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17) SAT Writing: Improving Paragraphs Questions 1/4
The first question most students have about the Improving Paragraphs questions is whether they even matter. With just six of these questions on the entire SAT Writing test, you might be tempted to forget about them or assume that they aren’t important. But this is a mistake – Improving Paragraphs questions are small, but mighty. To illustrate this, take a look at two example test-takers: Jack the Slacker and Studious Mike.
Jack and Mike both studied for the other parts of the Writing test, so their scores on everything but the Improving Paragraphs questions were the same. But the Improving Paragraphs questions really made a difference!
Jack didn’t study for the Improving Paragraphs questions at all, so he got one right out of pure luck, but he got five wrong. Mike studied hard, so he got five right and one wrong. Jack’s final score is 690. Mike’s final score is 750.
As you can see, the Improving Paragraphs questions might make up to a 60-point difference in your score! Now that you’re convinced they’re worth your while, here’s what you’ll see on the Improving Paragraphs questions and how to beat them.
About the Questions
The SAT Writing test is divided into two multiple-choice sections and an essay. All the Improving Paragraphs questions are in the longer multiple-choice section, and they’re always the very last questions in that section. When you see these questions, you’ll see one passage of text followed by six questions about the passage.
The passage will contain several errors, and all the questions will ask you about various ways of improving it. Some of them will ask you about individual sentences within the passage, but others will ask you about transitions between sentences, or potential sentences to add or delete from the passage. These last two categories can include questions about usage as well as grammar. They’re testing your ability to stay on topic, recognize irrelevant information, and organize thoughts into a logical argument.
Some of these questions might seem a little more subjective than other multiple-choice questions on the Writing test. But remember, you should still have a reason that you could explain to your English teacher. It’s not about the way you would personally write the passage, it’s about how well it complies with formal grammar rules.
To help you get a feel for this, here’s an excerpt from an example passage, with a question to try your hand at:
‘Studious Mike had started studying six weeks before test day. Still feeling nervous as he took his seat in the testing room.’
Which of the following revisions of ‘before test day. Still feeling’ would best combine these two sentences?
(A) before test day; still feeling
(B) before test day, but he still felt
(C) before test day, with him still feeling
(D) before test day still, he felt
(E) before test day; feeling still
In this sample question, you can see the basic structure of the Improving Paragraphs questions: part of a passage with a grammar question based on the passage text. Which answer do you think would be best?
Ready to hear the answer? If you picked (B), you were right! The second sentence in this sample passage was a sentence fragment, and choice (B) correctly connects it to the first sentence with a comma and a conjunction.
Didn’t get it quite the first time? That’s okay; there’s plenty of time to learn. The best way to get better at these questions is to practice, practice, practice, but before that, here are a few tips for doing your best.
- Skim the passage quickly: You’ll want to get an idea for the topic and scope of the passage (since some Improving Paragraphs questions do ask you about that), but don’t get bogged down in the passage. The passages are confusing to read and often include errors that never even show up on the questions. You certainly don’t want to waste your time on something that you won’t even be tested on!
- Do the easy questions first: You don’t have to do the Improving Paragraphs questions in any particular order, so if you get to one that’s too hard, just mark it in your test book, move on to the next one, and come back if you don’t have time. Easy questions and hard questions are worth the exact same amount, so it doesn’t make sense to waste time on the hard ones.
- Don’t guess randomly: The Improving Paragraphs questions are the last few questions in their section, so you may find yourself racing to finish them. Work quickly, but stay calm, and resist the urge to mark a random guess for anything you can’t finish! The SAT has a guessing penalty, so guessing wildly isn’t to your advantage. On the other hand, if you can eliminate two or more answers, it is okay to guess.