Tips on Handling Sentence
Completion Questions


Notice Negatives

Watch out for negative words and words with negative prefixes: no, not, none; non, un-, in-. These negative words and word parts are killers, especially in combination.

The damage to the car was insignificant.

 (“Don’t worry about it—it’s just a scratch.”)

The damage to the car was not insignificant.

 (“Oh, no, Bart! We totaled Mom’s car!”)


In particular, watch out for not : it’s easy to overlook, but it’s a key word, as the following sentence clearly illustrates.

Madison was not ____ person and thus made few public addresses; but those he made were memorable, filled with noble phrases.

(A) a reticent

(B) a stately

(C) an inspiring

(D) an introspective

(E) a communicative


What would happen if you overlooked not in this question? Probably you’d wind up choosing (A): Madison was a reticent (quiet; reserved) man. For this reason he made few public addresses.

Unfortunately, you’d have gotten things backward. The sentence isn’t telling you what Madison was like. It’s telling you what he was not like. And he was not a communicative person; he didn’t express himself freely. However, when he did get around to speaking, he had some good things to say.


Try the Plus or Minus Test image

Work out whether the missing word is positive (+) or negative (–). Then test the answer choices for their positive or negative sense. Eliminate those that don’t work.