Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SAT Question: Strategies for Vocabulary

Adam writes:
Hey Snarky! I am part of the 30% of kids who got today's official SAT question wrong. Even if know what the words mean, I still have trouble choosing the best answer. Do you have a solid strategy that works?
Hi Adam! Beyond studying a comprehensive list of vocabulary words so that you know their definitions cold, there is the larger issue of context. The trick is to learn how to identify clues within the sentence so you can figure out what's missing from the puzzle. Let's take a look at today's question:

Choose the word or set of words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

Barbara McClintock’s systematic examination of corn demonstrated the transposition of genes, a finding that overturned entrenched beliefs and proved that ------- study may produce brilliant insights and ------- change.

A) haphazard...radical
B) inherent...controversial
C) improvised...startling
D) methodical...revolutionary
With multiple choice questions, always start by looking at the list of choices. This will tell you which part or parts of speech are missing for each block. This list contains only adjectives, so we need to find adjectives that best describe 'study' and 'change.'

So what word best describes 'study'?  The scientist's examination of corn was systematic, so the study would have been (D) methodical. There really are no other words in the list that come close in meaning to systematic. We can certainly eliminate (A) haphazard and (C) improvised because they convey the opposite.

Next, McClintock's finding overturned entrenched beliefs. In other words, it completely transformed the way scientists thought about genes. What kind of change might that lead to? Of the choices, (D) revolutionary is the best fit. You might have considered (A) radical or (C) startling, but we've already eliminated (A) and (C) for the first blank. You could also eliminate (E) gradual, because 'overturned entrenched beliefs' implies that change would be more significant and abrupt.

The real key here is knowing that systematic and methodical are synonyms. If unsure, try to eliminate as many choices as possible to narrow down the possibilities.


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