18) SAT Writing: Improving Sentences 2/4
Improving Sentences questions are one way that the Writing portion of the SAT tests you on the formal rules of English grammar. Of all the question types on the Writing test, the Improving Sentences questions are the most frequent, and they account for about 35% of your total Writing score – that’s more than any other single question type!
The SAT Writing test as a whole is broken down into two multiple-choice sections and an essay. There are 25 Improving Sentences questions, distributed over both multiple-choice sections of the Writing test.
On the longer multiple-choice section, you’ll see 11 Improving Sentences questions; they’ll always be the first 11 questions in the section. On the shorter multiple-choice section, you’ll see 14 Improving Sentences questions, which are the only questions in this section. It’s a little confusing that the shorter section has more Improving Sentences questions than the longer one does, but the longer section also has 24 other questions, for a total of 35 questions in total.
On the Improving Sentences questions, you’ll want to bring out your most nit-picky inner editor, because your job is basically to hunt down mistakes and correct them. For each Improving Sentences question, you’ll get one sentence, which may or may not contain a grammar mistake. Each sentence will have a part underlined – if there’s a mistake, it will be in the underlined part. You’ll have to find the mistake (if there is one) and pick the answer choice that corrects it.
Example Improving Sentences Question
To help illustrate this, let’s look at an example:
When my dogs come with me for a walk, they like to smell the flowers,dig in the dirt, and they had met other dogs along the way.
|(A) dig in the dirt, and they had met other dogs on the way.|
(B) dug in the dirt, and they had met other dogs on the way.
(C) dig in the dirt, and meet other dogs on the way.
(D) dig in the dirt, and meeting other dogs on the way.
(E) digging in the dirt, and meeting other dogs on the way.
Notice how part of the sentence is underlined, and all the answer choices are potential replacements for the underlined part of the sentence. Choice (A) is exactly the same as the original wording, while (B) through (E) give you four options to change the sentence. Your job is to decide which one is the best, based on English grammar rules – NOT what ‘sounds right’ to you. You should always be able to name a specific grammar rule that the underlined portion is violating.
In this example sentence you can see that the underlined portion of the sentence does contain a grammatical error. In a list of items, all items in the list should be in the same pattern, so ‘they had met other dogs’ should read ‘meet other dogs,’ to match the pattern of ‘smell the flowers’ and ‘dig in the dirt.’ Can you spot which answer choice you’d pick to make this change?
If you picked (C), good job! (C) gives you the revision that makes the sentence grammatically correct when you substitute it for the underlined words in the sentence.
Remember that choice (A) is exactly the same as the original sentence. That’s true for all the Improving Sentences questions: choice (A) is always ‘no error.’
Tips for Improving Sentences Questions
All the Improving Sentences questions will look more or less like the example above. When you’re working on these questions, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Don’t be afraid of ‘no error.’
No error is just as common as every other answer choice. Statistically, that means that 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 5 minutes for every 7 questions, or a little less than one minute per question. 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 for you, circle it in your test booklet and move on, and then come back to it later if you have time.
Read the sentences at a 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 2 answers that you know are definitely wrong, it’s statistically in your advantage to pick a guess from the remaining 3.