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Most Logical Placement Questions I: a Common Question Type On the SAT Writing & Literature Section

** This is part I of a series on 'logical placement' questions.


One of the most common question types on the SAT Writing & Literature section is the "most logical placement" question. Such questions have a couple of different variations, but they usually look something like this:


'To make this paragraph most logical, sentence __ should be placed -"

A) where it is now.

B) after sentence 1.

C) before sentence 4.

D) after sentence 6.


If you've done a practice SAT Writing & Literature section already, you've almost definitely seen this question type. It appears, almost without exception, on every SAT test. Sometimes it appears a number of times.


This question type is trickier than many of the others common on the SAT, because:

  1. It involves logical cohesion rather than specific grammatical details.

  2. It requires you to examine the paragraph at large.



Students often try to solve this question type by fitting the sentence in each of the suggested placements and trying to figure out which "sounds" best. The process is lengthy, can become overwhelming, and more often than not yields incorrect results.


The reasons a sentence might be most logically placed elsewhere

There are perhaps 4-5 reasons why a sentence would be more logically placed elsewhere. Once you're aware of them, it becomes much easier to identify and answer the question in a targeted manner. Today, we'll discuss one common reason for logical misplacement.


Today's principle:

The sentence in question references something mentioned in a previous sentence.


Let's explain what we mean by 'references something mentioned'. Here are some examples of references:

1. 'both of them'

2. 'I saw the cat again yesterday'

3. 'keeping that suggestion in mind'

4. "These buildings are still functional"


In each of these cases, the phrase makes no sense unless the thing it references has been explicitly mentioned beforehand. For example, look at phrase 1, 'both of them.'


'Both of them' is unclear, because we don't know who 'them' is referencing. On the other hand, take a set of sentences like the following:


'I saw the two girls today. Both of them were excited about the upcoming party.'


In this case, the phrase makes sense. 'Them' references 'the two girls.'



Note phrase 2, 'I saw the cat again yesterday'. The article 'the' is used for specific nouns. For example, in the sentence, 'I saw a cat yesterday', 'I' saw some random cat. However, in the sentence, 'I saw the cat yesterday," I'm referencing a specific cat. Perhaps I saw the neighbor's cat, or a cat I usually eye in the pet shop. In this case, the cat that I'm referencing must have been mentioned earlier.


Where to place the sentence in question

The principle you should follow in this case is as follows:


Place the sentence in question behind the last reference to the thing mentioned.


For example, the following paragraph might be rearranged on the SAT in the following way:


'[1] The scientists examined the caves for 6 months and recorded what they had found. [2] Dr. Eisner discussed the experiment with his colleague. [3] This data was be reexamined in the lab at Cambridge.'

-->

'[1] The scientists examined the caves for 6 months and recorded what they had found. [3] This data was be reexamined in the lab at Cambridge. [2] Dr. Eisner discussed the experiment with his colleague.'


'This data' references what the scientists examined and recorded in the caves. It was last mentioned in Sentence 1, so the sentence starting with 'this data' should immediately follow .



Note that the original form of the paragraph, with Sentence 2 separating the two sentences, isn't grammatically incorrect. However, as we've discussed in the past, the Writing & Literature section of the SAT doesn't just explore technical grammatical correctness, but also what is termed "quality of writing". Sentences where references follow nouns immediately are considered cleaner writing - especially on the SAT.


General summation: what to do

When you get a question like this, check if the proposed sentence contains references. There are a few indications of this:

  1. demonstrative pronouns: 'this', 'that', 'these', 'those'

  2. regular pronouns: 'she', 'he', 'it', 'they', 'them', 'him', 'her', 'them'

  3. possessive pronouns: 'his', 'her', 'their', 'its'

  4. in some cases: the definite article "the"

You don't need to remember specific words or terms. Rather, try to intuit if there's a phrase in the sentence which references something from a previous sentence.


Regarding case 4: the word 'the' appears in the majority of sentences in the English language. Its presence doesn't necessarily mean that the 'most recent reference' is applicable here. Treat it on a case-by-case basis.


In fact, even the presence of (1) demonstrative pronouns and (2) regular pronouns isn't a guarantee. The issue might be something else - a chronological issue or a transitional one. Nevertheless, your chances that it's a 'most recent reference' situation are excellent in this case.


Now let's look at some examples.


Examples



Example #1

[1] The more intriguing elements of the area's aquatic life can be found in the southern part of the lake, at around one thousand feet below the surface. [2] The lake contains an astonishing display of plantlife as well, with dozens of plant types not found in other parts of the world. [3] Many visit to see the famous igra someca, which grows both on the surface of the lake as well as on small pockets of water spread throughout the area. [4] The lake is especially popular during the summer, when the igra someca flourishes and flowers into a wide display of vibrant colors. [5] At that depth, a variety of sea creatures almost never seen closer to the surface tends to congregate and paint the surroundings in a beautiful display of colors and shapes.


Question #1

To make the paragraph most logical, sentence 5 should be placed

A) where it is now.

B) after sentence 1.

C) after sentence 2.

D) after sentence 3.


The sentence in question, sentence 5, begins with 'At that depth.' The last reference to depth is in Sentence 1:


'The more intriguing elements of the area's aquatic life could be found in the southern part of the lake, at around one thousand feet below the surface.'


Sentence 5 needs to follow immediately after. The correct answer choice is B).


Example #2

[1] At the beginning of annual meetings, all members, regardless of age or status, meet in the foyer for an hour of casual relaxation. [2] As the evening approaches, members enter the dining room, looking for placecards and sitting in the seats carefully chosen for them . [3] After appetizers have been served, senior members of the society climb the stage to deliver speeches and answer questions. [4] Posters and other demonstrative materials are displayed on the side of the hall, for the purpose of visual representation. [5] Their junior counterparts are expected to listen respectfully, though it is acceptable to deliver critiques or point out small errors at the end of the speech. [6] Sweets and fruit are served throughout the course of the meal, to keep members refreshed during the long evening and provide a casual means of engagement.


Question #2

To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 5 should be placed

A) where it is now.

B) after sentence 1.

C) after sentence 3.

D) after sentence 6


Sentence 5 utilizes a possessive pronoun: 'their junior counterparts.' 'Junior counterparts' refers to the junior members of the society, so 'their' presumably references the senior members. The last mention of the senior society members occurs in Sentence 3:


'After appetizers have been served, senior members of the society climb the stage to deliver speeches and answer questions.'


Then answer is therefore C), 'after Sentence 3.'


Example #3



[1] During an expedition to the country in August 2002, Summerfield noticed that the female paions were more active in the pursuit of a mate than were their male counterparts. [2] Summerfield sent students to chart the female paions' behavior for the course of six months. [3] This activity was unusual; male paions tend to be the aggressors when looking for a mate, while the females are usually more cautious and selective. [4] When the students arrived, they were astonished to discover that the female paions seemed to have disappeared, though they were usually present in large numbers during this part of the year. [5] Summerfield discussed the events with the senior student in his lab, a biology postdoctorate named Bill Witherson, and they decided to pursue the matter further.


Question #3

To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 3 should be placed

A) where it is now.

B) after sentence 1.

C) after sentence 4.

D) after sentence 5.


Sentence 3 utilizes a demonstrative pronoun: 'This activity was unusual.' Lest we be unsure which activity is being referenced, the rest of the sentence clarifies:


'...male paions tends to be the aggressors, while the females are usually more cautious and selective.'


That is, 'this activity' references the female paions' pursuit of a mate.


The last place this was explicitly mentioned was Sentence 1. So the answer is B), after Sentence 1.


For more tips and methods, or to get help personally tailored to your needs, consider working with me. I've helped people from all over the world get into their dream school. In coaching you, I adopt my methods specifically to your personality, schedule, and learning style. For this reason, studying privately with a skilled coach is the best way to increase your test score.


Happy learning,

Tova