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Chris Lele

SAT Sentence Completions: Tip 1 – Come up with Your Own Word

I’d say about 99% of students who are seeing a Sentence Completion for the first time use the following strategy: read the sentence, and then plug-in each word to see which one sounds the best.

Let’s try using that approach with the following:

Gerald was prone to bouts of _____ and would oftentimes sit hours at a time, looking glumly out of his bedroom window.

(A)  inertia

(B)  hostility

(C)  melancholy

(D) recalcitrance

(E)  nostalgia


Many students would plug in inertia and think, hey, that sounds pretty good. Others would pick hostility, imagining Gerald looking out of the window with a really mean look on his face.

But the SAT Sentence Completion is no game of mad-libs, which requires you simply to insert the correct part of speech. Only one word fits the blank, and that word is not random. Nor can it effectively be found by plugging-in words to see which one sounds best.

Instead, and here is the big tip #1: Look for the keyword(s). That’s right, the keyword is the word or words in the sentence that will unlock the blank.

Let’s revisit Gerald, who is probably still sitting by the window. What we are looking for is not the fact that he is sitting by the window or even that he is sitting (you could after all be sitting in many different ways).

The word we want is describing Gerald as he sits by the window. That word is ‘glum.’ Glum means sad. Therefore, the word in the blank has to mean ‘sad.’

Only (C) melancholy, which means sad, fits in the blank.

Though it may be tempting, do not pick (A) just because inertia suggests lack of movement. Again, we need to find a keyword in the definition and then find out which of the answer choices is most similar to that keyword.



Whatever you do, do not plug-in answers to see how they sound. Always look for the keyword in the sentence. Only it will unlock the answer.


About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 8 million views.

You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog!

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

2 Responses to “SAT Sentence Completions: Tip 1 – Come up with Your Own Word”

  1. Roman Tatum says:

    What if you don’t know the meaning to all your answer choices?

  2. Chris Lele Chris says:

    That is a good question, because it is very relevant to the harder SAT Sentence Completions. At that point, you want to eliminate as many answer choices as possible, relying on word-roots and the sound/feel of words. Of course, always be trying to strengthen your vocabulary as much as possible helps 🙂

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