About once per test, an SAT Error ID question will leave the ‘ly’ off the end of an adverb. An adverb is a word, usually ending in ‘ly’ (like ‘clearly’, ‘mostly’ or ‘faithfully’), that helps describe (or modify) an adjective, a verb, or another adverb.
Researchers examined the constant changing river bed for signs of invasive species.
Problem: The adverb ‘constant’ is missing ‘ly’.
(The river bed can not both be ‘constant’ and ‘changing’ at the same time.)
Researchers examined the constantly changing river bed for signs of invasive species.
Tip: The phrase ‘constant changing’ is an SAT favorite when testing adverbs.
Complete sentences always contain both a subject and a main verb (or “predicate”).
About two times per test, SAT Writing will include question containing a ‘Sentence Fragment’ – in other words, a sentence that is simply not complete.
Jesse Owens, the first man to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad, and setting world records in three of four events at the 1936 games in Berlin.
Problem: The sentence is not complete because it lacks a main verb.
Jesse Owens, the first man to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad, set world records in three of four events at the 1936 games in Berlin.
Sentence fragment questions appear almost exclusively on Improving Sentences questions.
Watch out for SAT Writing questions that compare two things that are not the same type.
The novels of Patrick O’Brian, which take place during the Napoleonic era, are more realistic than CS Forester.
The sentence above is incorrect because it compares novels (of Patrick O’Brian) with a person (CS Forester).
The novels of Patrick O’Brian, which take place during the Napoleonic era, are more realistic than the novels of CS Forester.
The novels of Patrick O’Brian, which take place during the Napoleonic era, are more realistic than those of CS Forester.
The novels of Patrick O’Brian, which take place during the Napoleonic era, are more realistic than CS Forester’s novels.
The SAT often uses authors and writings as the subjects of these ‘faulty comparison’ questions.
Each Improving Sentence question provides a sentence and asks to you to change the underlined portion if necessary.
Once in awhile, the underlined portion may include the whole sentence, but usually only a part of the sentence is underlined.
Answer choice (A) is always ‘no error’.
Answer choice (A) simply repeats the underlined portion of the sentence as it appears in the question prompt. If there is no error in the sentence, (A) is the correct answer.
Improving Sentences Tips:
- Improving Sentence questions appear in order of difficulty.
The easiest questions appear at the beginning of the section and become progressively harder as the section moves along.
- Read the sentence carefully and try to figure out what the issue is before looking at the answers.
When you know what improvement to look for, you can often eliminate incorrect answers with just a single word. Rewrite the sentence in your head the way you think it should appear and then look for your rewrite in the answers.
- Start with the shortest answer first and work toward the longest.
Correct answers tend to be shorter.
- Watch out for extra pronouns (it, they, that, this, etc.) and strange uses of the verb ‘to be’ (being, had been, were being, etc.).
These are usually sure signs of an INCORRECT answer.
- Trust your gut.
The best sounding answer is usually the right one. Especially among the easier questions at the beginning of the section, choose the answer that you would most likely use if you were writing the sentence.
- Don’t be afraid to pick (A).
Statistically, each answer choice appears approximately the same number of times (one out of five), so there will almost always be a number of Sentence Improvement questions where (A) is the correct answer.
From SAT Unlocked.
On SAT Writing multiple choice questions, watch out for sentences that use extra comparing words where they are not needed.
Incorrect: The windows are
morecleaner than they were before.
Correct:The windows are cleaner than they were before.
Incorrect: Carrots are my
Correct: Carrots are my favorite vegetable.
On the Error ID part of the SAT Writing section, always answer (E) whenever you can not spot an error.
Each Error ID question consists of a single sentence with four possible grammatical errors underlined. It is up to you to spot which of the underlined choices, if any, contains an error. Answer choice (E) is ‘No error’, and appears on average the same number of times as any other answer choice. Although ‘No error’ appears just as often as any other answer, many students shy away from answering (E), and instead skip questions when they do not see an error.
Skipping an Error ID question because you do not see an error is a poor strategy that almost always results in lost points.
Let’s see why:
With 18 Error Id questions on SAT Writing, ‘No error’ (E) is likely to be the correct answer choice between 3 and 4 times a test.
Now let’s say, for example, that there are 4 Error ID questions that contain no error and that you do not see errors for 2 other questions. That means that you could potentially answer (E) 6 times out of the 19 error IDs.
Should you do that? YES! Answer (E) for all 6.
Why? Because if you skip any of these questions, you are likely to earn fewer points.
Below is a chart of all of the possible combinations for either answering (E) or skipping an answer to any of the 6 potential ‘No error’ questions, along with the total number of raw score points you would earn for each combination.
(Remember that you get one point for every correct answer, 0 points for skipping an answer, and .25 (1/4) points subtracted for every wrong answer.)
Notice from the first line that if you answer (E) for all 6 questions for which you do not see an error, while skipping none, you would earn 4 points for the four correct answers and subtract .5 points (2 x .25) for the two incorrect answers. This means you end up with 3.5 total points for the 6 questions. The rest of the combinations work the same way.
Now let’s see what happens when we sort all of the combinations by total points.
Oh sure, you might be the world’s greatest guesser and just happen to skip exactly those two answers out of the six for which (E) is not the answer. In that case you would earn 4 points for the 4 correct answers and lose 0 points. Likewise, you might beat the odds by answering 5 (E)’s and also picking one of the two non-(E) answers to skip. In that case you would earn 3.75 points (4 minus 1/4 points).
But why trust to luck? For all but two of the combinations above, you earn fewer points by skipping answers than you do by simply answering (E) on all of the questions. What’s more, taking the slim chance at an extra 1/4 or 1/2 point by randomly guessing on which questions not to answer just isn’t worth the risk of losing a point or more if you skip incorrectly.
Answering (E) whenever you do not see an error is the best way to earn more points on the Error ID part of the Writing section.
Stay consistent. Remember, about one out of every five Error ID questions has ‘(E) No error’ as its answer, so while you may lose a ¼ point here or there for not spotting an error where there is one, you can always be certain of gaining the full point on each question for which there actually is ‘No error’.
Circle your (E)’s and check them at the end if you have time. Don’t waste time pondering whether or not there is an error. If you do not see an error in the sentence, simply answer (E) and move on. If you have time at the end, go back and check your (E)’s to see whether or not you missed anything.
Adapted from my SAT training guide: SAT Unlocked.
About three or four times per SAT, a Writing question will test your ability to spot problems with a sentence’s ‘parallelism’.
Parallelism requires that similar phrases be written in similar (ie., ‘parallel’) grammatical form.
While the SAT tests parallelism in a number of ways, a typical question of this type will include a list in which one of the items is grammatically different from the others.
Whenever you see a LIST, look for problems with parallelism.
A talented basketball player, Sarah can jump high, pass crisply, and is an accurate shooter.
A talented basketball player, Sarah can jump high, pass crisply, and shoot accurately.
Like pronouns, nouns that refer to other nouns must agree in number.
Alma and Christie both found jobs as a lifeguard for the summer.
‘lifeguard’ is singular but ‘jobs’ is plural.
Alma and Christie can’t both be one lifeguard.
Alma and Christie both found jobs as lifeguards for the summer.
Whenever an SAT Writing question mentions some kind of a job, look for Noun Agreement problems.
SAT Writing questions often ask you to identify proper tense of a verb.
The tenses of the non-underlined verbs tell you what the tense of the underlined verb should be. For instance, if you notice that all of the other verbs in the sentence are past tense, this is a good indication that the underlined verb should also be past tense.
King Arthur continued his search for the Holy Grail after he can find knights to join him on his quest.
Problem: The verb ‘can find’ is present tense, while the non-underlined verb ‘continued’ is past tense.
King Arthur continued his search for the Holy Grail after he found knights to join him on his quest.
Anytime you see a date, think past tense.
In 1890, the frontier of the western United States is declared officially closed.
In 1890, the frontier of the western United States was declared officially closed.
A pronoun must agree in number with the person, place or thing to which it refers.
If the person, place or thing is singular, the pronoun must also be singular.
If the person, place or thing is plural, the pronoun must also be plural.
Although the country had a long history of peaceful relations with other nations, their leaders nevertheless voted to go to war.
Problem: ‘country’ is singular, while ‘their’ is plural.
Although the country had a long history of peaceful relations with other nations, its leaders nevertheless voted to go to war.
Any single group of people or things, like ‘country’, ‘agency’, etc., is always singular.
For phrases like ‘each of’ or ‘one of’, the pronoun is singular.