If you’ve spent much time preparing for your SAT, you’ve probably already come across this strategy, because it’s both one of the simplest and one of the best out there. It’s in every SAT prep book I know of (including the College Board’s official offering, which is relatively light on strategy), the major prep classes recommend it, and there’s a small chunk of test-savvy students who do it without having to be told. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally for everybody, so let’s make sure you’re clued in.
So what’s the tip? When working on sentence completions in SAT reading, you should always keep from looking at the answer choices until you have your own word in mind.
That can be a little hard to do, especially if you’re feeling jumpy on the day of your test. It takes a little bit of conditioning and willpower to stop your eyes from roaming all over the page.
Protecting yourself from wrong answer choices
If you see your possible answers before you read the sentence that you’re going to complete, you’re going to get attached to a wrong answer at some point. This is especially true in the higher difficulty questions, which might easily have some words that you’ve never seen before…unless you’ve been awesome about building your SAT vocabulary. Any words you do know will be really tempting to hold on to, even if they’re wrong. They’ll put their hooks into you if you’re not careful. Definitely make sure you know the most common SAT words.
So instead of leaving yourself open to wrong answers, you have to build up a little bit of armor—that’s the word or words you choose to fill in the blanks.
Anticipating the answer can save you time
Besides guarding you against wrong answers, guessing what the word is before seeing answer choices can make the process much faster. If your guess is pretty good, there’s a good chance you’ll see a very close synonym—or your word itself—in the answer choices. Anticipating the answer isn’t just armor, in this case. It goes further, and carves out a path for you to follow, so you don’t have to battle through those wrong answers at all. Just keep in mind that guessing on the SAT is a delicate balance.
Take a look at this example, and see if you can armor yourself against wrong answers.
Early models of the car were so ___________________ that they left little space for additional features to be incorporated into the design.
And you know what? Forget the answer choices. Because you shouldn’t even be looking at them yet—not until you’ve made a solid guess.
So what goes in the blank?
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About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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