The ISEE: Sentence Completions


The Format

Of all the questions in the Verbal Reasoning section, approximately half are Sentence Completions. They’re arranged in order of increasing difficulty.
Sentence Completions are fill-in-the-blank questions. Each question will have one or two blanks, and you must select the best fit from the four choices provided.
These are probably the easiest of all the Verbal Reasoning question types. Unlike Analogies, they give you some context in which to think about vocabulary words, and unlike Reading Comprehension questions, they require you to focus on only a single sentence at a time.
Sentence Completions are about the sentence much more than they are about the answer choices. To answer these questions correctly on Test Day, look for clues in each sentence and predict the answer before approaching the choices. This way, you will answer Sentence Completions more quickly, reliably, and accurately than you would by rushing to the answer choices.
First, familiarize yourself with the directions before you take the official test:
Select the word(s) that best fits the meaning of each sentence.

Kaplan 4-Step Method for Sentence Completions

Step 1: Read the sentence carefully, looking for clues.
Step 2: Predict the answer.
Step 3: Pick the best match.
Step 4: Plug in your selection.
To check your answers, always read the selected choice back into the sentence. Sometimes, a selected choice may feel right at first, but does not actually make sense in the context of the sentence. Let’s take a closer look at each step.
  • Step 1: Read the sentence carefully, looking for clues

    Think carefully about the sentence before looking at the answer choices. What does the sentence mean? Are there any clue words?

  • Step 2: Predict the Answer

    Take a look at the following examples:
    “They say that M&M’s do not melt in your hands, but last summer . . .”
    “Despite the fact that it was 50 degrees below zero, we were . . . ”
    “I am so hungry I could . . . ”
    You could probably fill in the rest of these sentences using words similar to the speaker’s own. It’s often easy to see the direction in which a sentence is going; that’s because the structure and the tone of a sentence can clue you in to its meaning.
    Your job for the ISEE Sentence Completion questions is to fill in the missing piece. One way to do this is to anticipate the answer before looking at the answer choices. Clue words and sentence structure (construction and punctuation) can help you determine where a sentence is headed.
    Making an exact prediction isn’t necessary. If you can even identify the missing word as being positive or negative, that will often be sufficient.

  • Step 3: Pick the Best Match

    Make sure to scan every choice before deciding.

  • Step 4: Plug in Your Selection

    Only one of the four possible answer choices will make sense. However, if you’ve gone through the
    four steps and more than one choice still seems possible, don’t dwell on it. Try to eliminate at least
    one choice, guess, and move on. Remember, on the ISEE, a wrong answer will not affect your score.

Using an example, let’s see how Kaplan’s 4-Step Method works.

Most North American marsupials are ___________; at night they forage for food, and
during the day they sleep.
(A) fastidious
(B) amiable
(C) monolithic
(D) nocturnal
Step 1: Read the sentence carefully, looking for clues. The semicolon (;) is a big clue. It tells you that what comes after the semicolon follows the direction of what comes before it. In other words, you’re looking for a word that means nighttime activity and daytime rest.
Step 2: Predict which word should go into the blank.
Step 3: Compare the answer choices with your prediction. Pick the best match. (A), fastidious, has nothing to do with being active at night. Neither does (B), amiable, or for that matter (C), monolithic. (D), nocturnal, however, means to be active at night, so that seems correct.
Step 4: Check your choice by plugging it into the sentence. “Most North American marsupials are nocturnal; at night they forage for food, and during the day they sleep.” Sounds pretty good. Finally, scan the other choices to make sure that (D) is indeed the best choice. No other choice works in the sentence, so (D) is right.

Picking Up on Clues

In order to do well on Sentence Completions, you need to show how a sentence fits together. Clue words will help you do that. The more clues you can find, the clearer the sentence will become. The clearer the sentence, the better your prediction.
What are clue words? There are a variety of clue words. Some will indicate cause and effect and others a contrast, and some others will define the missing word.

Clue words like and, but, such as, however, and although can indicate where a sentence is heading. Keep your eyes open for these kinds of helpful words.

Tackling Hard Questions

Sentence Completions will get more difficult as you go through them, so the last few will be the most difficult. If you get stuck, here are a few tips to help you through:

  • Avoid tricky wrong answers.
  • Take apart tough sentences.
  • Work around tough vocabulary.

Avoid Tricky Wrong Answers

Toward the end of a set, keep your eyes open for tricky answer choices. Avoid these:

  • Opposites of the correct answer
  • Words that may sound right because they are tough
  • Questions with two missing pieces, where one word sounds right but the other doesn’t. Note: Lower Level ISEE Sentence Completion questions will have only one blank.

Take Apart Tough Sentences

Look at the following example, the last question in a 15-question set.

The ___ agreement had never been written down but was understood and upheld by the governments of both countries.
(A) tacit
(B) public
(C) distinguished
(D) illegal

What if you were stumped? What if you had no idea which word to pick? Try this method:
Tacit—Hmm, sounds familiar.
Public—Nope. It doesn’t sound right in this context.
Distinguished—If it was so distinguished, why was it never written down?
Illegal—Nope. Do governments uphold illegal agreements? That doesn’t sound right.
Choice (A) sounds the best. As it turns out, it’s also correct. Tacit agreements are unspoken or silent ones; they’re not expressed or declared openly but instead are implied.
Here are a few final strategies to help you on Test Day:

  • On tough Sentence Completions, remember that you can eliminate answer choices that you know are wrong. Make an educated guess among the remaining answer choices.
  • When eliminating, look for a word charge—is your prediction strongly positive or negative? Eliminate any choices with an opposite or neutral charge.
  • Trust your ear! Sometimes the correct answer sounds like it fits the situation. Many phrases on the ISEE will be familiar terms you have heard or seen before.
  • Finally, remember to use structural clues in the sentence to predict the missing word(s).

Practice Question

Try the following practice question to test your readiness for the sentence completion section of the ISEE.

Archaeologists ___ the documents while ___ the remains of a 1,000-year-old Roman fort in what is now northern England.
(A) attached . . . marring
(B) unearthed . . . excavating
(C) diverted . . . mourning
(D) construed . . . surmising

B. When archeologists dig things up, they “excavate,” sometimes “unearthing” treasures.

For more practice with sentence completions, click here!