19) SAT Writing: Identifying Sentence Errors 3/4
Identifying Sentence Errors questions are the second most common type of multiple-choice questions on the SAT Writing test, making up 18 questions in total. That might not sound like much, but the Identifying Sentence Errors questions count for about 26% of your Writing score.
Because the SAT is so predictable, you can know in advance exactly where on the test you’ll find these questions. The Writing test is split up into one essay and two multiple-choice sections, one long and one short. You’ll see all 18 Identifying Sentence Errors questions on the longer multiple-choice section; there are none in the shorter section.
Now, let’s get down to the questions themselves. Identifying Sentence Errors questions are basically a high-stakes game of ‘Grammar Detective’, and you just got picked to solve the case.
Every Identifying Sentence Errors question will give you one sentence, with four words or short phrases underlined, plus an option for no error. You’ll have to decide whether or not the sentence contains an error, but your decision should always be backed up by the formal rules of English grammar. A sentence isn’t wrong because it ‘sounds wrong’ or because you just don’t like it; it’s only wrong if you can clearly identify a grammatical rule that the sentence is violating.
If you do find a mistake, your job is to identify which one of the underlined portions the error is in. If there is an error, it will always be in one of the underlined portions. If there’s no error, choose (E): (E) is always the option for ‘no error’ on the Identifying Sentence Errors questions.
Identifying Sentence Errors questions are some of the fastest multiple-choice questions on the Writing test, because you don’t have to provide a solution to the error; you just have to find it. To show you how it’s done, let’s look at an example.
In this question, you can see how each answer choice refers to one underlined section of the sentence, except for (E), which is the option for ‘no error.’
Read through the sentence carefully: can you spot the error?
If you picked (C), good job! You need a main verb here, not a participle, so this part of the sentence should read ‘kept on escaping’ or ‘kept escaping.’ Since you can identify what specific grammar rule this portion of the sentence is breaking, you can confidently choose it as the answer.
Tips for Identifying Sentence Errors Questions
Now you know the basic strategy. But to help you really unlock the Identifying Sentence Errors questions, here are a few tips:
Don’t Be Afraid of ‘No Error’
No error is just as common as every other answer choice. Statistically, that means about 1/5 of the questions will have no error.
Don’t Get Hung up on One Question
On the Writing section, you have to go through a lot of questions in not much time – on average, you get five minutes for every seven questions, or a little less than one minute per question. And you should be working through the Identifying Sentence Errors questions even faster than this, since they’re less demanding than the other question types. Identifying Sentence Errors questions are a perfect way to get ahead and save some precious minutes for the more time-consuming questions in the section.
This means that you don’t have a lot of time to waste agonizing over any particular question. If you get one that’s too hard, circle it in your test booklet and move on, and then come back to it later if you have time.
Read the Sentences at Speaking Pace
This might seem to contradict the advice to move through the questions quickly, but in fact, taking your time on the first read-through can save you time later. If you skim the sentence without really thinking, you’ll either have to read it multiple times (which takes more time than reading it carefully once), or you’ll make a careless mistake.
To avoid these traps, approach each sentence calmly, and read it to yourself as if you were reading it aloud in your head. You’re more likely to spot the error on the first try, and you’ll save yourself a lot of careless mistakes.
The SAT has a guessing penalty, so you shouldn’t guess randomly. But if you can eliminate at least two answers that you know are definitely wrong, it’s statistically in your advantage to pick a guess from the remaining three.
To review what you’re up against on the Identifying Sentence Errors questions:
- You’ll see 18 questions, all grouped together in the long multiple-choice section of the SAT Writing test. The long section is the only section that contains Identifying Sentence Errors questions.
- Each one of these questions will give you a sentence which may or may not contain an error.
- If the sentence does have an error, you’ll have to identify which of the underlined sections is incorrect; if it doesn’t have an error, you’ll mark ‘No error,’ which is always answer choice (E) for the Identifying Sentence Errors questions.
- Identifying Sentence Errors questions are typically the fastest Writing questions to go through, since all you have to do is spot the error, not correct it. But remember: read them carefully, and always rely on the rules of English grammar, not what ‘sounds right’ to you!
The format of the questions might seem pretty confusing right now, and it is a lot to remember at first. That’s what makes the SAT so challenging: you don’t have to just learn the material on the test; you also have to learn how to take the test itself. But once you get in some practice with these questions, you’ll be zipping through them like a pro.