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Strategies for ACT and SAT Sentence and Paragraph Placement Questions

Karen S.

A few times during the ACT English or SAT Writing and Language section, the exam will ask you to choose the best place for an existing sentence or paragraph or the best place to insert a new sentence. Sometimes the correct answer will be obvious. When the placement question deals primarily with a series of events or a list of instructions, the sentence/paragraph will “stick out” when it is not in the correct place. Most of the time, however, the best place for a sentence or paragraph is not so clear-cut. When this is the case, follow these strategies to determine the best place for the sentence or paragraph you are being asked about.


An idea must be introduced before it can be talked about

In good writing, a person, place, thing, or idea is introduced (named) before that person, place, thing, or idea is discussed in depth. For instance, a paragraph or sentence that tells you the name of a company needs to go before the part of the passage that talks about the workings of that company. If you’re ever had a discussion with a friend who was so excited to tell you about something that he or she forgot to first explain what it was he or she was talking about, you understand how confusing it can be when an explanation of a topic comes before the identification of said topic.


Related ideas must be close together

Another hallmark of good writing is grouping related concepts together. Let’s say you’re asked to add a sentence on German instruments to a passage on different types of European folk music. You’d start by eliminating any answer choices that aren’t in paragraphs that deal with either German music or instruments. Then, you’d see if any of the remaining choices would place the new sentence near a part of the passage that talks about both German music and instruments. If such a choice doesn’t exist, you would choose the answer that places the sentence closest to one of the concepts.


Narrative sequence (order of events)

As we’ve already mentioned, placement questions that involve the order of events in a story or steps in a sequence tend to be easier than questions that do not deal with a clear chronological structure.  That having been said, you shouldn’t underestimate this sub-type of question. As with many ACT/SAT question types, two of the answers are almost-always obviously wrong. With placement questions, this takes the form of answer choices that would clearly break the order of events in the passage. Once you have eliminated these outliers, however, you are often left with two choices that are very close to one another in the passage.


When this happens, you should look inside the sentence or paragraph you are being asked to move or place for clues. First, check if the sentence/paragraph begins with a transitional word or phrase. Ask yourself if it makes sense to have this particular transition at this point in the passage. For instance, a sentence that begins with “however” should go after an idea that the sentence contrasts with, not before. Similarly, sentences beginning with “this, these, and those” are callbacks to an idea that was just discussed. For example, a sentence that begins with “these theories” should immediately follow a sentence that listed several theories by name.



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