SAT Writing: Placement

Every sentence and every paragraph has its place. Sure, sometimes the order in which you present your thoughts might not matter, but more often than not, it will impact the meaning and clarity of what you have to say.

Let’s first talk about sentence placement. On the SAT, you’ll encounter questions that read like this:

  • To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 4 should be placed…
  • Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?
  • The writer wants to add the following sentence to the paragraph. … The best placement for the sentence is…

And then your answer choices will consist of the number labels of the sentences in the passage.

The most important thing is to read the sentences before and after the insertion point. So if you’re considering inserting the given sentence after sentence 5, make sure to read sentences 5 and 6. Those sentences will often be the deciding factor. If they support the given sentence or clearly transition to or from it, you know you’ve arrived at the answer.

Handling these types of questions is a lot like selecting the best transition, except you’re now working backwards. Instead of choosing which sentence to insert, you’re figuring out the best place to insert a given sentence. All the same thinking you exercised back in those transition chapters carries over to these questions.

In particular, look for these cues:

1. this, that, these, those

Example 1

[1] During a visit to my son’s school, I was able to eat lunch in the cafeteria. [2] When I went there at noon, students were lined up single file to pick out their meals. [3] There were four counters, each serving something different. [4] I picked up a side of salad at the first, some rice at the second, and a chicken sandwich at the third. [5] At that point, I was eager to find a seat and enjoy my meal. [6] What made me upset, however, was the fourth counter, which was serving cake, ice cream, and cookies. [7] I called up the school office to file a complaint, but nobody would listen to me. [8] The fourth counter was the most popular one in the cafeteria.

Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?

Desserts like these are bound to make students unhealthy.

A) After sentence 2
B) After sentence 3
C) After sentence 4
D) After sentence 6

When you read the sentence in question, your first thought should be Desserts like what? What are these? The sentence only makes sense if it’s placed next to another sentence that defines what these are. The only sentence that does so logically is sentence 6 (cake, ice cream, and cookies), answer D.
Example 2

[1] After a year of living on futons and eating ramen, the founders at Hourglass decided that antique watches weren’t profitable enough to sustain a business. [2] Instead, they decided to invest in modern designs, create new watches, and market them at a discount online. [3] Hourglass soon skyrocketed to success. [4] Within a year, it broke ten million dollars in revenue and announced its intent to expand overseas. [5] A lot of existing watch companies are now looking to buy out this company that was once on the verge of bankruptcy. [6] With those plans in place, the company began to attract the young and fashionable crowd, as well as celebrities looking for the next trend.

To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 6 should be placed

A) where it is now.
B) after sentence 1.
C) after sentence 2.
D) after sentence 4.

Note that sentence 6 refers to those plans, so your natural thought should be What plans? Sentence 6 only makes sense if it’s placed next to another sentence that defines what those plans are. The only sentence that does so logically is sentence 2 (invest in modern designs, create new watches, and market them at a discount online), answer C.

2. Nouns or pronouns in need of clarification

Example 1

[1] The Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle collider in the world, was built to test theories of particle physics. [2] In particular, it was used to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson, a new type of particle that helps explain why things have mass. [3] The Collider is based at the CERN Laboratory and contains four types of detectors. [4] Having more than one detector carry out the same tests gives scientists the ability to cross-check results and identify any anomalies in the data they generate.

Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?

Two of them, the ATLAS and CMS detectors, are very similar and can run the same class of experiments.

A) After sentence 1
B) After sentence 2
C) After sentence 3
D) After sentence 4

The key word is them—what’s them? Detectors, obviously. So we must put this sentence after one that brings up detectors, sentence 3. The answer is C. The important take-away here is that them was a pronoun in need of a clarifying reference.

The first cue in this chapter—this, that, these, those—is just a more specific version of this second cue. After all, this, that, these, and those are all pronouns that are in need of a reference that clarifies them.

Example 2

[1] Hong Kong has long been criticized for its citizens’ taste for rare ocean delicacies, especially shark fin soup. [2] People pay hundreds of dollars to enjoy one bowl of the soup, which symbolizes wealth and power. [3] But overfishing and a love for seafood have disrupted many underwater habitats in Asia, endangering much of the marine life, including local sharks. [4] Last October, the Hong Kong government decided to prohibit all imports of shark fin. [5] Biologists are closely monitoring the shark population to see if it recovers.

Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?

Environmental activists praised the ban as a crucial step towards protecting the underwater ecosystem in Asia, but more should be done.

A) After sentence 2
B) After sentence 3
C) After sentence 4
D) After sentence 5

The noun that needs clarification here is the ban. Reading the sentence by itself, we’re not sure what the ban refers to. That’s why we need to place this sentence next to one that provides that clarification, sentence 4, which specifies that it’s a shark fin ban. The answer is C.

3. Chronological order

Example 1

[1] The Mongols tried to conquer Vietnam at various points in the second millennium. [2] The first time, they were repelled by the unknown landscape and intemperate climate. [3] When they came back better prepared, the Vietnamese scared them off by setting fires to their encampments. [4] The Mongols finally succeeded twice in the late 13th century, but mysteriously left each time. [5] It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Vietnamese were fully conquered—by the French. [6] On their third return, they were routed by the genius of the Vietnamese generals at the battle of Bach Dang.

To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 6 should be placed

A) where it is now.
B) after sentence 1.
C) after sentence 2.
D) after sentence 3.

This is an example of putting things in chronological order, from first to last. Sentence 6 begins with On their third return, which means that it should be placed after the narrator has talked about the first and second times. The second time the Mongols tried to conquer Vietnam is discussed in sentence 3, so the answer is D.
Example 2

[1] John dusted himself off and returned to the tractor for a flashlight and a length of rope. [2] We tied the end of the rope to the rear of the tractor. [3] I lead the line for John while he went down for a look around. [4] He had discovered one of the largest cave systems in all of New York State. [5] It would take years to map and would be an adventure even more profitable than the original goal that had lead us to discover it.

Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?

When John returned to the surface, he was grinning ear to ear.

A) After sentence 1
B) After sentence 2
C) After sentence 3
D) After sentence 4

Consider the logical sequence of events. The sentence in question states that “John returned to the surface,” which means he had to have gone below the surface sometime before that point. Sentence 3 is the only place where that event is stated. The answer is C. Why not place it later, after sentence 4, for example? Because placing the sentence after sentence 3 then allows sentence 4 to explain why John was “grinning ear to ear.” Also note that the first half of the paragraph is action, whereas the latter half is more reflection. The given sentence belongs in the “action” half.

4. Lead/Topic sentences

Example 1

[1] Clinical studies have shown that squatting is better than any other lower-body movement for muscle hypertrophy. [2] In fact, the rate of muscle growth can be up to three times as fast if squats are done correctly as part of a regular workout routine. [3] The back-squat is considered the king of all bodybuilding movements. [4] Most injuries in the gym, however, stem from accidents caused by poor form. [5] As a result, runners will rarely use squats as part of their training.

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

A) where it is now.
B) before sentence 1.
C) after sentence 4.
D) after sentence 5.

Sentence 3 is a good example of a lead sentence—a more general sentence that leads into more specific details or supporting evidence, sort of like a topic sentence. It sets the stage for the more specific reasoning in sentences 1 and 2. The answer is B.

The only reason I like to call it a lead sentence rather than a topic sentence is that most students think a topic sentence must start a paragraph. Lead sentences, however, can be in the middle of the paragraph. Take a look at the following example:

Example 2

[1] My freshman year of college was quite intimidating. [2] Not only did I have to adjust to a new setting, but I also had to make sure I did well in my classes. [3] Professor Kwok always had a weird experiment to illustrate the concept of the day. [4] To teach us about speed and rates of change, he swung a bowling ball from the ceiling until it collided with the door. [5] Another time, he made explosives out of liquid nitrogen so that we could apply the Gurney equations to them. [6] He was fired after that.

Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?

I had many teachers, but my favorite was my math professor.

A) After sentence 1
B) After sentence 2
C) After sentence 4
D) After sentence 6

The sentence in question is a lead sentence—it introduces what the author will talk about next, his math professor. Because everything after sentence 2 talks about Professor Kwok, after sentence 2 is exactly where the sentence should be inserted. The answer is B. This lead sentence is essentially a transition sentence.

5. Supporting sentences

A supporting sentence is the opposite of a lead sentence. It offers additional details and specific facts or examples in support of a more general statement that comes before it. Let’s take a previous example and change the question:

Example

[1] My freshman year of college was quite intimidating. [2] Not only did I have to adjust to a new setting, but I also had to make sure I did well in my classes. [3] I had many teachers, but my favorite was my math professor. [4] Professor Kwok always had a weird experiment to illustrate the concept of the day. [5] One time, he made explosives out of liquid nitrogen so that we could apply the Gurney equations to them. [6] He was fired after that.

Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?

To teach us about speed and rates of change, he swung a bowling ball from the ceiling until it collided with the door.

A) After sentence 1
B) After sentence 3
C) After sentence 4
D) After sentence 5

The sentence in question is a supporting sentence—it provides an example that backs up some point made before it. Because it’s an example of one of Professor Kwok’s “weird experiments,” it belongs after sentence 4. The answer is C. Note that sentence 4 serves as a lead sentence. Writing can be funny that way. Sentence 4 is a supporting sentence to sentence 3, but it’s a lead sentence to the one we’re inserting.

6. Transition words

Example

[1] Barbary falcons are a particular kind of hunting bird used in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [2] Their nimble flight mechanics make them the perfect predators for hunting smaller birds. [3] Although they live in dry open hills and deserts, they make their nests on cliffs and breed throughout the year. [4] The Barbary falcon is often mistaken for the peregrine falcon, even though the former has a smaller wingspan.

Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?

However, they are less valuable for catching land based mammals like foxes or mice, as their larger size often warns potential prey of their approach.

A) After sentence 1
B) After sentence 2
C) After sentence 3
D) After sentence 4

Note the word However. This indicates that wherever the sentence is placed, it must serve to offset or counter the sentence before it. The best insertion point is after sentence 2, answer B. While barbary falcons are the “perfect predators for hunting smaller birds,” they are “less valuable for catching land based mammals.” Side by side, the two sentences offer a strength and then a weakness, which makes the However fit quite logically.

Paragraph placement questions—you’ll encounter at most one in the entire section—deal with putting a paragraph in the right place within a passage. The approach is very much the same as in sentence placement questions, except you’ll be looking for the cues on a paragraph-to-paragraph level, rather than a sentence-to-sentence level.

For example, each paragraph will have its own distinct focus, but you’ll still be looking for transitions that guide the reader from one to another in a logical way. You’ll still be looking for dates and time words like before, now, and finally to place paragraphs in chronological order. You’ll still have to be conscious of the relationships between paragraphs, whether one leads into the next one or supports the one before it. If you get good with sentence placement questions, you’ll be well prepared for paragraph placement questions.

Example

[1]

Fred went up first to make sure none of the caribiners had come loose or overly worn under the weather. Scott couldn’t wait to harness up and start the climb. The others weren’t so enthusiastic. I told them we could make the two day hike back the way we came or climb up and be at the clubhouse within a few hours. Before we knew it, we were celebrating at the clubhouse.

[2]

The answer came quite quickly during the first hike. It was clear these kids—Tony, Lisa, Scott, Sara, Tim—did not want to be there. They grudgingly made their way through the trails, throwing rocks and breaking branches. The pace could not have been slower. After many hours of whining and complaining about being tired and hungry, the first day finally came to an end.

[3]

As part of a new program, our state decided to give first time offenders the choice of a three day hike through the mountains or a month of detention. Because my partner Fred and I give guided hiking tours through the mountains, we were chosen to be the tour guides for this program. Three days in the wilderness with five juvenile delinquents was not exactly what we had in mind when we started our hiking business. Then again, how hard could it be?

[4]

A few months later I asked the kids to see if our little hiking trip in the mountains had changed anything. I was pleased to hear that no one has been in trouble since. I can’t wait to take on the next batch.

[5]

Over the course of the next day, their attitudes started to change. With each step, the children began to realize that their lives were in our hands. After all, they would have to rely on us for help if they got lost or fell. They had to either listen or risk serious injury. Towards the end of the hike, we presented the final challenge—the wall. There were other paths we could have taken, but we like to challenge our guests with a little mountain climbing. The cliff is only twelve feet high, so even an inexperienced climber can easily reach the top.

The most effective and logical ordering of the paragraphs in the passage is:

A) 3, 1, 2, 4, 5
B) 3, 2, 5, 1, 4
C) 3, 1, 2, 5, 4
D) 1, 3, 2, 5, 4

On the SAT, you won’t get a question exactly like this, but you’ll get questions that ask you where to place a certain paragraph. By the time you get to those questions, you will have read most of the passage. You’ll have some idea of what each paragraph is about, which will make it much easier. But for learning purposes, let’s say we haven’t read this passage at all. The first thing I would do is scan the first sentence of each paragraph, which typically provides some clue of where it should be placed. Looking at paragraph 2, we read The answer…, which indicates it should be placed after a paragraph that ends in a question or dilemma: paragraph 3.

Paragraph 5 starts with Over the course of the next day…, which implies the previous paragraph should discuss the previous day. The paragraph that does this turns out to be paragraph 2, which ends with the words the first day finally came to an end. So far, we have 3, 2, and 5.

If you look at paragraph 4, A few months later is a sign that whatever’s in that paragraph happened last, so it should be placed at the end. Paragraph 1 starts with Fred went up first and goes on to discuss the details of climbing, which means it should be placed after a paragraph that mentions that activity, paragraph 5. Finally, we have 3, 2, 5, 1, 4: answer B.

 
 
 

  1. [1] Machines that play chess have been around for a long time, but never have they been as powerful as they are today. [2] Given that level of computing power, they usually win. [3] But a new type has been designed that is intended to lose. [4] The idea is aimed at novice players, who would benefit from a boost in confidence by beating a computer. [5] Grandmaster Garry Kasparov thinks the new machine is a great invention and intends to use it with his beginner students in the near future. [6] They are now able to perform millions of calculations within seconds in order to determine what moves to play.

    To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 6 should be placed

    A) where it is now.
    B) after sentence 1.
    C) after sentence 2.
    D) after sentence 4.

  2. [1] The Prince built a barracks adjacent to the castle and stationed a garrison of men there to carry on the assault in his absence. [2] After he left north to negotiate with Edwin of Lancaster, the soldiers surprised the opposing province in a daring, early morning ambush. [3] According to the rules of medieval chivalry, he could not be pursued by the Prince’s soldiers once he was there. [4] But the soldiers ignored these conventions, stormed the monastery, and captured him. [5] The duke escaped and fled to a nearby monastery.

    To make this 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.

  3. [1] The drier conditions of the Ice Age suited one of the larger mammal species that made it to the Central American archipelago—the tree sloth. [2] However, there were a number of evolutionary relatives of this creature that didn’t survive. [3] Was it the animal’s unusual metabolism that gave the tree sloth a competitive advantage? [4] We can’t know for sure. [5] What we do know from fossil findings is that the morphological characteristics of this kind of sloth are the same today as they were fifteen thousand years ago.

    To make this 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.

  4. [1]

    There are people of other religions in India too, notably Muslims, who remained after the partition of Pakistan from the territory after the Second World War in 1947. Christians, Sikhs, and a few Buddhists are also accounted for. Jains, devotees of Jainism, make up a small community of believers in India. Once a large religious presence in the region, Jains suffered sporadic persecution, and the combination of rivalry from other sects of Hinduism and loss of royal patronage meant their numbers dwindled over the years.

    [2]

    Despite the many conquests of India’s lands, the Hindu religion has persisted and to this day exerts the greatest influence on the population of 1.2 billion people. The faith is practiced in different forms, but all share common concepts and central ritual techniques. Some sects of Hinduism are associated with specific geographical locations. For instance, Pashupata Shaivism is followed mainly in the northern state of Gujarat, whereas devotees of Shaiva Siddhanta are normally found in the southern regions, where they have maintained distance from foreign aggressors.

    [3]

    India is a land of riches. Precious metals and priceless stones have been mined from the earth there for as long as anyone can remember. Yet the natural bounty that gave rise to its wealth has also brought with it a dark side. Invaders have sought to conquer her lands to possess the riches underground. However, the people have not surrendered so easily; even Alexander the Great was driven out, never to return.

    [4]

    Many ritual practices of Hinduism take place both within the home and at the temple. The temple is a place to bring the gods and man together, and the design of the temple space seeks to illuminate the ideas and beliefs of Hinduism. In this way, motifs inscribed on walls can symbolically present concepts such as the dharma and karma, guiding the believer to contemplate various aspects of the faith. Temples also contain idols, often serving as the focal point of the whole construction.

    [5]

    Prior to Alexander’s ill-fated attempt on the sub-continent, the Indian lands were successfully invaded by the Aryans. A fair-skinned folk, they came from the northern passes, between the Vindhya Range and the Himalayas. They brought with them the Rig-Veda, a poem credited with being the founding text of the Hindu religion. Invasions over land continued for thousands of years, right up until the British and Portuguese fleets arrived in the 1700s.

    The most effective and logical ordering of the paragraphs in the passage is:

    A) 2, 1, 5, 4, 3
    B) 3, 1, 4, 5, 2
    C) 3, 5, 2, 4, 1
    D) 5, 3, 2, 4, 1

Want more questions? Our SAT Writing Advanced Guide and Workbook contains over 500 additional practice questions (grouped by topic) and 3 practice tests.
 
 
 

  1. B
  2. C
  3. A
  4. C

 
 
 

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