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Chris Lele

SAT Critical Reading – Advanced Strategies for Dual Blanks

For the last two sentence completions of each critical reading section, one of them is almost bound to be a two-blank Sentence Completion (and sometimes both are). While the general strategy for approaching these tough dual blankers is similar to what you’d use dealing with easy and medium two-blank Sentence Completions, there is some more strategy with a difficult two-blank Sentence Completion.


However, let’s quickly review strategy for the two-blankers:

  1. Always deal with the easier blank first
  2. Come up your own word
  3. Eliminate wrong answers
  4. Plug in final answer choices for the final blank (usually two or three are left standing)

For advanced Sentence Completions there is something else we want to pay attention to: the difficult of the words. Take a look at the following question:
Max was so ________ that he never could be caught in an outright lie; his ________ worked its seductive spell through a calculated mix of half-truths and disingenuousness.

  1. prodigious . . charisma
  2. clever . . demeanor
  3. devious . . duplicity
  4. tactical . . munificence
  5. forthright . . chicanery

Our first instinct is to go for “clever” – after all, Max could never be caught in a lie. As soon as we latch on to this answer choice, we move on to the second word, and even if that second word doesn’t quite work, we’ve become so committed to the answer choice that we make that second word work. (B) demeanor is one’s facial expression. And it seems sensible that is his facial expression would trick people. So just like that we pick (B).

(B), however, is not the best answer. See, how does a facial expression tell half-truths. You could argue that the facial expression wasn’t quite truthful, but that is a stretch. But this way of thinking is is exactly how the SAT engineers many of these tougher two-blankers: they bait you in with the perfect (but easy) word for the first blank and then give you something that is almost-but-not-quite for the second blank.

Typically, the actual answer contains a difficult word for the first blank. In this case, the word devious. Even if you happen to know the word devious remember that it is a much more difficult word than clever (a 4th grader would know the meaning of clever but would have to be very smart indeed to know the definition of devious). Devious, by the way, means crafty and underhanded.

For the second blank, we have the word duplicity, which means deceitfulness. Max was duplicitous in that he was always lying but in such a way that was not obvious. Unlike, (B) demeanor, (C) duplicity matches up better with the overall sense of deception that pervades the sentence. Disingenuousness, which pops up at the end the sentence, describes that quality of pretending you don’t know what is going on, when you very well do.

The Takeaway

The takeaway from all of this is to be on guard if you see a relatively easy word that works perfectly for the first blank of a two-blank Sentence Completion. On difficult questions, this setup is usually a trap; the correct answer will have a more difficult word for the first blank.

And the word for the second blank may be either a relatively straightforward word or a difficult word. The test writers know that you are far less likely to be baited in by easy words that apply to the second blank.


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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 10 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!

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