SAT Reading Tips: Related Answers in Sentence Completion Questions

SAT Prep

Humans are programmed to make logical connections, which is never more evident than in our classification of words. We group words by topic and meaning from an early age. For example, consider your early associations with the word dog. It is likely that as a small child just learning to talk, you learned other words associated with dog, like bark, woof, tail, puppy, and spot. This type of word grouping continues into adulthood, when you have a much more expansive vocabulary. If presented with the word experiment, you might associate it with hypothesis, observation, science, control, conclusion, and many more.
The College Board takes advantage of this natural tendency by using wrong answer choices that are related to the topic in the sentence.
Let’s study an example:
1.  Because he often made ridiculous jokes in the courtroom, the judge was known
as a ------- and most lawyers dreaded arguing a case in front of him.
(A) puppet          (B) bailiff          (C) buffoon
(D) sage          (E) patron

The question stem contains the law-related terms courtroom, judge, lawyers, and case. These words should not influence your prephrase, though; the context clue ridiculous jokes in this Cause and Effect Sentence should help you prephrase joker or clown for the blank. Some students, though, will get to the answer choices and immediately be attracted by bailiff  because it is a word that they have heard associated with a courtroom. They will most definitely select this word if they do not know the definitions of the other four or if they cannot match their prephrase. But a bailiff is an officer who keeps order in the court, not someone who makes jokes, so it is definitely the wrong word for the blank.

If an answer choice uses a related word that is relatively common, you must understand the definition of the word before selecting it as an answer. It may likely be a trap.

That is not to say all related answers are wrong; some terms might actually be used with a question stem containing associated content. Let’s look at another:          

2.  The play almost closed when the lead actress was sidelined with a broken leg;
luckily, the ------- was able to take over the role successfully.
(A) understudy          (B) toady          (C) missionary
(D) publicist          (E) stylist


The question stem contains the terms play, lead actress, and role, all of which are stage-related terms. And the best prephrase, other actress, is also associated with the stage. In this case, the best answer, understudy, is related to the content in the question stem.

 So how do you know if related words are the right answer or the wrong answer? It all goes back to your prephrase. If your prephrase is not associated with the topic in the question stem (i.e. joker with law-related terms), then the answer will not be a related word. But if your prephrase is related to the question topic (i.e. other actress with stage-related terms), look for a related word to complete the blank. The more difficult the term, the more likely it will be associated with related words.

Try some Related Answer questions on your own:

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Did you find this article helpful? It’s an excerpt from The PowerScore SAT Reading Bible, and you can read a complete chapter in our Free Help Area.

 Image: "Contact" courtesty of Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho


Answers: 1. E, 2. B, 3. D, 4. B

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