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Todd Shively

Supply and Compare Vocabulary Questions on the SAT

Strict vocabulary questions will constitute nearly one-third of your Critical Reading test.  Between sentence completions and vocabulary-in-context questions, you will have more than twenty questions simply testing your word knowledge.  So it is worth giving this a bit of attention.

One of the most useful strategies is supply and compare.  Unlike many SAT questions, these are the questions in which you aren’t looking to get rid of the wrong answers but find the right one.

Consider the following sentence:

These insects are smaller than a gnat, and they swarm.  Then they infest.  They find ________  in your body you didn’t know that you had.

What word can you supply for the blank?  Let’s see, these insects infest, so they must get everywhere.  So the answer has to be a place of some sort.  But it is a place in the body. An organ?  Bugs can’t get to organs.  So it must be a hole.

Now look at the answer choices:

  1. follicles
  2. surfaces
  3. orifices
  4. viruses
  5. portions

Which of the possible answers most closely means, “hole?”  “Orifices” most closely means hole.  Easy.

But what if you don’t know what “orifices” mean?  Make sure that you are not discounting a choice just because you don’t know what the word means.  Switch back to getting rid of the wrong answers to narrow down to the correct one:

(A) doesn’t make sense—that has to do with hair.  (B) isn’t a terrible choice—sometimes bugs get on body parts that are weird, but we don’t talk about “surfaces in your body.”  It would be “surfaces on….”  (D) doesn’t make sense at all.  (E) could be correct, if again, it weren’t for the preposition “in.”  So (C) is the best answer choice.

Try the “supply and compare” method with this one:

The church was constructed in the 13th century.  The ________ is plain brick that belies the intricacies inside.

What word would you supply there?  The context of the sentence indicates that it is the opposite of “inside.”  So let’s try “outside.”

Now look at the answer choices:

  1. interior
  2. crown
  3. façade
  4. pilaster
  5. vestibule

Match your word, “outside,” with (C) façade, and you’re one question closer to your goal.



About Todd Shively

Todd Shively is an ancient graduate of Purdue University, where he changed his mind so many times that he finished with a major in English and a minor in math. He has taught high school in three different states and currently teaches in Scotland, where he lives with his family. In his spare time he bakes his own sourdough bread and tries to work those carbs off doing Crossfit.

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