Multiple-Choice Questions

Two separate sections of the SAT (25 minutes and 10 minutes) give you a total of forty-nine multiple-choice questions that deal with errors in grammar, usage, word choice (diction), and expression (idiom). There are three types of questions:

1. Improving Sentences (25 questions)

2. Identifying Sentence Errors (18 questions)

3. Improving Paragraphs (6 questions)

Of the three types, Identifying Sentence Errors are the briefest—rarely more than two or three lines. Most students answer them more quickly and easily than the others. The Improving Sentences questions take a bit longer because they require more reading, and the Improving Paragraphs questions take longer still because they relate to problems embedded in the text of an essay that you are given to read.

Yet, there’s no need to rush through any of the questions. The test has been carefully calibrated to coincide with the time allotted, provided you work steadily.


Questions in the sentence-improvement and sentence-error sections are arranged more or less in order of difficulty, but that’s not always the case. Don’t assume, therefore, that question 7 will be harder than question 6, or 14 harder than 13. Because your mind works differently from everybody else’s, you may often find later questions easier than earlier ones. If you come to a question that baffles you, don’t agonize over it. Just go the next one, and go back later if time permits. Paragraph-improvement questions are arranged differently: They follow the progress of the passage. It may make sense to answer them in the order they are given, although you may find it useful to get specific questions out of the way before tackling questions that deal with whole paragraphs or the complete essay. Try different techniques while taking practice exams to find the one that works best for you.


In this section of the test you are asked to recognize errors in standard English as well as problems in style and expression. In each question, part of a sentence—or sometimes the whole sentence—is underlined. You are given five versions of the underlined words. Your task is to choose the best one. Because choice A always repeats the underlined segment of the original, select A only if you think no change is needed. In any case, never choose an alternative that substantially changes the meaning of the original sentence, even if its grammar and style are perfect.

Sample Questions

1. The custom of awarding huge scholarships to college athletes have gotten out of hand.

(A) of awarding huge scholarships to college athletes have gotten out of hand

(B) of huge scholarships awarded to college athletes has gotten out of hand

(C) of awarding gigantically huge scholarships to student athletes attending college have gotten out of hand

(D) is out of hand by which awards for college athletes are granted huge scholarships

(E) of rewarding college athletes with huge scholarships are out of hand

Explanation: A basic rule of English grammar is that the subject of a sentence must agree in number with its verb. That is, a singular subject must have a singular verb, and a plural subject must be accompanied by a plural verb.

Choice B is the best answer because both the verb, has, and the subject, custom, are singular.

Choice A uses have, a plural verb that fails to agree with custom, a singular subject.

Choice C is an excessively wordy variation of choice A.

In choice D, both the subject, custom, and the verb, is, are singular, but the sentence contains an extremely awkward phrase, “out of hand by which.”

Choice E uses are, a plural verb that fails to agree with the subject, custom.

2. Both of my cousins who live in San Francisco speak both Chinese and Arabic.

(A) Both of my cousins who live in San Francisco

(B) Both of my two cousins living in San Francisco

(C) My two cousins, who lives in San Francisco

(D) My two cousins in San Francisco

(E) My two San Francisco cousins of mine

Explanation: Because sentences cluttered with unnecessary words are less effective than tightly written sentences, one of your tasks while answering Improving Sentences questions is to recognize unnecessary and redundant words and phrases.

Choice D is the best answer because it is more concisely written than the other choices.

Choice A is grammatically correct, although it could be stylistically improved by eliminating the repetition of the word both.

Choice B also suffers from needless repetition but compounds the problem with the word two, a redundancy.

Choice C is more economical, but it contains the singular verb, lives, that disagrees with its plural subject, cousins.

Choice E contains a redundancy, my and of mine.

How to Find Answers to Sentence Improvement Questions

• Read the entire sentence, paying close attention to its meaning.

• Be aware that errors may exist only in the underscored segment of the sentence.

• Try to hear the sentence in your head.

• Try to determine whether a problem exists.

• Search for wordiness and awkward expression in the underscored segment of the sentence.

• Read the choices, but ignore choice A, which is identical to the underscored segment of the original sentence.

• Eliminate all choices that contain obvious errors.

• Review the remaining choices for flaws in grammar and usage. (See Part V for details about precisely what to look for.)

• Eliminate any choice that changes the meaning of the sentence.

• If no change is needed, mark A on your answer sheet.


Identifying Sentence Errors questions come in the form of a sentence with portions of it underlined, as in the following examples:

1. images of the ceremony, the new members images that images would never images the secret handshake. images.

2. images of antitoxins and serums, images are hardly images cases of smallpox or yellow fever images in the world. images

Your job is to read each sentence carefully and identify the item that contains an error. Only one of the underlined parts in a sentence may contain an error, and no sentence contains more than one error. Sometimes a sentence may contain no error, in which case the correct answer will be E (No error).

Explanation: The correct answer to question 1 is B because the past tense of the verb swear is swore. The verb swear doesn’t adhere to the usual pattern of verbs—that is, creating the past tense by adding -ed to the present tense, as in walk/walked or love/loved. Rather, it follows a pattern of its own, just like other so-called irregular verbs, including eat/eaten, ring/rung, and sleep/slept.

Knowing about irregular verbs could have led you to the right answer. Yet, had you never heard about such verbs, you still might have been drawn to choice B by your innate sense of the way English sounds. In other words, your language “ear” may have told you that something was amiss. Nevertheless, even a good ear for language is not a reliable substitute for a thorough understanding of grammar and usage.

The correct answer to question 2 is C because the underlined word is a double negative. Both hardly and no are negative words. Therefore, a phrase containing both words constitutes an error in standard usage.

To identify sentence errors on the SAT, you don’t need to know the technical terminology of grammar and usage, although it would help to study such basic concepts as the parts of speech, the structure of sentences, and verb tenses—all reviewed for you in Part V.

How to Find Answers to Identifying Sentence Errors Questions

• Read the whole sentence.

• Try to hear the sentence in your head.

• Focus your attention on awkward sounding words and phrases.

• Try to explain what the grammatical flaw might be. (Likely errors are discussed fully in Part V.)

• Examine choices A–D for possible errors in grammar and usage.

• If all the underscored words are correct, mark E on your answer sheet.


The Improving Paragraphs section contains questions about many of the same principles of grammar and usage as the Improving Sentences section, but it raises additional issues related specifically to essay writing—style, organization, use of transitions, paragraph development, and topic sentences, among others. The questions are not meant to stump or trick you. Rather, they deal with aspects of writing familiar to any relatively experienced essay writer.

Questions are based on an unedited draft of a student’s essay. Reading the essay, you’ll probably notice that it falls short of perfection. Expect to answer one or two questions about problems of grammar and usage. The rest will pertain to improving the style and structure of the essay and expressing the meaning most effectively.

Sample Questions

The excerpt that follows is part of an essay written in response to the topic: Preserving the Environment—Everybody’s Job.

[1] As people get older, quite obviously, the earth does too. [2] And with the process of the earth aging, we must keep recycling our waste products. [3] The idea of using things over and over again to conserve our natural resources is a brilliant one. [4] Those who don’t do it should be criticized greatly.

    [5] As we become more aware of the earth’s limitations, we all say “Oh, I’d like to help.” [6] Not everyone does, even though recycling is an effective place to start. [7] Taking plastic grocery bags back to the supermarket to be recycled is a good idea. [8] Also, join the masses of people who will no longer buy ordinary drinking water sold in plastic bottles. [9] In addition, in almost every town there is a Recycling Center. [10] There are separate bins for paper, glass, and plastic. [11] This is a convenient service to those who support recycling. [12] It is so easy to drive a few blocks to a center to drop off what needs to be recycled. [13] This is just another simple example of how easy it really is to recycle and get involved. [14] Anyone who cannot see its simplicity should be criticized for not doing their part to help make the world a better place.

    [15] When I go to other people’s houses and see glass bottles and jars mixed in with household garbage, I get disgusted and often say, “Why don’t you recycle that glass instead of throwing it out?” [16] It angers me when they respond, “It’s too much trouble.” [17] Such people are ignorant and deserve to be taught a lesson about how wastefulness is slowly destroying the earth.

1. Considering the essay as a whole, which of the following best explains the main purpose of the second paragraph?

(A) To explain the historical background of the topic

(B) To provide a smooth transition between the first and third paragraphs

(C) To define terms introduced in the first paragraph

(D) To develop an idea presented in the first paragraph

(E) To present a different point of view on the issue being discussed

Explanation: To answer this question, you must read the whole essay. You must also know something about how paragraphs function in an essay.

All the choices name legitimate uses of paragraphs, but only choice D applies to this essay because it develops by example an idea originating in the first paragraph—how easy it is to recycle. Choices A, C, and E can be quickly discarded. Choice B is a possibility because in a unified essay each paragraph, aside from the opening and closing paragraphs, in some way serves as a bridge between paragraphs. Because the second paragraph is the longest of the essay, however, its main function is probably more than transitional.

2. Which of the following sentences most effectively combines sentences 9, 10, and 11 (reproduced below) into a single sentence?
[9] In addition, in almost every town there is a Recycling Center. [10] There are separate bins for paper, glass, and plastic. [11] This is a convenient service to those who support recycling.

(A) Recycling centers offer recyclers convenience by providing separate bins for paper, glass, and plastic and by being located in almost every town.

(B) Recycling centers, located in almost every town, provide convenient bins for separating paper, glass, and plastic.

(C) Almost every town has a recycling center with separate bins for paper, glass, and plastic, and this is a convenience for recyclers.

(D) Besides, people who recycle will find recycling centers in almost every town, providing convenient separation to recycle paper, glass, and plastic into bins.

(E) For the convenience of recyclers in almost every town, paper, glass, and plastic are separated into provided bins at its recycling center.

Explanation: This question relates to sentence structure—in particular how the structure of a sentence helps to convey meaning. You probably know that in a series of short sentences each idea carries equal weight. But combining short sentences permits a writer to highlight the important ideas while de-emphasizing others. To answer this question, then, you must decide which idea expressed by the three sentences deserves to be given the greatest emphasis.

The three sentences in question come from a paragraph that discusses the ease and appeal of recycling. Because sentences 10 and 11 refer to the convenient arrangement of recycling bins, they are more important to the development of the paragraph than sentence 9, about the location of recycling centers.

Usually, the main point of a sentence is found in its main clause. Knowing that, read each of the choices. Choices A and C give equal weight to the location and convenience of recycling centers. Choice D stresses the location rather than the convenient arrangement of bins in recycling centers. Choice E not only alters the meaning but contains both an ambiguous pronoun reference (“its”) and an awkward usage (“provided bins”). Therefore, choice B is the best answer. It highlights the facilities offered by recycling centers while diminishing the importance of their location.

How to Find Answers to Improving Paragraphs Questions

• Read the entire essay, paying attention to its main idea and to the writer’s purpose.

• Ignore all errors except those raised by the multiple-choice questions.

• Carefully read each question and the five choices.

• Eliminate any choice that contains wordiness, repetition, and awkward expression. Also discard choices that contain flaws in grammar and usage. (The types of errors to look for are discussed fully in Part V.)

• As you answer the questions, keep in mind the main idea of each paragraph and the point of the whole essay. (For details on all aspects of essay writing, see Part III.)


The multiple-choice sections of the SAT Writing Test pertain to matters of grammar, usage, and rhetoric typically taught in English classes. If your sense of grammar and usage is rusty, however, or if rhetoric is a mystery, take heart. This book, after all, is a thorough test-prep guide that explains virtually everything you need to know for the test and describes how you can earn a score to make you proud.

Are you ready to begin? If so, set aside an hour to complete the sample writing test. Good luck!

Please Note: All directions which appear for the Diagnostic and Practice Tests are similar to those on the actual exam. Since this is an eBook, please record all answers separately.

This e-Book contains hyperlinks that help you navigate through content, bring you to helpful resources, and allow you to click between questions and answers.