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Sentence Completion, Part 2

Teacher/Instructor Eva Holtz
Eva Holtz

Harvard University
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs

Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So here we are in the second episode about how to deal with sentence completions. To put this in context, the first episode is to look for clues, the second episode is about capturing the concept, that's what we're doing here and the next episode is going to be about picking the best match. Let's do a quick recap on look for clues.
As I hope you recall, there were three pieces to remember when it comes to looking for clues. You have to look out for words and phrases in general, you may remember the example with smiled and frowned or doctor and banker. Direction words like although and despite, or 'and' and 'so' and lastly punctuation, especially semicolons and colons. Now with all that in mind you move on to step two which is capturing the concept and that's what we're talking about here. In brief capturing the concept says you have to capture the concept that goes in the blank in the sentence and when you do, the word that you choose doesn't have to be poetic and it doesn't have to be a big old SAT word. Let's look at those two ideas in more detail.
Now I said when you capture the concept, the idea that goes in the blank on the sentence completion, it wasn't important for the word to be poetic or a big old SAT word and I mean that, let me show you why I say that. First of all it's okay if you use casual words, example; 'because Derek is so sweet, the girls call him a blank. So you know we have our direction word like 'because,' we have our words like sweet that tells us something about Derek, so what do they call him? Well it's okay to use a casual word, I can use the word 'sweetie.' Now you might think it's a funny choice, admittedly it is. I'm not saying that the answer choice you chose is actually going to be 'sweetie,' it's not going to be like D-sweetie, you're not going to see that on the SAT.
But in making a prediction, this is a really good prediction because 'sweet' is in the sentence, 'because' tells us we're going in the same direction, so sweetie makes sense. It's casual but that's okay. It's also okay if the word is made up, let's look at a very similar sentence; 'because Derek is so generous, the girls call him a... this is going to sound really silly but it does capture the concept in the sentence, 'because he's so generous, they call him an over-giver.' Again I'm not saying that's going to be the actual answer but it does capture what's going on. So it's a good thing to put there.
Also, repetitive words are okay, you're getting used to the sentence right? Here it comes again, 'because Derek is so weird, the girls call him a... weirdo. Now again, it might be hard for you to come up with words like this because you're so used to using variety in your writing, but you're not writing an essay and you're not actually saying the SAT answer choice is weirdo, but you are capturing the concept and that's perfect for that purpose. Last example, entire phrases are okay, if a single word doesn't do it, you can several words, that's just capturing the concept not a problem that it's more than one word. 'Because Derek is so mysterious and confusing, the girls call him a... well it's probably not a good single word to capture the concept, but we can say a mysterious and confusing guy, and of course that's not to say the right answer is actually going to be a mysterious and confusing guy, but it's going to mean the same thing.
So the most important thing is to capture the concept and I hope I've made it clear that it doesn't matter if you take several words, it doesn't matter if the word you pick sounds goofy or even made up, as long as you're capturing the concept, the idea for the kind of word that goes in the blank, you are in great shape. Now unfortunately, that's not always going to be possible, although usually it will be. Let me show you what I mean. Sometimes you can't capture the concept, but if you can't capture the concept using specific words or phrases like we've been practicing, you can capture it in other ways, so you'll be okay.
The first situation might look something like this, positive and negative. Here is an example let me show you; 'the most recent work by Mason, a talented young author, has been heralded as blank. Now remember step one was to look for clues and we get 'work by Mason,' so we're talking about some sort of book, something like that and 'he's talented as an author' so that sounds like a positive thing and in addition we hear the 'work has been heralded.' You might not know this word but if you do it's another piece of information that's useful because it means welcomed or praised, so sounds like a good thing.
So what do we know about how it's been greeted or received? Well we know it's a good thing but we can't get more specific than that. If we said poetic, well there are no indicators in the sentence that the work is necessarily poetic. Ground-breaking, I mean it's possible but again no clues in the sentence is ground-breaking. I could go on and on making stuff up but all we really know is that the word is going to be positive and that is a positive word that could describe a work. So if all you can do is say it's a positive word in the blank or a negative word in the blank, and you can't get any more specific, that's still good. So you know, write a plus or write a minus and keep that in mind.
Another situation when you won't be able to make a really specific prediction is going to look like this. A same or opposite situation, let's look at this one, 'Although he is 'blank' at work, Charles is blank in his personal life. So 'although is one of our look for clues things, it's a direction word that shows contrast. Although he is this way at work, he's the opposite way in his personal life. So we know that these two are opposites from each other but we don't know anything more specific. Is he outgoing at work or shy in his personal life or vice versa or something else entirely, we don't know. But what we do know is there's going to be opposites and we're going to have to find answer choices that are opposites.
Other times you'll have questions like these where you won't know that they're opposites, you'll know that they're the same. We're not sure what the mean but they're always the same as each other. So as long as you know that you're in good shape. Now usually at this point we would launch into an application question, a practice SAT problem, but we're not quite there yet because we still have the third episode where we're going to tie it all together with picking the best match. So you'll have plenty of practice during that episode, for now let's look at the bottom line.
So after you finish the first step looking for clues in a sentence you have to capture the concept, figure out the idea that goes in the blank and when you do, the words that you choose don't have to be pretty. They can be made up, they can be several words, they can be awkward, it doesn't matter as long as you have the idea of what goes in the blank. And if you can't capture the concept specifically you can still capture it generally using the two methods we discussed; the positive-negative method, where you know the words in the blank is positive or negative and the same opposite method, where even if you don't know anything else you still know the couple blanks should be the same as each other or the couple blanks should be the opposite of each other.
With all these in mind, here's how to capture the concept and you're ready for the third episode about sentence completions, pick the best match.