suggest you start there.

In this post, I’ll explain some of the factors of a good Critical Reading comprehension answer choice. But first, consider this. Did you know there are standardized test-taking experts who make a game out of taking SAT Critical Reading tests WITHOUT reading the passages?? Read the excerpt below from an article by Malcolm Gladwell that was published in the New Yorker:

Critics of the S.A.T. have long made a kind of parlor game of seeing how many questions on the reading-comprehension section (where a passage is followed by a series of multiple-choice questions about its meaning) can be answered without reading the passage. David Owen, in the anti-S.A.T. account “None of the Above,” gives the following example, adapted from an actual S.A.T. exam:

1. The main idea of the passage is that:

A) a constricted view of [this novel] is natural and acceptable
B) a novel should not depict a vanished society
C) a good novel is an intellectual rather than an emotional experience
D) many readers have seen only the comedy [in this novel]
E) [this novel] should be read with sensitivity and an open mind

If you’ve never seen an S.A.T. before, it might be difficult to guess the right answer. But if, through practice and exposure, you have managed to assimilate the ideology of the S.A.T. – the kind of decent, middlebrow earnestness that permeates the test – it’s possible to develop a kind of gut feeling for the right answer, the confidence to predict, in the pressure and rush of examination time, what the S.A.T. is looking for. A is suspiciously postmodern. B is far too dogmatic. C is something that you would never say to an eager, college-bound student. Is it D? Perhaps, but D seems too small a point. It’s probably E–and, sure enough, it is.

With that in mind, try this question:

2. The author of [this passage] implies that a work of art is properly judged on the basis of its:

A) universality of human experience truthfully recorded
B) popularity and critical acclaim in its own age
C) openness to varied interpretations, including seemingly contradictory ones
D) avoidance of political and social issues of minor importance
E) continued popularity through different eras and with different societies

Is it any surprise that the answer is A? Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of the anti-test group FairTest, says that when he got a copy of the latest version of the S.A.T. the first thing he did was try the reading comprehension section blind. He got twelve out of thirteen questions right.

The thing about these experts is that they don’t do this to prove how smart they are, or to prove how good they are at taking standardized tests. Most of these people are CRITICS of standardized tests! They do this to prove, or point out, the flawed nature of standardized test: the SAT Critical Reading Sections don’t really test for Reading Comprehensions.

So how do they do this? What they’re doing is simply pointing out what many high scorers on the SAT have known all along. Continue reading as I point out some of the indicators of good Critical Reading answers choices below.

Anatomy of a Good SAT Critical Reading Answer Choice

Have you ever noticed that many of the SAT Critical Reading reading comprehension answer choices is a matter of opinion? You ever think to yourself, “WTF, both the answers could be correct?” While in reality, you’re probably right; you could justify almost any answer choice on this test, you have to keep in mind that the SAT is a “standardized” test. That means that only the answer choices that can be justified “objectively” according to the CollegeBoard’s standards are correct. And since the Collegboard people are the ones who grade your tests, that’s what you’ll have to deal with. Well then, your goal should be to discern what types of answer choices the CollegeBoard wants. Remember, your goal is to learn to think like the creators of the SAT.

The 5 Factors of a Good SAT Critical Reading Answer Choice:

So without further ado, here are the Five factors that make a Good Critical Reading answer choice:

1. The Correct answer will always be the most defendable

Consider the following sentence:

– The recent findings on the uses of medical marijuana are the most controversial ever!

While such a sentence is typical of something you might read in the newspaper headlines, overhear in daily conversation, or even find in this blog, it’s too extreme to be the correct answer on an SAT test. As the extreme words “most” and “ever” suggest – as I pointed out in my last post – make this statement very hard to defend. How is one to objectively know that anything is the most controversial? And ever? That’s quite a timeframe to cover. This statement is more of an opinion than anything objectively measurable, and not likely something the author of a passage on the SAT would claim.

Good SAT answer choices on the other hand will be more defendable. They tend to have more moderate word choice and avoid the sweeping generalizations such as the one above. Rather than absolute ideas, they convey the ideas of more moderate terms such as may, might, can, or could.

2. Good answer choices are often paraphrased

The CollegeBoard people know that students will like employ the strategy of simply looking for keywords. A student may read the referenced portion of the passage, then look for keywords that appear among the answer choices. However, a choice that takes a lot of key words from the passage is often a trap.

On the other hand, the CollegeBoard people have gone through the trouble to paraphrase an answer choice, that is like to be the choice. For example, is a passage describes a character who is “sensitive to other peoples needs,” a correct answer choice may describe him as a “considerate” individual; a trap, on the contrary would may simply call him a “sensitive” person.

3. Good answer choices are often ones that are echoed in other questions

Ever realize that a few of the questions on pertaining to a Critical Reading passage point out the same thing? Well you should because it’s typical to see this in this section. It’s not that the test developers want to ask the same question over and over, it’s just that the question is pointing to one of the major themes of the passage! So if you think about it, while the questions may point to different parts of the passage, all the parts of the passage should serve the same purpose for the author: to further support his main idea.

4. Good Answer choices are politically correct

Not only are they politically correct, they’re in line with how society deems well-educated intellectuals should think. Ironically it’s probably not politically correct to be so crude in pointing this out, but my goal it’s simply true. This is what Malcolm Gladwell means when he more articulately points out “the kind of decent, middlebrow earnestness that permeates the test.”

5. Finally, Good Answer choices point out universal qualities of society and human nature.

This is especially true when the answer choice is in accord with my last point (#4). When both these qualities are found in an answer choice, it’s very likely the correct answer. Often times these answer choices will literally use the word universal – or a variation of it.

This concludes my tips on the reading comprehension question on the SAT. If anything is unclear, please comment below. I’d be glad to help you out.

For more advice and practice on the SAT Critical Reading Sections, get Adam Robinson’s Rocket Review Revolution: the Ultimate Guide to the New SAT.

Topics: Reading Passages, SAT Critical Reading | 24 Comments »

How I Improved My SAT Critical Reading Score by 150 Points - 25

By | April 16, 2008

SAT Critical Reading - Reading PassagesThis post refers to how I learned to tackle the reading passages portion of the Critical Reading Sections. Many students struggle with the reading passage questions, so I thought I’d tackle them first before I go into the sentence completions or emphasize the importance of vocabulary.

When I first set out to master the SAT Critical Reading passages, I began by focusing my effort on the passages themselves, thinking that perhaps I was not reading properly or thoroughly enough, all the while wasting valuable time. Only after hours of analyzing the numerous Critical Reading Sections did I realize I was going about it incorrectly. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but I realized, the key is to focus on the Questions and their Answer Choices, not the passages the passages themselves.

The single most important skill for succeeding on the SAT Critical Reading Passages is to learn to evaluate the ANSWER CHOICES! I can’t emphasize this enough.

Have you ever read an SAT passage and not understood what it was about?? No, of course not. The passages are relatively straight forward. Most 5th graders can understand what the authors are saying and give a fairly good summary. I’ve never had a student read a passage and ask, “what the heck was that about?”

Take a look yourself at this passage from the CollegeBoard’s Official Web Site: here. This is a typical passage you would encounter on the actual SAT. After just a quick read of this passage, you would realize that the passage is simply a personal narrative about the author’s first experience witnessing a live theater show.

It’s just as easy to understand any of the passages in the CollegeBoard’s Official SAT Study Guide. For example, take a look at the first reading passages offered in Practice Test #1 (Section 2, p. 391). After a quick read, you can easily see that each passage is simply providing its author’s perspectives on dolphin intelligence. Look at the longer passage on the next page. Again, one could easily conclude that the passage is about the perception (or misconceptions) that outsiders have had of Native Americans throughout history. Was there anything that was difficult to understand? Not really.

So, then why do so many students do poorly on the Critical Reading passages??

If you think about it, each question can have only one correct answer (obvious, right?). Well, this means that the test makers have to create four other answer choices that are incorrect – choices that are meant to lure you to them. Therefore, focus on the questions and answer choices, not the reading passages themselves! This does not mean to ignore the passages altogether. That would be foolish. Instead, get through them as quickly as possible while still getting the gist of them, so that you can focus your energy on what matters. You don’t get points on the SAT for reading the passages; you only get points for each question you answer correctly. So why waste time and energy overanalyzing the passages?


You should spend, at most, only two minutes reading each passage, then one full minute on each question. For some of you that may mean skimming the passages (I’ll explain in another post how to do this while still reading critically). But know, that overall, you should spend considerable more time on the questions than you do reading the passage itself.

OK, so what do you look for among the answer choices?

Let’s start with things to avoid. The following are indicators of bad choices that should be avoided:

1. Extreme or absolute words

One of the clearest indicators of poor choices are those words that make a statement extreme or absolute. On the SAT, you have to take every word literally. If you do, you’ll realize that certain answer choices that seem plausible, or in accord with the overall theme of the passage, are actually poor choices. For example, take a look at the following sentences:

– You should never eat right before going to bed.

All children should play as much as possible as exercise is good for their bodies.

While these two sentences are examples of how we speak in daily conversations, they make for poor choices on the SAT because, when taken literally, they mean very different things than what is intended. Words such as “never” and “all” are very strong words in the context of the SAT and are rarely contained within the correct answer.

Some other words and phrases that often indicate extreme answers that are rarely the correct choices are:

-All, always, the only, oldest, the first, same.

-superlatives (such as best, biggest, greatest)

-and “less” words (such as pointless, useless, endless)

The words above often suggest sweeping generalizations that are often too extreme. Correct answers for the Critical Reading Passages are usually presented in more moderate terms such as:

-Not all, not always, seemed the only, oldest known, among the first, about the same

*Keep in mind that there are no fool proof rules on extreme words.These are just some of the words that often – but not always – indicate good or bad choices. What’s more important is the principle underlying them. Always remember to keep context in mind.

Here they are listed side-by-side so that you can more clearly see the differences:

Indicators of Extreme Answers

(poor choices)

More Moderate Versions

(better choices)


not all


not always

the only

seemed the only


oldest known

the first

among the first


about the same

Notice that while “only” almost always indicates a poor choice, the phrase “not the only” is often correct. Therefore, it’s not enough to just look for extreme words, but also to consider their context.

2. Politically Incorrect Choices

Avoiding politically incorrect choices is especially important when dealing with a passage that refers to a specific person. While the passage may highlight some of his or her faults, the overall tone of the passage will be positive. When the passage is about a woman or a member of any minority group, the answer will almost always be positive.

3. Choices that defy common sense

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the passages that you overlook these. In each set of answer choices, there will almost always be at least one answer choice that you know is so ridiculous that it most certainly cannot be the answer. Your intuition is correct. You should certainly avoid these choices.

4. Choices that require you to infer beyond the limits of the passage

There are something called an “inference” questions on the Critical Reading passages, but they’re not what you think. These questions are usually phrased in such a way as, “Based on line 8-12, you can infer that the author…” Many students mistake this as an opportunity to assume something beyond the limits of the passage. These questions are not asking you to guess or jump to some conclusion; DO NOT read into things. These questions simply require you to look into specific parts of the passage and find the answers. If you find yourself thinking up a hypothetical question in your head to justify an answer, it’s probably the wrong choice. Remember this is a standardized test. The answer must be something that most other students can “infer” from the passage, not something random you draw up in your head. This also applies to the sentence completion questions that I’ll get to later.

So now that I’ve gone over what types of answer choices to avoid on the Critical Reading passage questions, in my next post I’ll go over the qualities of good answer choices.

Check out my next post here: How to Answer SAT Critical Reading Questions without Reading the Passages

Also, for more advice and practice on SAT Critical Reading Sections, get Adam Robinson’s Rocket Review Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT.

Topics: Reading Passages, SAT Critical Reading | 25 Comments »

7 Myths about the SAT that prevent you from a 2400 - 9

By | April 15, 2008

1. You can’t improve your SAT score.

I think by now most people realize that proper preparation can help anyone improve his or her score.  When the SAT was first introduced in 1926, the letters S-A-T used to stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test. The common belief back then was that the SAT could test an individual’s innate intelligence, or aptitude; studying or preparing for the test was thought to be pointless.  Then in the 1950s test prep industry pioneer Stanley Kaplan began coaching a small group of students for the SAT from his basement.  When his students began to regularly produce exceptional scores, people began to recognize that the test could be beat.  It wasn’t until 1994 that the test makers conceded that the SAT could be prepared for and changed its name to the Standardized Assessment Test.  However, even this name didn’t stick for long as the SAT people released an official press release in 1996 stating that the SAT does not stand for anything.  After undergoing some major changes in March of 2004, the test came to be referred to for a short period as the New SAT.  Today, it’s simple referred to as the SAT Reasoning Test.

2.  The SAT tests a student’s intelligence.

Hogwash.  While I’ve already addressed this myth somewhat above, it’s worth noting that there are still research studies out there that seem to suggest a correlation between SAT scores and IQ.  However, the tests used to measure IQ use the same one-dimensional, standardized methods used on the SAT.  Human intelligence transcends any performance measured on a standardized or “objective” test.  History has shown time and again that some of the most intelligent and successful people do very poorly in academic settings.  It’s only after they leave school, or perhaps because they do, that they begin to show the world there brilliance.  Renowned educational consultant and pioneer in the development of innovation and creativity, Sir Ken Robinson gave a great speech recently on the amazing success of some people who were thought to be failures in the classroom.  It’s an inspiring video worth checking out: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/66.

But I digress.  On to the next myth…

3.  The SAT can ask any question as long as it relates to reading, writing, or math.

That would pretty much include everything.  This is often the most daunting notion for students.  It seems like the SAT covers so much that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and give up on studying altogether.  The truth is, the CollegBoard (the company that develops the test) limits itself to few very specific concepts.  But it’s not enough to simply know these concepts.  In fact, you know most of these concepts as they’re generally taught to students very early in their school lives.  The key to succeeding on the SAT is knowing how to apply these concepts by learning how the test developers think.

4.  You should prepare for the SAT the same way you prepare for any other academic test.

If they were the case, then most straight-A students would get near perfect scores.  The truth is, only a very select few (<1%) actually get perfect scores every year.  There would be no point to the SAT; academic institutions would simply just give you a score based on your GPA.  But the reality is, most A-students, who have proven they no how to study for test in their classes, don’t get anywhere near perfect scores.  Studying for the SAT is different because you need to not only know the concepts, but how to apply them the way the test developers want you to apply them.  This requires you to learn how to think how the test makers think, and this is what I teach here on my blog.

5.  You can’t prepare for the essay.

Almost everyone that I know who has received high scores on their essays (either an 11 or a 12) – both among students that I have taught and my own peers – went into the test knowing what they were going to write.  Sure the “topic” prompt changes with each test, but the overall format and expectations are the same with every test.  This makes for a very predictable scenario that allows you to prepare about 80% of the essay before you even see the test.  I’ll get into this in more detail in another post.

6.  You can improve your math and writing score, but you can’t improve you Critical Reading Scores.

This myth is similar to the myth that the SAT tests for innate intelligence, but again, that it’s simply not true.  In fact I would say that for those of you who don’t normally fair well on the Critical Reading Sections of the test, particularly with the reading passages, this section is perhaps the easiest to improve your scores.  The reason for this is that while the SAT Writing Sections and Math sections put a little more weight on the concepts themselves, the Critical Reading Sections are the most predictable in terms of finding what the developers of the SAT want.  So most student who claim that they can’t improve their Critical Reading score are probably approaching their preparation from the wrong angle.  Again, it’s all about learning to think like the test developers.  Stay tuned because this is what my next post is about.

7.  It is better to leave a question blank than to guess.

It’s true that you lose a quarter of a point when you get an incorrect answer whereas you don’t lose anything if you leave a question unanswered.  BUT, you gain a full point for every question answered correctly!  So, if you’ve read the question, and spent any time trying to figure it out, take a guess guess; it could make up for four incorrect questions elsewhere on the test.  You should absolutely guess if you can eliminate at least one of the answer choices because the odds will be in your favor.

Topics: SAT Reasoning Test | 9 Comments »

Hello world! - 1

By | April 11, 2008

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Topics: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

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