SAT Writing and Language Test Words in Context

Video Lesson on SAT Writing and Language Test Words in Context


To many test takers, the Sentence Completion questions on the SAT look deceptively easy. It's just one word - how hard can it be? As it turns out, it can be pretty darn hard!

Sentence Completions aren't necessarily easy just because they're short, and knowing their ins and outs in advance will help you avoid the nasty shock of figuring out too late that they're trickier than you thought. So in this lesson, you'll walk through three one-blank Sentence Completion questions to get a feel for how you'll tackle them.

On the one-blank Sentence Completions, you'll solve each question in two steps:

  • Step 1: define the blank. Use context clues in the sentence to figure out what kind of word will go in the blank.
  • Step 2: match the answer. Look the list of answer choices and pick the one that best matches your word for the blank. Then be sure to read the answer choice back into the sentence to be sure it makes sense.

To understand, take one example question.

Example Question 1

'Thanks to her sunny demeanor and _______ attitude, Gertrude was always a welcome guest.'

Start with Step 1: what clue can you identify to help you fill in the blank? Good clues in this sentence include 'sunny demeanor' and 'welcome guest.' These clues tell you that the word in the blank will be something positive. What word do you think would make a good guess?

There is no right answer here, but if you filled in anything like 'cheerful,' 'good,' or 'positive,' you're on the right track. Now let's look at the answer choices. Which of these best matches the word you came up with for the blank?

  1. Fatigued
  2. Redundant
  3. Ambitious
  4. Contradictory
  5. Lighthearted

Here, the correct answer is (E).

In this sentence, we're looking for a word that has something to do with being cheerful. Fatigued means 'tired,' which doesn't fit. Redundant means 'saying the same thing twice,' which also doesn't work. Ambitious means 'striving for success,' which is positive, but doesn't match the clue, and contradictory also doesn't fit. Lighthearted means 'happy' or 'cheerful.' If you read it back into the sentence, you get:

'Thanks to her sunny demeanor and lighthearted attitude, Gertrude was always a welcome guest.' This makes sense, so (E) is your answer!

Example Question 2

Ready to try another one, with a little less guidance? Here's your sentence; using the context clues, make an educated guess about what you think should go in the blank:

'Although he was typically --------------- and outgoing, Mark also needed a lot of time alone to relax and recharge.'

'Outgoing' is a big context clue in this sentence, telling you more or less what you need for the blank. So you could fill in a synonym like 'sociable' or 'friendly.' Now let's take a look at the answer choices:

  1. Idiosyncratic
  2. Gregarious
  3. Elusive
  4. Wary
  5. Reprehensible

Which one of these do you think works best as a synonym for sociable or friendly? Or if you don't know all the words, what can you eliminate? The answer's coming up, so pause the video if you need a little more time to think. The correct answer is (B).

Here's what these words mean:

  • Idiosyncratic - exclusive or particular to one person.
  • Gregarious - sociable and outgoing (Notice the root word 'greg' as in 'congregation' - a gathering of people).
  • Elusive - hidden or difficult to find.
  • Wary - shy or avoiding contact.
  • Reprehensible - deserving blame.

Only gregarious has anything to do with the context clues of the sentence, so (B) is correct.

Question 3

One last question! In this one, you'll get the whole question at once, and you'll be responsible for working through the context clues first and then looking at the answer choices.

'Because it had not been repaired since the owners abandoned it in the 1930s, the old mansion is in a very --------------- condition.'

  1. Dilapidated
  2. Obstreperous
  3. Crestfallen
  4. Supplementary
  5. Xenophobic

The answer's coming up, so pause the video if you need more time to think. The correct answer is (A).

The clues are asking for a word like 'broken-down.' Here's what these words mean:

  • Dilapidated - fallen into disrepair.
  • Obstreperous - noisy and disorderly.
  • Crestfallen - disappointed.
  • Supplementary - additional (Think of a dietary supplement - something you eat in addition to your food).
  • Xenophobic - afraid of strangers (Look at 'phobic' - a house can't possibly be afraid of anything, so you can cross this one off).

Only 'dilapidated' fits the context clue, so (A) it is!

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Analytical Reasoning with Explained Questions
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