SAT Test Prep


Lesson 6: The Toughest Sentences

Tough Sentences

Some sentences are tough not because they have tough vocabulary, but because they have a complicated or ambiguous logical structure.


Negatives can easily complicate a sentence and are easily overlooked. Watch carefully for negative words like not, hardly, rarely, lacking, etc., because they are as important as the key words! When you encounter a sentence with negatives, it may help to paraphrase the sentence more “positively.”


Their approach was not unlike that of the Neo-Darwinians, whose lack of respect for quasiscientific methods was far from unknown in the University community.

This sentence is easier to work with if it is first paraphrased without so many negatives:

Their approach was like that of the Neo-Darwinians, whose support for the scientific method was well known in the University community.

Ambiguous Sentences

Some sentences are tough to work with because they are ambiguous; that is, they have more than one possible interpretation, usually one positive and one negative. Since there are usually only two possibilities, just try them both.


The recent trend of using ------ dialogue in films can be traced to directors who have ------ the natural half-sentences and interrupted thoughts that characterize genuine human speech.

(A) halting . . embraced

(B) formal . . assumed

(C) imperfect . . eschewed

(D) stilted . . adopted

(E) passionate . . endured

There are two ways to complete this sentence. Modern film directors might like or dislike the natural halfsentences and interrupted thoughts that characterize genuine human speech. If they like them, they would use them; choice (A) supports this reading. If they don’t like them, they would prefer more formal dialogue. Choice (B) gives formal and (D) gives stilted, which convey that idea. But if the directors use formal language, they wouldn’t assume imperfect dialogue, so (B) is out. Likewise, if they used stilted (formal) dialogue, they wouldn’t adopt imperfect dialogue. So (A) is the correct response.

Abstract vs. Concrete

Concrete nouns, which usually represent people and objects, are typically easier to understand than abstract nouns, which typically represent quantities, qualities, or ideas. When we focus on the concrete nouns in a sentence more than the abstract ones, we can misread the sentence. Pay special attention to abstract nouns in sentences.


The dissent regarding the new restrictions on student parking was ------ those who wanted to be able to drive freely to school.

(A) spearheaded by

(B) surprising to

(C) troublesome to

(D) disputed by

(E) disregarded by

This sentence is not about the parking restrictions, but rather about the dissent. It’s easy to misread if you don’t focus on the word dissent. (We overlook it because it’s so abstract.) If you wanted to drive freely to school, how would you feel about the dissent regarding parking restrictions? You’d probably be one of the people dissenting! You may even initiate the dissent, which is why (A) is the best choice.

Concept Review 6: The Toughest Sentences

1. What, other than tough vocabulary, can make a sentence hard to understand?

2. What are abstract nouns, and why should you pay close attention to them in sentences?

3. Circle the abstract nouns and draw boxes around the concrete nouns in the sentence below.

The lack of interest among the voters ensured that the referendum about the new playground could sneak through, even though it contained some objectionable clauses.

Paraphrase the following sentences to minimize negatives.

4. It is not uncommon to find people who refuse to deny that ghosts exist.

5. The council did not fail to block a single motion.

Complete the following ambiguous sentences in two ways, with different tones.

6. Despite the ____________________ of the climb, the explorers were beginning to believe that the trek would soon become ____________________.
Despite the ____________________ of the climb, the explorers were beginning to believe that the trek would soon become ____________________.

7. Far from being ____________________ on the issue of gun control, Will has ____________________ on the issue for many years.
Far from being ____________________ on the issue of gun control, Will has ____________________on the issue for many years.

SAT Practice 6: The Toughest Sentences

1. The country’s confidence, formerly sustained by an ------ sense of power, was replaced by an equally exaggerated sense of ------ following the hasty evacuation of its troops from three foreign capitals.

(A) inflated . . weakness

(B) overwhelming . . inviolability

(C) erratic . . hysteria

(D) unquestioned . . omnipotence

(E) arbitrary . . resolution

2. According to their detractors, the leaders of the Union for Progressive Politics do not truly ------ change, but simply rehash old and discredited theories of political philosophy.

(A) admonish

(B) censor

(C) advocate

(D) caricature

(E) hinder

3. Dr. Cuthbert often ------ his former associates for not continuing to support him; apparently he harbored great animosity because of their ------ of him.

(A) disparaged . . endorsement

(B) excoriated . . abandonment

(C) exonerated . . denunciation

(D) extolled . . betrayal

(E) venerated . . dismissal

4. Despite her gregariousness, Andrea seems to have been a woman who cherished her ------ highly.

(A) colleagues

(B) friendships

(C) privacy

(D) integrity

(E) humility

5. It is extremely rare to see a politician ------ any opinion that is widely unpopular; it seems that, for them, public censure is more ------ even than death.

(A) conform to . . desirable

(B) tolerate . . exciting

(C) reject . . feared

(D) espouse . . painful

(E) manipulate . . natural

6. The cogency and animation he showed in private belied his reputation for a notably ------ style of lecturing.

(A) tepid

(B) incisive

(C) versatile

(D) infrequent

(E) fluent

7. The haiku, with its ------, its reduction of natural and everyday events to their mere essence, seems to economically depict the ------ of even the simplest human experience.

(A) casualness . . destructiveness

(B) optimism . . barrenness

(C) capriciousness . . rigidity

(D) digressiveness . . precariousness

(E) conciseness . . poignancy

8. Sadly, most people who say they want change in public schools will struggle to resist it, or at least ------ its effects on them.

(A) initiate

(B) distort

(C) palliate

(D) defend

(E) enhance

9. Despite the ------ literature debunking the theory of ESP, a critical and rational awareness of the subject continues to ------ most of the public.

(A) vivid . . pervade

(B) voluminous . . elude

(C) provocative . . captivate

(D) ambiguous . . perplex

(E) incomprehensible . . escape

Answer Key 6: The Toughest Sentences

Concept Review 6

1. Complicated or ambiguous logical structure.

2. Abstract nouns are nouns that represent ideas, quantities, or qualities; that is, they represent things that cannot be directly perceived.

3. The lack (abstract noun) of interest (abstract noun) among the voters (concrete noun) ensured that the referendum (abstract noun) about the new playground (concrete noun) could sneak through, even though it contained some objectionable clauses (abstract noun).

4. It is common to find people who believe in ghosts.

5. The council blocked every motion.

6. Despite the ease of the climb, the explorers were beginning to believe that the trek would soon become treacherous. (or some similar words) Despite the arduousness of the climb, the explorers were beginning to believe that the trek would soon become easier. (or some similar words)

7. Far from being passive on the issue of gun control, Will has pontificated on the issue for many years. (or some similar words)

Far from being consistent on the issue of gun control, Will has equivocated on the issue for many years. (or some similar words)

SAT Practice 6

1. A What would follow a hasty evacuation of a country’s troops? A feeling of being overwhelmed and defeated, most likely. This feeling of weakness, we are told, is just as exaggerated as the sense of power just prior to the withdrawal.

inviolability = invincibility; erratic = irregular; hysteria = irrational and exaggerated emotion; omnipotence = supreme power; arbitrary = based on whim and random power; resolution = determination

2. C If their detractors (critics) believe that they only rehash old and discredited theories, then they are suggesting that they do not really speak out for change.

admonish = reprimand; censor = eliminate objectionable material; advocate = speak in favor of; caricature = exaggerate comically; hinder = get in the way of

3. B If his associates did not continue to support him, they must have abandoned him. If he harbored animosity for them, he must have criticized them.

disparaged = criticized harshly; endorsement = show of support; excoriated = criticized harshly; exonerated = proved innocent; denunciation = condemnation; extolled = praised highly; venerated = honored

4. C Despite indicates contrast. Gregariousness is sociability. Its opposite is solitude, reclusiveness, or privacy.

5. D If public censure is like death, politicians must not like it. They must never openly adopt a widely unpopular opinion.

conform = do what is expected; espouse = adopt publicly; manipulate = take control of

6. A Cogency is persuasiveness and animation is liveliness. To belie is to misrepresent, so he must not have a reputation for being lively and persuasive, so people must think he’s dull.

tepid = dull, lukewarm; incisive = keen and thoughtful; versatile = well-rounded; fluent = smooth, flowing

7. E The first word must mean something like reduction to its essence, and the second word must mean something like essence.

barrenness = starkness; capriciousness = whimsy, randomness; digressiveness = tendency to go off topic; precariousness = danger; conciseness = brevity; poignancy = sharpness of feeling

8. C If they resist it, then they want to prevent its effects on him, or at least minimize its effects on them.

initiate = begin; distort = twist; palliate = make less severe; enhance = make better

9. B Despite indicates irony. If there is literature debunking the theory of ESP, it would be ironic if the public failed to develop a critical and rational awareness of the subject. What would make it even more ironic is if the literature were plentiful. vivid = full of vibrant imagery; pervade = fill completely; voluminous = plentiful; elude = escape capture or understanding; provocative = tending to elicit strong reactions; captivate = capture; ambiguous = unclear; perplex = confuse; incomprehensible = beyond understanding