Always remember this set of 49 multiple-choice questions is about English as a written, not spoken, language. So, as you answer the questions, use what you’ve learned in English class about grammar. You aren’t correcting what someone has said; you are correcting what someone has written. That means you need to use the more formal version of the English language.
There are several major areas or types of written English errors that will be on the test. They are listed below in no particular order. Keep in mind that this is an SAT prep program that provides overviews of each area and not a grammar course. What is important for you to remember is that you need to pay careful attention to all of the following grammar areas, whether you are doing the 49 multiple-choice questions or writing your essay. (Furthermore, it wouldn’t hurt to remember them when you write papers for school and speak!)
As you review grammar skills, you may want to refer to other resources to fine tune your use of grammar. There are many very good books and websites that can help. Personally, I’m fond of English Composition and Grammar as a text. Some of my favorite websites are:
http://chompchomp.com You will need to do a FREE registration and it is worth it.
If these don’t work for you, your web browser could be your best friend!
Find the Error
Your opponent uses a short list of common grammar and usage mistakes that are found in the written word. Since the list isn’t very long, you will see the same mistakes repeatedly. Let’s take a look at the ones that will solve more than 90% of these questions.
Verb tense constancy: Watch for continuity of verb tense. Within a sentence or paragraph, the test writer likes to switch tenses to see if you can recognize and fix the error.
For example, what’s wrong with the following?
When I went to the game last week, I see that my favorite team won.
Subject—Predicate/Noun—Verb Agreement: This is a classic. Singular subjects go with singular verbs and plural subjects go with plural verbs.
For example, what’s wrong with the following?
The missing box of candles were finally found in the back of the closet.
Pronoun Antecedent: This is a common error included on the test. Make sure that all pronouns have a clear and appropriate (singular/plural, gender) antecedent (noun that precedes and is referred to by the pronoun).
For example, what’s wrong with the following?
I was amazed that somebody would forget their laptop computer in the classroom.
A favorite trap is to put the pronoun prior to the antecedent in the question. This structure makes it harder to find the error.
For example, what’s wrong with the following?
After the basketball team won the state championship, they were presented with a six-foot tall trophy.
Another issue is an unclear antecedent for a pronoun. What does this sentence mean?
The basketball players were pleased to receive such a reward from the booster club parents, they all received gift certificates that were good for pizza.
Pronoun Form: Pronouns have different forms. They may be the subject or object in a sentence or they may show possession. You need to know the forms and when to use them. For example, what is wrong with this sentence?
Her mom and her went to the mall to shop for some new shoes.
Who, Which, That: Make sure that if the antecedent is a person, you use who. Which and that refer to nonhumans. For example:
My favorite service worker is the postal carrier that honks his truck’s horn that notifies me the mail has arrived.
Adverb or Adjective: Adjectives describe and modify nouns and pronouns. Adverbs describe and modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Watch for this mistake very carefully. It is common among the questions. For example, read the following conversation:
Marcus inquired, “How are you doing today?”
Adrian responded, “I’m doing good. Thanks.”
What’s wrong with it?
Split Infinitive: An infinitive is the word to with a verb, for example, to study. Don’t put any words in the middle of an infinitive, i.e., don’t “split” it.
John had to carefully study for his math exam should be, “John had to study carefully for his math exam.”
Plural/Singular Noun Constancy: Make sure the subject of the sentence and subsequent nouns that refer back to the subject consistently remain singular or plural.
For example, what’s wrong with this sentence?
The three high school football stars hoped to be selected as a player for the state all-star team.
Neither/nor, either/or, and both/and: These pairs of words go together like salt and pepper. You should remember they are always a pair. What’s wrong with the following?
The night before the exam, Victor decided that neither talking on the phone and not playing video games would be a good use of his time.
Double Negative: Double negatives are a positive. I don’t have no time means I have time. Watch carefully for the meaning of a sentence to make sure whether the double negative is really supposed to be a positive. For example, what’s wrong with this?
I barely have no time to get ready for my final exams.
http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/023.html is a great website to see a detailed explanation of the double negative trap. You will find the bartleby.com website a fun place to browse.
Parallelism: This word reminds you to make certain you keep the related parts of a sentence in the same structural format. For example, how should you fix this sentence?
An all-around athlete, John was a basketball player, track star, wrestler, and played quarterback on the football team.
Whenever you see a string of verbs or nouns in a sentence, be sure they have a constant structure. This issue also relates to verb tense as we discussed above. For example,
Marie studied and studied, practiced and practiced her artistic skills, and finally she is admitted to the art school of her dreams.
Be sure comparisons relate to appropriate parts of the sentence. For example:
The lawn in front of the Anderson family house is always greener than the Smith family.
Verb form/tense: A verb may have several forms depending on its intended usage or tense. For example, is, was, and been are different forms of the verb to be. The verb drive has forms like drive, drove, and driven. These forms are referred to as the present, past, and past participle forms of the verb. The past participle is always paired with another word like had or was. The common mistake that is tested is using the past tense verb form with a modifier like had. For example, what’s wrong with the following sentence?
By the end of the month, Kristi will have took all of her paychecks to the bank.
http://www.englishpage.com/irregularverbs/irregularverbs.html has a list of over 300 verbs that you should review. It won’t take much time since you already know most of them. Reviewing the list should help raise your confidence in what you already know.
Wrong Prepositions: There are many misuses of prepositions that are common. Unfortunately, there aren’t any rules; the appropriate form has become correct due to common usage. Doing a lot of reading is the only way to really learn the best preposition to use. For example,
People are observers of; not in,
People are ignorant of, not to, and
Things happen by accident, not on.
Positive, Comparative, Superlative: Adjectives can be used to describe (e.g., sharp or fantastic) a noun, to compare a noun to one other similar object (sharper, more fantastic), or to compare to more than one other similar object (sharpest, most fantastic). The general rule is for single syllable adjectives add –er or –est. For multi-syllable adjectives use more or most. Never use both. (There are exceptions, for example, fun is fun, more fun, and most fun.) As practice, fix the following sentence.
After working on the windows all day, the window washer got them more cleaner than they had ever been.
Who is first?: A common grammar error is placing multiple subjects of a sentence in the incorrect order. The speaker always comes last. For example, George and I went to the store; not Me and George went to the store. If a sentence involves someone who isn’t present, someone who is, and you as the subject, put them in that order. George (not here), Mike (here), and I went to the store.
The keys to Find the Error questions are Pillars IV–Focus on the Questions and Pillar V–The Answer Is There. The strategy for attacking these questions is a simple, two-step process.
First, read the entire sentence. Keep in mind that the part of the sentence that is not underlined is correct. That means that the underlined sections must be consistent with it. For example, if the part of the sentence that is not underlined is in the present tense, the verbs that are underlined also must be in the present tense. If the subject of the sentence is not underlined and is plural, then any underlined predicate must be plural. If neither is not underlined, then there must be a nor somewhere. Keep your focus on the sentence that is the question and make sure everything that is underlined is consistent with the words that are not underlined.
Second, focus on the underlined portions of the sentence. Check each of the four words or phrases one at a time. If a single word is underlined, determine its part of speech. Analyze how underlined phrases relate to the rest of the sentence. Then consider the kinds of mistakes that are associated with them. Use the common errors listed above to serve as a map for checking each answer. Move on from one underlined portion to the next until you have found the error; or, if you don’t find an error, select E.
Fix the Sentence
You will see 25 Fix the Sentence questions. Eleven will be in one section preceding the Find the Error questions. Fourteen will be by themselves in the last section of the test. Each question will be a sentence that will be partly or completely underlined. Your job will be to recognize one of four answers as a way to improve the sentence. Or you may leave the underlined portion the same as it was originally written.
You definitely will need to improve your composition skills for the Writing Section of the SAT. Obviously, this is not a grammar and composition course. However, if you want to do a self-study course, I encourage you to take a look at Grammar Bytes on the Internet. Visit the website: http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm
The test writers have some favorite mistakes they include in the questions. We found them by reviewing every available sample test question the College Board has released. After reviewing just a few sample tests, we didn’t find anything new. That means we can predict the content quite accurately and you’ll definitely be able to focus your grammar review. Be watchful for the same grammar problems that are in the Find the Error questions; especially look for subject/verb and pronoun/antecedent agreement. Additionally, you will find the following compositional mistakes.
Wordiness: Many times you will see several answers for a question that say the same thing. Good writing standards usually promote saying something in the shortest possible way. The main exception is an answer with a grammar mistake; even if it is short, it cannot be correct.
We were all walking to the store and during the walk to the store, we saw one of our teachers, should be shortened to, While walking to the store, we saw one of our teachers.
Redundancy/Repetitiveness: One type of wordiness deserves special attention: saying the same thing more than once, redundancy.
Watch out for redundant, common phrases such as “at that point in time,” and “as an end result” need to be corrected. How should they be rewritten?
Passive Voice: The passive voice is the opposite of the active voice. In passive voice sentences, the subject receives the verb. Generally, it’s a better approach to make the subject do rather than be done to! How should you rewrite this sentence?
The boy was bitten by the rabid raccoon.
Overusing Pronouns: Inserting unnecessary pronouns is a common error in speaking and should always be avoided when writing.
Fred, he is my best friend, is written (and spoken) better as, Fred is my best friend.
Misuse of commas, semicolons, and colons: Using the wrong punctuation mark and inserting unnecessary commas are common mistakes in writing.
Learn the rules of commas. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas_big.htm is a great reference for the many appropriate and inappropriate uses of commas. They are tested most commonly on the SAT as ways to: 1) separate items in a list, 2) denote clauses and phrases within a sentence, and 3) separate introductory phrases that begin sentences.
The semicolon is used to link two related independent clauses. You can think of it as a substitute for “and.” It is used to combine two closely related sentences into one sentence. For example, “Kristi looked through the recipe book. She found a good one for a new steak sauce,” could be rewritten “Kristi looked through the recipe book; she found a good one for a new steak sauce.”
The colon is used to say, “You are about to read a list.” For example, “I have many favorite sports: baseball, basketball, and football.” It is also used to denote a heading like in this list of common mistakes (for example, Overusing Pronouns:).
In addition to the mistakes that are listed above, there are three special ones the test writers say are important. Indeed, they are common on the College Board’s sample tests. The mistakes are: non-parallel structures, misplaced modifiers, and misplaced relative clauses.
Non-parallel Structures: When there is a string of related parts in a sentence, they must all be written in the same format. This mistake is often seen on the SAT as a group of verb phrases. Fix the following sentence:
The quarterback was especially good at throwing accurately, running the ball, and he executed the plays properly.
Misplaced Modifiers: All adjectives and adverbs need to be near the words they modify or describe. When they are not, you can see some pretty funny sentences. Fix the following sentences.
After buying the used car, one tire needed to be changed by the new owner.
The car has a leather interior with a CD player.
Marlina attracted attention while dancing with the boy in the sleek, sequined dress.
Placement of Relative Clauses: Relative clauses are used to describe nouns, explaining what kind, how many or which one. That’s why they are sometimes called adjective or adjectival clauses. They are not hard to recognize. First, being a clause, they will have a subject and a verb. Second, they begin with either a relative pronoun (who, whom, whose, that, or which) or relative adverb (when, where, or why). Like misplaced modifiers, be careful where they are placed in a sentence. They need to be near the noun they describe. Fix the following sentences.
Samantha went to the mall with her nine year-old-sister, who drove her mom’s car.
The dog was chasing a cat that was barking as it ran.
There are two Pillars that are1 especially important: Pillar V: The Answer Is on the Page and Pillar III: Focus on What You Know. The others are useful, but these two are most valuable.
Pillar V: Finding the right answer often has as much to do with recognizing and eliminating wrong answers, as it has to do with simply picking the right answer. While practicing, you will see that the wrong answers appear in patterns, which frequently reflect the mistakes that are listed above. Other wrong answers will include awkward and grammatically incorrect phrases. Learning how the identify wrong answers (which include poor grammar and composition) is as valuable as learning proper English. After all, there are four poorly written phrases for every good one! Pay as much attention to wrong answers as right answers when you practice. Keep asking yourself, “Why is this answer wrong? What makes the right answer better?” Be sure to put a slash through the letters of answers as you identify wrong ones to eliminate them.
Pillar III: There are many things you know that will pay off on these questions. First, you know what kinds of mistakes you will be seeing on the test. It will help to identify the kind of mistake you see while practicing and to label the practice questions based on the type of mistake in the question. Second, you know the kinds of wrong answers to avoid. Third, you will know how to attack these questions most effectively as soon as you practice and become proficient at the following Fix the Sentence approach.
- Read the entire sentence before reading any answers, paying special attention to the structure of the entire sentence.
- Read the underlined section of the sentence.
- Keep in mind what kinds of mistakes the test writers include.
- Try to determine what is wrong with the underlined words.
- Predict what needs to be done to fix it.
- Look for the answer that is most similar to your prediction by
- reading the important parts of the entire sentence while substituting the answer choices,
- eliminating obviously wrong answers and marking through their letters (A), (B), etc., and
- finding similar wording to your prediction.
- Pick a potential answer.
- Check your work by reading the whole sentence while substituting your answer for the underlined words.
Apply these steps to the following sample question.
Marcus shouted with enthusiasm when the ball went into the basket, who made the winning shot.
- Marcus shouted with enthusiasm when the ball went into the basket, who made the winning shot.
- When he made the winning shot, Marcus shouting with enthusiasm when the ball went into the basket.
- The ball was shot by the enthusiastically shouting Marcus into the basket, who made the winning shot.
- Marcus, who made the winning shot, shouted with enthusiasm when the ball went into the basket.
- When the ball went into the basket, Marcus, he, shouted when the ball scored the basket that was the winning shot.
If you have trouble with these questions or finishing the first Writing Section of the test, you should skip the last few since they are the hardest. In the test booklet, mark the ones you skip. Go on to the Find the Error questions and remember to return to finish the questions you skipped.
Fix the Passage
At the end of the first Writing Test multiple-choice section, you will find six questions that require you to edit a passage. The passage will be approximately 12 to 15 sentences in one to three paragraphs. Your task is to make revisions in the passage. The test writer will ask questions about six sentences or places in the passage that could use improvement. You may be asked to fix one sentence, edit a pair of sentences, add a new sentence, or even delete a sentence.
You have to choose an answer that would make the passage better. Always keep in mind that there may be more than one way to improve the part of the passage that needs help. There will be one “best” way among the answers. Your job is to figure out how your opponent, the test writer, wants you to fix it!
Many, if not most, of the questions will be similar to the Find the Error and Fix the Sentence question types. If a whole sentence needs fixing, it will be reprinted below the question and before the answers. There will be a parenthetical note that says (reproduced below). This note is telling you to edit the sentence and you don’t need to find it in the passage.
In addition, there are a few new composition issues that show up on the Fix the Passage questions. Generally, they will require you to return to some point in the passage and use a context larger than just one sentence.
Superfluous/Redundant: This issue is similar to the “wordiness” and “redundancy” problems that were discussed in the previous section. However, there’s a new twist since the extra words could be in separate sentences. For example, what can you do to improve the following two sentences?
Max Nolan, a student at Eastside High, is an offensive lineman on the state high school champion football team. Max is also a high school student who does well on standardized tests.
Antecedent: The test writer uses two sentences to complicate this issue that we saw in the Find the Error questions. As in those questions, whenever a test question refers to part of a passage that has a pronoun, one of the things to check is whether the pronoun clearly refers to an antecedent and is in the proper format. How can the following sentences be improved?
Arriving home from school, Jim and his friend, Rashad, ran into the house and threw their books on the table. His mom was upset since they were still there when it was dinnertime.
Introductory Sentence: A clear, introductory sentence is important for a passage and all of its paragraphs. Sometimes your opponent asks a question about adding a sentence at the beginning of the first paragraph in the passage. The missing sentence may go at the beginning of the passage and serve as a thesis statement or other introduction for the passage as a whole. At other times, the sentence that you have to add has to be inserted at the beginning of a different paragraph that appears later in the passage. In these cases, the missing sentence is a topic sentence for the paragraph. For example, develop a sentence to insert at the beginning of the following paragraph.
After launching his boat, Ernest headed for his favorite fishing spot only to find other fishermen already were crowding the area. So he moved to another location on the lake. As he started to fish, he realized he had forgotten his favorite fishing rod at home. Then he saw that his bait had spilled making a mess in the back of the boat. Realizing that this day it would be better to work in his garden, he decided to return home but his outboard motor wouldn’t start! Ernest had a long way to row back to the boat launch.
Scrutinize the following topic sentences to determine what’s wrong with each of them?
- Ernest should have started his fishing day by making sure his favorite rod was in the boat.
- Having been really excited about not having to work and being able to have a day to spend fishing, Ernest prepared his boat by filling it with gas.
- Ernest always had good luck when he went fishing.
- The night before Ernest had prepared for the fishing trip who was full of promise and excitement.
Sentence Relationships: Another question type asks how two sentences in the passage relate to one another. It may be phrased as a writing strategy question, asking how does a sentence relate to a sentence that preceded it. For example, how does the second sentence below relate to the first sentence?
The immotile heron stood at the edge of the lagoon. If I had not known better, I would have thought it was a lawn ornament.
Sentences are used also to strengthen or reinforce prior sentences. For example:
The two main characters in the play were riveting. In the opening scene, they engaged the audience and never let go.
On the other hand, the second sentence may be used to provide a contrast to the first. For example:
The newly released video game, Bufo, was reviewed in most gaming magazines. On the other hand, Mystic Warrior received little publicity.
Concluding Sentence: Sometimes a missing sentence that you need to insert comes at the end of the passage. It may serve to summarize a series of arguments that defend a position that was made clear by the passage as a whole. For example, “For these reasons, it is clear that the commissioners should create rules that establish safer roads.” Sometimes the concluding sentence should end a story, “Torry and Carlene lived happily ever after.”
Writing Techniques: These questions are similar to sentence relationships but they extend to a group of sentences, often a whole paragraph. The test writer likes to ask questions about the purpose or effect of a paragraph. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple classification system for paragraphs. They can be used for numerous purposes, depending on the objective of the passage. You will need to be able to understand the paragraph in question in the context of the entire passage.
As with Fix the Sentence questions, Pillar V is very important. These six questions are certainly an excellent example of finding the best answer. When editing, there is no single, correct answer. There are always multiple ways to fix problems. Therefore, your task will be to eliminate four answers that don’t do as good a job as the best answer. Be sure to keep the requirements of standard written English, not the spoken word (vernacular), in mind.
Use Pillar III–Use What You Know from the Find the Error and Fix the Sentence sections. The English rules that are tested in those sections represent a large number of the questions in the Fix the Passage section.
The specific strategy to use for these questions is given below.
- Read the passage rather quickly:
- looking for the main idea or theme of the passage without worrying about details,
- paying attention to the writing, and
- watching for common composition problems.
- Do the questions in order because they are organized from easy to hard.
- Use Pillar IV: Focus on the Question.
- Review the appropriate part of the passage by either:
- reading the “reproduced” sentence or
- going back to the appropriate part of the passage.
- Read the answers carefully:
- using the Fix the Sentence strategies for sentence questions,
- analyzing the action required for other question types, use the composition error list from above, and
- focusing on key words (such as: informing, entertaining, providing examples, summarizing, persuading, contradicting, etc.) for purpose and technique questions.
- Mark through the letters of obviously wrong answers.
- Reconsider any answers that have not been eliminated by:
- inserting them in place of underlined phrases,
- inserting them into the appropriate place in the passage, or
- analyzing their purpose in context as appropriate.
- Pick the best one.
- If it is an editing question, read the context using your answer.
These are many steps, but they simply are strategies to help you get through the editing section. Just as your opponent has many ways to write errors, you need many techniques to recognize them. You can outwit your opponent by using these strategies.
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