The SAT Sentence Completions: Basic Principles

Learn basic principles and tips behind the sentence completion section of the SAT.
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The SAT Sentence Completions: Basic Principles

I'll Say It Again: Start Memorizing Words Today
Each of the three SAT Reading Test sections begins with sentence completion questions: 5, 6, and 8, respectively, making a total of 19 sentence completions on the test. Each group of sentence completions is arranged from easy to medium to difficult: the first half of the questions are easy to medium, and the second half are hard.

Although sentence completions require some comprehension, they are primarily a test of your vocabulary. You won't have much trouble with the easy ones, but the last few sentence completions contain very hard words. Indeed, on the last couple of completions you may not even recognize some of the words in the sentences themselves as well as the choices.

In this article I'll show you a simple three-step method for analyzing sentence completions. As you'll learn, you can often solve the hardest sentence completions even without knowing what the answer means.

What Is a Sentence Completion?
Each question consists of a sentence from which a word has been omitted and replaced by a blank (indicated by a dashed line). Half the questions replace two words with blanks. Your job is to find the word or set of words that completes the main idea of each sentence—what the sentence is "getting at."

Each sentence below has one or two blanks. Each blank indicates that something has been omitted from the sentence. Choose the word or set of words that best completes the meaning of the sentence as a whole.


Trends are difficult to spot until they are well established because they usually begin as minor, seemingly ------- events.

  1. momentous
  2. popular
  3. insignificant
  4. current
  5. recent
(A) (B) (C) (D) (E)

Here are the directions. These directions will not change on the actual test, so do not waste time reading them in the exam room.

Solving Sentence Completions in Three (or Four) Simple Steps
Although there are innumerable types of sentences in the English language, sentence completions can be solved applying a simple, three-step method:

    Step 1: Find the main idea of the sentence.

    Step 2: Anticipate what word or type of word will fit in the blank or blanks.

    Step 3: Apply process of elimination to the choices until you find the answer.

This approach works for any sentence completion, though if you don't know one or more words in the sentence or the choices, you may not be able to eliminate enough choices to find the answer in the third step. If that happens, a fourth step is necessary:
    Step 4: If you haven't found the answer by Step 3, guess.
Again, in this article we'll focus largely on the first three steps.

Let's begin with the first step.