Sentence Completion Questions: Key ISEE Strategies

ISEE Sentence Completion Sample

ISEE Sentence Completion Sample

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is designed to assess academic potential by measuring a student’s verbal and quantitative reasoning skills.

Sentence Completion questions are one method the exam uses to test verbal reasoning abilities. To answer these questions correctly, students must have some knowledge of grade-level appropriate vocabulary, recognize context clues, and understand how words function in a sentence.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about Sentence Completion questions, plus how to master this question type and successfully conquer the ISEE.

What are Sentence Completion questions?

Sentence Completion questions are, along with Synonym questions, one half of the ISEE’s Verbal Reasoning section. The Verbal Reasoning component is one of four multiple choice sections on the ISEE.

These questions require students to read a sentence that is missing a word or phrase. From four provided answer choices, the student must select the word that most logically completes the sentence.

Older students taking the Upper Level ISEE may be asked to complete sentences with multiple words missing.

How many Sentence Completion questions are on the test?

The amount of Sentence Completion questions you will need to answer depends on which level of the test is administered to you. There are three levels of the ISEE:

  • Lower Level: Admission to grades 5 and 6

  • Middle Level: Admission to grades 7 and 8

  • Upper Level: Admission to grades 9-12
  • Upper and Middle Level students are given 20 minutes to answer 40 Verbal Reasoning questions. 17-23 of those questions will be Sentence Completions.

    On the other hand, students taking the Lower Level test answer 34 Verbal Reasoning questions within 20 minutes. 15 Sentence Completion questions are included.

    These numbers mean that, regardless of level, Sentence Completion questions make up about half of your total Verbal Reasoning score.

    34 15 21
    40 17-23 17-23
    40 17-23 17-23

    What do Sentence Completion questions test?

    Sentence Completion questions measure a variety of skills and knowledge, including the following:

  • Grasp of grade level appropriate vocabulary

  • Knowledge of how words function in a sentence

  • In order to answer these questions correctly, you must first be able to comprehend the general meaning of the sentences provided on the test.

    Next, you will need the ability to examine the sentence for ky words or context clues that can help you determine the answer. All Sentence Completion questions include a word or words that clearly point to the correct answer.

    Logical reasoning skills and an understanding of word relationships will help you find the context clues necessary to solve the question. Think of yourself as a word detective searching for the clue you need to crack the case.

    Additionally, an expansive vocabulary may be required to grasp the meaning of each of the four answer choices.

    In general, Sentence Completion questions assess comprehension, vocabulary, and reasoning.

    5 Tips for Answering Sentence Completion Questions

    The following are tried and true strategies you can use to correctly solve Sentence Completion questions.

    We’ll start with general strategies that can help you prepare for this question type throughout the year, followed by specific tips you can use to navigate these questions on the ISEE.

    1. Read more.

    Even if you don’t like reading, it’s the most effective way to enhance your vocabulary and improve reading comprehension, both skills that you’ll need for Sentence Completions.

    Try reading a set amount of pages or minutes weekly from a book of your choice, and you’re sure to notice improvement.

    You can also find grade level appropriate vocabulary lists online and use them to create flashcards. Learning about roots, prefixes, and suffixes can help you interpret unfamiliar words as well.

    2. Learn more about context clues, the key to solving Sentence Completions.

    What exactly are context clues? Context clues are words and phrases surrounding an unfamiliar word that can help the reader figure out the unknown word’s meaning. In this case, context clues can also give you hints about the word that belongs in the blank.

    There are four major types of context clues: antonym, synonym, example, and definition.

    An antonym clue* is when the sentence indicates that the word that belongs in the blank is the opposite of another word in the sentence. You can then solve the problem by simply figuring out which answer choice is the word’s opposite.

    Words indicating antonym clues include “even though,” “but,” “although,” “unlike,” “however,” “rather than,” “on the other hand,” etc.

    A synonym clue, naturally, is when the provided sentence signals that the word in the blank has the same meaning as another word in the sentence.

    Synonym clues are signaled by words and phrases like, ““as,” “like,” “similar to,” “likewise,” “in the same way,” etc.

    An example clue is when the sentence includes examples of the vocabulary word that can help you determine the word’s meaning.

    Example clues are sometimes signaled by the following words and phrases: “such as,” “like, “for example,” “includes,” etc.

    Definition clues, perhaps the easiest type, occur when the sentence provides a definition of the word that belongs in the blank.

    Definition clues are also sometimes indicated by words and phrases such as “that is,” “which is,” “in other words,” “also known as,” etc.

    Of course, there are other types of context clues, but having a basic understanding of the four most common types can greatly increase your success with these questions.

    3. Mentally fill in the blank with your own answer.

    After reading the sentence, if possible, come up with a word that you believe belongs in the blank. Do this before looking at the answer choices.

    Answer choices are sometimes designed to be tricky, so having an idea of what you’re looking for can help you avoid falling for a wrong answer.

    Select the answer choice that most closely matches your own answer.

    4. Use process of elimination.

    If you aren’t sure what word belongs in the blank, think about what you do know about the word.

  • Do you know if it’s a verb, an adjective, or a noun?

  • Is the word going to be something positive or negative?

  • Do you know what topic the word might be related to?

  • Can you tell if the word is a synonym or antonym of one of the words in the sentence?

  • Or is it a definition or example of the word provided?
  • Once you have some idea of what you’re looking for, use process of elimination by crossing out answer choices that do not meet these requirements

    Even if you have to guess, you should be able to make a more educated guess and increase your chances of answering correctly.

    5. After you select an answer, reread the entire sentence.

    Once you’ve decided on an answer, read the sentence with the answer choice inserted in the blank.

    Be sure that the sentence makes sense or sounds correct. If not, you may want to pick a different answer. You can also read the sentence four times, inserting each answer choice to see which sounds the most logical.

    Remember that if the question has two blanks, the correct answer must be the best, most logical choice for both blanks.

    Examples of Sentence Completion Questions

    The following sample questions have been released by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB), who developed the ISEE, although they have not appeared on official ISEE assessments.

    Here’s an example of a Lower Level ISEE Sentence Completion question.


    This sentence uses an example context clue, indicated by the phrase “such as.” We know that “attacks by gulls and hungry fish” are examples of the word in the blank.

    At this point, you can mentally decide on the answer if you have an idea. If not, think about what you do know about the word in the sentence.

    The word that belongs in the blank is something that turtles must survive in order to grow to maturity, and examples include attacks by gulls and hungry fish. Since we know that attacks are definitely not good, we can be sure that the word in the blank should be something negative.

    Let’s take a look at the answer choices. Answer choice A, allies, refers to friends or partners, so it does not have a negative meaning. Cross it out.

    Answer choice B, destinations, is also not a negative word. Plus, “attacks by gulls and hungry fish” are not examples of destinations. That one’s out too.

    Answer choice C, “hazards” refers to dangers, so it is a negative word. Would attacks by gulls and hungry fish be examples of a dangerous hazard? Yes!

    Although choice C looks good, we still consider every answer choice in order to be completely sure.

    Answer choice D is voyages. Voyages are trips, which aren’t negative, and attacks by other animals are not examples of trips. Eliminate it.

    Since all other choices have been eliminated, and C fits logically into the sentence, C is the correct answer.

    The next example is a Sentence Completion from the Middle Level ISEE.


    In this case, we have an antonym context clue. The word “but” tells us that the first part of the sentence contradicts the second part.

    We know that some “skeptical farmers” thought George Washington Carver’s experiments would fail. “Skeptical” means having doubts about something. The other farmers had a negative attitude about Carver’s experiments.

    The word “but” shows us that “Carver himself” felt differently. We’re looking for a positive word that is the opposite of “skeptical” and the opposite of expecting failure.

    Let’s examine the choices.

    Answer choice A, amazed, is a positive word. Does it make sense in the sentence? Would Carver be “amazed” by experiments he hadn’t even completed yet? Probably not, but you can keep answer choice A for now if you’re uncertain.

    Answer choice B, indifferent, is not a positive or a negative word. It means someone who does not care or does not have an opinion on the topic. It is very unlikely that Carver didn’t have an opinion about his own experiments, so B can be eliminated.

    Choice C, optimistic, is a positive word. Is it the opposite of skeptical, or the opposite of expecting something to fail? Yes! Optimistic means hoping for the best.

    The answer is probably C, but let’s take a look at choice D just in case.

    Answer choice D is suspicious, a negative word that means doubtful or untrusting of someone or something. Is that the opposite of “skeptical?” No, skeptical and suspicious have almost the same meaning, and we know that Carver does not feel the same way about his experiments as the farmers do.

    Now that we can eliminate D, and it’s clear that C is the most logical choice, we know that C is the correct answer.

    The final sample question is modeled after the Upper Level ISEE. Recall that these questions may have multiple blanks, making it a bit trickier.

    Let’s look at the sentence one piece at a time. The first blank uses a synonym context clue.

    We know that the word in the first blank has to mean something similar to “not curable,” indicated by the phrase “like most other.”

    The next part of the sentence tells us that even though arthritis is not curable, physicians do their best to __ its symptoms. If doctors can’t completely cure a disease, what do you think they try to do to the symptoms?

    Perhaps you came up with an answer like “control them” or “reduce them.” That’s great!

    So for the first blank, we need a word that means the same as “not curable.” For the second blank, we’re looking for a word that means to get rid of or reduce.

    As we explore the answer choices, keep in mind that the correct answer must make sense for both blanks.

    For the first blank, answer choice A says chronic. When referring to an illness, chronic means “long-lasting” or “difficult to get rid of.” Does that mean the same as not curable? It’s very close.

    Answer choice A says “ameliorate” for the second blank. This is a very high level word. If you aren’t sure, come back to answer choice A after exploring your other options.

    However, ameliorate means to make something better. Would doctors want to make the symptoms of an incurable disease better? Of course!

    Choice A looks pretty good, but let’s examine the other options.

    Choice B gives us “complicated” for the first blank. Is complicated the same as not curable? Not really.

    For the second blank, choice B says “mimic.” Mimic means to copy. Would doctors want to copy a patient’s symptoms? No. Cross it out.

    Answer choice C says “imaginary” for the first blank. Imaginary is not the same as incurable, and we know that this sentence is not about imaginary diseases.

    For the second blank, C gives us “minimize.” Minimize means to decrease or make smaller. Would doctors want to minimize a patient’s symptoms? Yes!

    Still, C cannot be the answer because it only completes the second blank logically. Eliminate it..

    Our last option, choice D, supplies “temporary” for the first blank. Is a temporary disease the same as an incurable disease? No, those are actually opposites.

    Choice D says “extend” for the second blank. Would doctors want to extend a patient’s symptoms? No. Again, that’s the opposite of the word we need.

    Now we can be sure that choice A is correct.

    Even if you didn’t know the word “ameliorate,” you could have correctly answered the question by eliminating all other options. Remember not to panic if you don’t know a word. Simply focus on the words that you do know.

    Start completing sentence completion practice questions to become faster and more accurate at using the strategies described here.

    You should be acing the ISEE’s Sentence Completion questions in no time!

    What's Next?

    Start practicing now by downloading an ISEE sample test. Choose from lower, middle or upper level free official ISEE tests.

    Learn some essential strategies for the ISEE reading comprehension section, using passages and questions from official ISEE tests.