Tips on Handling Sentence
Completion Questions


Words Have Many Meanings: Stay Alert

Watch out for words that have more than one meaning. Before you rule out an answer choice, consider whether the word has any secondary meanings. Lie, for example, can mean recline. It can also mean fib. Similarly, the adjective partial means incomplete, as in “a partial list of contributors.” It can also mean biased, as in “too partial to be fair to both sides,” or having a liking for, as in “I am highly partial to chocolate.”

Be on the lookout for familiar-looking words defined in unfamiliar ways. Try this example:

The political climate today is extremely ____: no one can predict what the electorate will do next.

(A) malevolent

(B) pertinent

(C) claustrophobic

(D) lethargic

(E) volatile


Before you can answer this question, you need to think of a word that makes sense in the context. If no one can predict what the voters will do, then the political climate must be unpredictable. The correct answer is a synonym for unpredictable or changeable.

Now consider the answer choices. Malevolent (wicked; malicious) is not a synonym for unpredictable. Pertinent (relevant; applicable) is not a synonym for unpredictable. Claustrophobic (afraid of closed-in places) is not a synonym for unpredictable. Lethargic (sluggish; drowsily dull) is not a synonym for unpredictable. Only volatile is left.


Did You Notice? image

The sentence above is actually two statements linked by a colon (:). The punctuation mark is your clue that the two statements support each other.

A colon signals you that the second statement serves to explain or clarify the first. It gives examples, or it defines terms.

Statement 1: The political climate today is extremely volatile.

What does volatile mean?

Statement 2: No one can predict what the electorate will do next.

Volatile means unpredictable. To be volatile is to do things no one can predict.

If you have seen the word volatile only in the context of science class (“Acetone is an extremely volatile liquid: it evaporates instantly”), you may not realize that it can be used to describe moods as well as chemicals. A volatile political climate is a changeable, unstable one. The correct choice is (E).