Writing Lecture Two

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Registration deadlines for the SAT this spring:

Registration Deadline Test Date
Feb. 10, 2010 Mar. 13, 2010
Mar. 31, 2010 May 1, 2010
May 5, 2010 June 5, 2010

The cost is only $45, and you can register online. Fee waivers are available for homeschoolers if they qualify and have some type of counselor send the form in.

Beginning March 2009, students have the option of "score choice," which enables them to pick and choose which SAT scores to send to which colleges. Under this system, students are better off taking the SAT I as many times as possible. You can simply pick your highest scores and only send those to your colleges. Score choice does not allow students to pick and choose within sections or components of the SAT I (e.g., pick the math score from one test sitting by the critical reading score from another). But most colleges will pick and choose for you. Be sure to select score choice when dealing with the College Board to ensure your best scores are the ones sent to the colleges.

One good strategy is to take the test in March (sign up by Feb. 10th) or May (sign up by Mar. 31st), and then take it again in June.

Let's focus now specific types of questions that are asked.

Sentence Completion Questions

18 out of 67 questions—more than 25% -- of the "critical reading" section ask students to "complete the sentence" by filling in one or two missing words.

Strive to answer at least 16 out of these 18 correctly. All 18 can be figured out with logic and cleverness. When there are two blanks, both words have to fit well and that makes it easier to disqualify the wrong answers. When it is only one blank then the question can be more difficult because you have less to work with, but those can be figured out ... even when you do not know the meaning of some of the words.

Let's look at some examples and improve our ability to answer this type of question.

Example One:

Once the underdog Republican Scott Brown defeated the favored Democrat Martha Coakley win the election for the U.S. Senate seat long held by the late Democrat Ted Kennedy, it demonstrated the __________ between the Republicans and Democrats would likely ___________.

(A) agreement ... continue
(B) conflict ... persist
(C) bipartisanship ... end
(D) cooperation ... prevail
(E) negotiations ... be unthinkable

This type of question is like filling in a jigsaw puzzle. You are given an idea of the "point" or message of the sentence, and then asked to fill in two missing "pieces" or words to complete the sentence. This is no different from having an almost-complete jigsaw puzzle and trying to find the pieces that can fit into and fill the remaining gaps.

It's impossible to complete a jigsaw puzzle until you first understand what the final picture is supposed to look at. The same is true for these sentences. Be sure to understand the point of the sentence before trying to fill in the blanks. The biggest reason for incorrect answers on this question is because the student did not understand the basic meaning of the sentence before trying to complete it.

In the above example, the point of the sentence is that a Republican won a Senate seat that was long held by the opposite party, the Democrats. The Democrats would not be happy about that, and the contest for the seat could not have been a friendly one. The inherent conflict immediately points the student to answer choice (B), which uses the word "conflict". This is the best fit for the gap in the sentence. The , as a "fit" for the gap in the sentence.

When there are two blanks in the sentence, the student is expected to check the relation between the two words to make sure they fit the sentence, as a lock fits a key. Often the blanks are set up as opposites, and the student is expected to pick the answer choice that has two antonyms. Consider the following.

Example Two:

After serving one table in the restaurant for over an hour, the waitress expected a _________ tip afterward, but was disappointed when the tip was ______________.


Sometimes the question on the SAT I has only one gap in the sentence, which is to be filled in by only one word. Often the purpose is to test your knowledge of vocabulary. But even if you do not know the meaning of a word, you can figure it out from the context and at least make an educated guess.

Example Three:

<new example>


The key to success on these sentence completion questions are the following:

  • the correct pair typically has some natural relation to each other, either as opposites or as a common matter of speech
  • awkward pairs can typically be eliminated
  • the context should guide you to the first word, and the context should give you clues as to what the second word should be in relation to the first
  • look for clues in roots when you do not know what a word means

<understanding point of sentence before trying to fill in blanks>

<identifying tension between blanks before filling them in>

<dealing with words of unknown meaning by using context>

<our homework this week will focus on your skills in answering these questions>

Essay Section on SAT

explain what the test-writer is looking for

More Fun Words

As we mentioned in our first Lecture, it is important to build your vocabulary in order to improve your ability to write. Here are some more fun words:

  • lassitude (LA-suh-tude): fatigue, listlessness
  • raconteur (RA-kon-tur): someone who is a good storyteller
  • evanescent (ev-uh-NESS-unt): something that tends to vanish as vapor does; passing out of sight

To remember a word, it helps to use it in a sentence. The more uses you can find for it, the more likely you will be able to recall its meaning and obtain the maximum value for the word. Let's try some sentences for the above:

"He had great potential as student, but his lassitude kept him from being a hard worker."

"The best raconteur among modern presidents was Ronald Reagan, because he would tell a story that kept the listener's attention and made an important political point."

"Unlike paintings, music is an evanescent form of art."

Focus on Writing Section

The writing section begins with an essay that you are given 25 minutes to write.

The remainder of the writing section is 49 multiple-choice questions to be completed in only 35 minutes (one 25-minute section and one 10-minute section).

The 49 multiple choice questions are divided as follows:

  • improving sentences (25 questions)
  • identifying grammar errors in sentences (18 questions)
  • improving paragraphs (6 questions).

Test-taking tips

Types of questions on SATs

Biggest mistakes

  • cramming
  • scheduling test-taking too late
  • not managing time (running out of time has a devastating effect on scores; don't waste too much time on any question)
  • under-emphasizing, then over-emphasizing significance of test
  • being derailed by the experimental section, which does not count towards your score anyway (each SAT exam has an experimental section that is bizarre and a waste, and doesn't count)

Homework Assignment

<read lecture>

<take the online fill-in-the-blank questions, or write a second essay if you lack internet access>

<correct-a-sentence questions>