SAT WRITING WORKBOOK

PART V

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THE HEART OF THE TEST: MULTIPLE-CHOICE QUESTIONS

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HOW TO ANSWER IMPROVING PARAGRAPHS QUESTIONS

Short of asking you to actually write an essay, Improving Paragraphs Questions can test almost any aspect of your knowledge about writing, from grammar and usage to matters of style and expression.

Defining the Essay’s Purpose

Once you’ve read the given essay, quickly jot down the essay’s main idea in your test booklet. By keeping the main idea constantly in mind, you can more readily judge whether the essay has achieved its purpose.

Writers often have multiple purposes and complex attitudes toward their subject. The essay you’ll be asked about on the SAT, however, will be short and simple. Don’t look for subtleties, sophisticated techniques, or hidden meanings. The essay will have a purpose that can be easily and simply articulated. For example:

To inform readers about the progress of America’s fight against terrorism.

To give an informed and entertaining account of the misadventures of a literary character.

To dispense helpful advice about how to use the Internet.

Such statements of purpose will establish the boundaries of the essay. Any material that oversteps the boundaries is fodder for Improving Paragraphs questions.

Organization of the Essay

If a question asks you about the organization of the essay, check the opening paragraph first. Be sure it introduces, limits, and makes clear the purpose of the essay. A good opening, often stated in a single sentence, points readers in a particular direction and names their destination. Subsequent paragraphs set up signposts along the way to remind readers where they’ve been and where they are headed. If readers lose sight of the goal, the essay’s organization may be at fault.

Say, for example, that a writer deplores the vast amount of cheating by high school students. The outline of such an essay might look this way:

Introductory paragraph:

A brief description of the cheating problem

Second paragraph:

Common types of cheating

Third paragraph:

Reasons that students cheat

Fourth paragraph:

What schools must to do discourage cheating

Concluding paragraph:

The harmful impact of cheating on society.

In the outline, each paragraph discusses an important aspect of the cheating problem. The organization is logical and clear. If the writer, however, had included a paragraph on teenage shoplifting or had compared the amount of cheating between girls and boys, the essay’s sensible organization would have been violated.

Organizational breakdowns occur for all sorts of reasons, but usually because the writer has lost focus. An unfocused essay contains distractions and irrelevancies. Whole paragraphs may fail to contribute to the development of the main idea. Or worse, the essay’s conclusion may undermine or contradict its introduction.

On the SAT, you may be asked to identify or revise sentences that don’t fit the essay’s organization. A question may ask you how to revise such a sentence or whether to move or delete it. As you answer the question, always keep the essay’s purpose in mind.

Paragraph Structure, Unity, and Coherence

Knowing the qualities of well-written paragraphs and recognizing paragraphing weaknesses will help you answer some questions.

STRUCTURE OF PARAGRAPHS

Each paragraph of a well-written essay is, in effect, an essay in miniature. It has a purpose, an organizational plan, and a progression of ideas. By scrutinizing a paragraph in the same manner as you would a complete essay, you can discern its main idea and identify its development.

TOPIC SENTENCES AND SUPPORTING SENTENCES

Most paragraphs are made up of two kinds of sentences: A topic sentence, which states generally the contents of the paragraph, and supporting sentences, which provide the particulars that support and develop the topic sentence. Sometimes supporting sentences themselves need support, provided by minor, or secondary, supporting sentences. The paragraph that follows contains examples of each kind of sentence:

[1] Children with IQs well below average represent an almost insoluble problem for educators. [2] Such children often feel inadequate, rejected by teachers and peers in a school environment that values and rewards academic success. [3] Failure in school is the number one cause of poor behavior in school and of juvenile delinquency in general. [4] The best that schools can do for children with low IQs is to teach them how to get by in the world and to teach them a vocation. [5] But vocational training is very limited in many schools. [6] Those that provide such training usually do so only for older adolescents.

Sentence 1 is the topic sentence of the paragraph. To be convincing, it needs the support of sentences 2–5. Each supporting sentence adds a piece of evidence to prove the point of the paragraph—that children with low IQs create a problem for schools. Sentence 5 is a supporting sentence that requires additional support, provided by sentence 6.

Location of Topic Sentences. A topic sentence may be anywhere in a paragraph, but it usually appears at or close to the beginning. It isn’t always a separate and independent sentence; it may be woven into a supporting sentence as a clause or phrase. (In the paragraph you are now reading, for example, the main idea is stated in the first clause of the initial sentence.) Writers vary the location of topic sentences to avoid monotony. They could, for example, save the topic sentence for the end, letting it stand out boldly as the climax of the paragraph. Or they might omit the topic sentence, letting an accumulation of telling details imply the paragraph’s main idea.

Note the location of the topic sentence in each of the following paragraphs:

[1] It is pitch dark and very chilly. [2] No one in his right mind wants to pry open their eyes and leave the cozy warmth of bed and blanket. [3] No one wants to walk in bare feet across the frigid floor to peer out the window at the icy rain slanting down in the early morning gloom. [4] The thought of damp clothes and cold feet keeps you where you are, at least for a few more minutes. [5] It’s torture to get up on dark winter mornings.

The supporting details in sentences 1–4 lead inevitably to sentence 5, the topic sentence, which summarizes the point of the paragraph.

[1] For a long time about 50,000 people were killed annually in automobile accidents on the nation’s roads. [2] Reduced speed limits, seatbelt requirements, and increased police patrols had almost no effect on changing the number of fatalities. [3] The most promising way to reduce fatalities, however, proved to be making cars safer. [4] Front and side airbags were installed in all new models. [5] Special seats and restraints were designed for children. [6] Stronger steel frames enabled people to survive crashes that would certainly have killed them before.

Sentence 3 is the topic sentence. It serves as the pivotal point between the description of the problem (sentences 1 and 2) and some effective solutions (sentences 4, 5, and 6).

The key to unlocking a paragraph’s purpose lies in the topic sentence, and the effectiveness of a paragraph depends on how tightly the topic sentence is linked to its supporting details. On the SAT, you may be asked to improve a paragraph by tightening that link.

Or you may be asked to choose the best transition between ideas or paragraphs. A transitional sentence links the ideas in one paragraph with those in a previous or subsequent paragraph. In effect, it is a bridge between two different ideas. In short essays it’s rare to find full transitional sentences. Instead, bridges are usually built with transitional words and phrases, such as in addition, in like manner, however, as a result, and finally.

UNITY AND COHERENCE IN PARAGRAPHS

When a paragraph deals with more than one main idea, it lacks unity. When its sentences skip from topic to topic, it lacks coherence. The Paragraph Improvement questions often ask about alien sentences—sentences that undermine unity or weaken coherence. Notice, for instance, how sentence 4 has no business being between sentences 3 and 5:

[1] Like many other leaders throughout history, George Washington established his authority through the force of his personality. [2] Almost everyone who met him thought that he was charming, dignified, charismatic. [3] Some people of the time referred to him as a “superior being.” [4] Yet the Father of Our Country had been soundly defeated in 1755, when he first sought elective office. [5] At six-feet two-inches in his stockings, he was taller and more impressive than most men of his time. [6] His frame was padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength, and his blue-grey eyes could sparkle with humor at one moment and grow hard and determined at the next. [7] John Adams described him as a “gentleman whose great talents and excellent universal character … would command the respect of all the Colonies.”

The paragraph’s purpose is to describe the power of Washington’s personality. Because sentence 4 fails to contribute to this laudatory portrait of our first president, it should be deleted.

COHERENCE THROUGH SENTENCE COMBINING

Disjointed paragraphs force readers to slow down or even stop dead at the end of each sentence. Instead of a smooth journey through a paragraph, readers experience mental bumps and jolts, often inflicted by a series of short, choppy sentences.

On the SAT, you may be asked to improve a paragraph’s coherence by choosing a revision that effectively combines two or three disconnected or repetitive sentences. The following paragraph is an example:

[1] Colored balloons decorated the gym. [2] It was the annual spring dance. [3] Four men in black tuxedos stood on the stage. [4] Their shiny brass instruments were in their hands. [5] They provided the musical entertainment. [6] All the girls were dressed in pastel shades. [7] The girls talked in groups. [8] They were deciding which boys they would ask to dance. [9] Couples went onto the dance floor. [10] Soon it was full.

No doubt the paragraph is unified in thought—it’s all about the annual spring dance. But it suffers from incoherence because each detail, no matter how important or trivial, is stated in a separate sentence. For the sake of greater coherence, the sentences need to be combined:

[1] For the annual spring dance, the gym had been decorated with colored balloons. [2] Four men in black tuxedos stood on the stage and provided the musical entertainment with their shiny brass instruments. [3] Wearing dresses in pastel shades, the girls talked in groups deciding which boys they would ask to dance. [4] Soon the floor was filled with dancing couples.

Ten sentences have become four. Some words have been deleted or changed. Key ideas have been emphasized, secondary ideas played down. Overall, the revision exemplifies more skilled, more mature writing.

On the SAT, you may be asked to combine two or three short sentences within a longer paragraph. As you weigh the five choices given by a sentence-combining question, keep in mind that the most concise or cleverest revision may not always be the best one. Instead, the best revision is likely to be the one that fits most logically and stylistically into the context of the paragraph.

Practice in Combining Sentences

Directions: Use the spaces provided to combine the sentences in each of the following groups. Because any group can be combined in numerous ways, write at least two versions. If necessary, add, delete, and/or alter words. Try alternatives; that’s the best way to discover the possibilities and to improve your skill.

1.   She is only thirteen. She is an expert gymnast. She has won recognition.

 

2.   An accident occurred. The accident was a hit and run. Broken glass lay on the street.

 

3.   Aunt Ellen went to the grocery store. She bought tomato juice. The tomato juice was in a glass bottle. The bottle was in the grocery bag. Aunt Ellen dropped the grocery bag. The bottle broke. Aunt Ellen had a mess. The mess was on her hands.

 

4.   The baseball hit the picture window. The picture window belonged to Mr. Strickman. The glass shattered. The glass shattered in a thousand pieces.

 

5.   There was a storm. The snow fell. Snow fell on the roads. It was two feet deep. I could not go out. I had nothing to do. I watched TV. I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Time passed slowly.

 

6.   The Earth revolves around the sun. It takes about 365 days for a revolution. The Earth rotates on its axis. One rotation occurs every 24 hours. The revolution determines the length of the year. The rotation determines the duration of a day.

 

7.   Euripides lived more than 2,000 years ago. He lived in ancient Greece. He wrote plays. The plays were tragedies. The plays are still performed.

 

8.   Music has a unique power. Music often transports people’s minds. People dream and think while listening to music. People often feel refreshed after listening to music.

 

9.   Human beings have skulls. Skulls are made up of bones. The skull has twenty-two bones. Eight bones make up the cranium. The cranium protects the brain. Fourteen bones are used to form the face and jaw.

 

10.  The Hopi Indians value peace and contentment. The word Hopi means peaceful and happy. The name reflects the culture. The culture lacks tension. The people lack competitiveness. Material possessions are unimportant. Self-discipline is important. So is restraint. So is concern for the welfare of others. The family is the highest value. The family is the whole Hopi tribe.

Paragraph Development

Like an essay, each paragraph should have a recognizable plan. A paragraph may consist of little more than a collection of facts that support the topic sentence. Or it may take the form of a brief narrative, its events spelled out in the order they occurred. Another paragraph may be organized to compare and contrast two people or conditions, still another to define a term or explain a process.

Depending on the paragraph’s purpose, details that support the main idea may be arranged spatially, chronologically, in order of importance, from general to specific or vice-versa—or in any arrangement that develops the topic.

On the SAT, you may be asked to identify a paragraph’s organizational plan. Therefore, you should know the most common patterns of paragraph development. Don’t bother memorizing them for the exam, but your ability to recognize each pattern when you see it could be helpful.

1.   Argument and proof. In this organizational plan, a paragraph’s supporting sentences consist of arguments or examples meant to prove the validity of the topic sentence.

In wartime, the military develops a way of speaking that disguises meaning and makes the horrors of battle less dirty and gruesome. Euphemisms enable both soldiers and civilians to keep a psychological distance and turn war into an antiseptic, clinical abstraction. In Vietnam, for example, when our own troops were shelled by mistake, the event was called an “accidental delivery of ordnance equipment.” In the Gulf War, as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, “friendly fire” became the phrase of choice. Similarly, when wayward bombs killed innocent civilians, “incontinent ordnance” was responsible for causing “collateral damage.” Arms and legs are not blown off in combat; they are severed in a “traumatic amputation.” Such euphemisms, according to language experts, can be protective, but at the same time, they put us in danger of losing the real sense of war’s ghastliness.

The first sentence is the topic sentence. The rest of the paragraph consists of examples that illustrate the “way of speaking.”

2.   Definition. Paragraphs of definition do more than simply offer a dictionary meaning of a word or idea. Broad, abstract concepts such as loyalty, beauty, evil, success, and countless others are better defined by example, by analogy, or by comparison and contrast. For instance, the following defines the word utopia by describing a utopian society and explaining the word’s origin.

Utopia is the name often given to a society in which everything is thought to be perfect. Everything in the society, from its economic policies to its social practices, is designed to keep the society functioning without difficulty. In Utopia all people are happy, wise, equal, prosperous, and well-educated. Utopia is an appropriate name. It comes from the Greek word meaning “no place.”

3.   Definition by analogy. A spider’s web is defined in the following paragraph by comparing a web and a fine musical instrument.

A spider’s web is an exquisite musical instrument. It is constructed of many strings of different lengths under various degrees of tension. It is played upon by the rain and the wind, by other insects, and by the master musician herself, the spider. So sensitive is the spider’s sense of touch that from one corner of the web she can locate a struggling victim, determine its size, and, by the rhythms and tempo of vibrations, judge it to be a moth, a hapless mosquito, housefly, or other insect.

4.   Comparison and contrast. In the paragraph that follows the personalities of two men—one real and one fictional—are defined by comparing and contrasting some of their traits.

Albert Perry may have been the model for Hal Roet in Thayer’s new novel. Thayer calls Roet an “unpredictable farmer.” The real-life Perry was a tobacco farmer for years and was known throughout Piedmont County as Peripatetic Perry. At 30, he unexpectedly left his wife and went to New York to become a rock-and-roll singer. Roet, too, left his farm in the hands of his wife and traveled around the country with a rodeo. But the similarity ends there. Perry was compulsively self-revealing; Roet was quiet and unassuming. Perry was indifferent to his family, while Roet was torn, anguished, and guilt-ridden about abandoning Marion and the three children. Finally, Perry craved fame. Roet, in contrast, didn’t care a nickel about becoming a famous bronco rider. He was in it for the thrill of doing something dangerous.

5.   Cause and effect. The details of a cause-and-effect paragraph explain or demonstrate how one event or set of circumstances leads to, or causes, another event or set of circumstances. The following passage describes the effects of one-sixth gravity.

Because the moon has only one-sixth the gravity of the Earth, people on the lunar surface weigh a fraction of their normal weight. They walk easily, each step evolving into a rhythmic, bounding motion that feels like a stroll on a trampoline. At the same time, starting and stopping require unusual bursts of energy. To stop forward motion, they must dig their heels into the ground and lean backward. If they fall, they descend in slow motion, and the impact is no harder than falling onto a feather bed. Getting up again is difficult and enervating, however.

6.   Process analysis. A paragraph analyzing a process explains how to perform the steps of a process or procedure.

When repainting a room, it’s best to remove as much furniture and carpeting as possible. Be sure to cover everything left behind with a tarpaulin or plastic sheet. Using a roller, paint the ceiling first. While the ceiling dries, paint windows, doors, and trim, except for baseboards. Then paint the walls. Try to avoid changing paint cans part way through a wall because the paint color from two different cans may not match exactly. If you expect to finish a can before you finish a wall, pour the paint from two cans into a large bucket and mix well. One coat of paint is usually not enough, so be prepared to apply a second coat to all surfaces. Paint the baseboards last.

7.   Classification. A paragraph of classification breaks a general category into its component parts.

Vegetables can be classified according to climate and growing requirements. Early vegetables like leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, and peas grow best in cool weather and are planted shortly before the last frost. Moderately hardy vegetables, including potatoes and onions, should also be grown before the intense heat of summer. Late spring is the time to start hardy vegetables like carrots, beets, cabbage, and cauliflower because they easily endure the summer sun’s heat. Some vegetables are extremely sensitive to cold and, therefore, can be planted only weeks after the last frost. These include soybeans, cucumbers, summer squash, and watermelons. Such plants as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are usually started indoors and transplanted outside in late spring or early summer.

Because purpose dictates structure, an effective paragraph can be developed in more than one way. To prove a point or make a persuasive argument, for instance, a writer may combine facts with definition and the analysis of a process. Although writers rarely follow a formula to develop paragraphs, most abide by a rule of thumb that says a paragraph of one or two sentences is too skimpy. To develop an idea thoroughly often takes several sentences. Since the overall effectiveness of a paragraph may depend on its organization, SAT questions may ask you to add a sentence to a paragraph, delete a sentence, or even relocate an existing sentence by moving it within a paragraph or to a different paragraph.

Most sentences contain clues that assign them to a place—and only one place—in a paragraph. Meaning is the primary clue, but such words and phrases as for example, also, but, and on the other hand also serve to put sentences into a particular order. In the following, for instance, observe how the italicized words and phrases determine the sequence of sentences:

[1] Part-time jobs for high school students are a mixed blessing. [2] They help young people learn the value of money. [3] It is also satisfying for young people to help with their family’s finances. [4] On the other hand, jobs often distract students from their schoolwork. [5] Moreover, many jobs are so boring that students get the idea that work and boredom go hand in hand.

Sentence 1 expresses the most general idea in the paragraph and serves as the topic sentence. The pronoun they, which begins sentence 2, refers to jobs, a noun in the first sentence. Sentence 3 contains the connecting word also, indicating that a new thought is being added to one expressed in the previous sentence. Sentence 4 begins with On the other hand, a common transitional phrase used to indicate that a contrasting idea will follow. The last sentence begins with Moreover, another common transition that signals the addition of still another idea in the same vein. Because of these linking elements, these five sentences cannot be arranged in any other sequence without destroying the paragraph’s coherence.

Practice in Arranging Sentences

Directions: The sentences in each group make up a paragraph. But they are not in the proper order. In the blank spaces write the number that represents the proper place of each sentence in the paragraph.

1. ____ a. In the end, morale got so low that members started quitting the team.

____ b. Whether you were a polevaulter, a sprinter, or a distance runner, practices were the same for everyone.

____ c. He was forcing the team to work out the same way every day.

____ d. Mr. Reese, the track coach, had been acting like a tyrant.

2. ____ a. First, put in the large, firm, and heavy items that won’t be crushed or damaged by putting something on top of them.

____ b. Meanwhile, think of all the items that can be easily bruised, crushed, or broken, such as eggs, packages of bread, fruit, and light bulbs.

____ c. To fill up a paper bag with groceries usually takes about fifteen seconds if you do it right.

____ d. Immediately after that, put in light but firm items such as crackers, cereal, and butter.

____ e. Canned goods and bottles fit the bill perfectly.

____ f. Those should be saved for last.

3. ____ a. Then, too, I started feeling comfortable talking with adults.

____ b. Most people think of “maturity” in terms of responsibility, but I think it has more to do with learning to control one’s actions.

____ c. I could actually talk to them instead of shutting up like a clam and just standing there like a dummy.

____ d. For example, I knew that I was more mature than others when I didn’t laugh out loud in science class when the teacher talked about reproduction.

4. ____ a. As blood circulates, it cleans out body waste, like the collector who cruises the neighborhood picking up trash.

____ b. In return, it deposits oxygen and food in every body part, from the top of the head to the little toe.

____ c. Yet human life depends on those four quarts of blood that are pumped from the heart, flow to every cell in the body, and return to the heart to be pumped again.

____ d. If you drained the blood from the body of a girl weighing about 125 pounds, you would fill little more than a gallon milk container.

5. ____ a. The essay was to be handed in on Monday morning.

____ b. The first part of the exam was a take-home essay in which we were to answer one of three questions.

____ c. On Friday night I settled myself down with my textbook and took exceptionally detailed notes.

____ d. Four weeks ago, I, like many other eleventh graders, worked hard to prepare for an American History midterm exam.

____ e. The next day, determined to have more information than I could use when I began to write the essay, I went to the public library to do further research.

6. ____ a. His mistake was corrected fifty years later by Carl Blegen of the University of Chicago.

____ b. He figured out that every few centuries a new city had been built upon the ruins of the old.

____ c. In the 1870s, the archeologist Heinrich Schliemann dug in the correct spot and discovered nine ancient cities of Troy, one lying on top of the other.

____ d. But without realizing it, Schliemann had dug right past the layer he had been seeking, the layer containing the ruins of the famous city of the Trojan Horse.

____ e. By then, it was too late for Schliemann, who had been dead for fifty years.

7. ____ a. For months at a time Jerry’s fans would devotedly follow his group around the country wherever it played in concert.

____ b. Just two years after its debut, Jerry and his band left an indelible mark on millions of young fans.

____ c. In spite of his family, who told him that he would never be a successful professional singer, Jerry decided to take up guitar and form a musical group.

____ d. He not only created a whole new subculture but developed a following.

8. ____ a. He felt terribly anxious about his wounded leg.

____ b. The slightest movement of his knee caused a sudden and intense pain, unlike anything he had ever felt before.

____ c. He could not sleep, in spite of the sedative administered to him by the British nurse.

____ d. In Milan, the lieutenant lay in a hospital bed.

____ e. It was even worse than the pain he recalled when, as a child, he had pulled a pot of steaming water over on himself.

9. ____ a. Each layer is another page that tells the story of volcanic eruptions, massive floods, and the advance and retreat of the Ice Age.

____ b. Unfortunately, it also tells of the present day’s pollution of the earth’s air and lands.

____ c. If you can read its language, the sediments contain a record of all the dramatic and catastrophic events that have occurred through the earth’s history.

____ d. The ocean floor is a diary of the earth.

10. ____a.  He became blind in 1652 and used his daughter as an instrument to write some of his finest poems.

 ____ b. His daughter, with her quill pen in hand, sat with her father to record his thoughts, to read them back, to make revisions in whatever way Milton wanted.

 ____ c. The first poet to use a word processor was John Milton.

 ____ d. The actual processing of words went on in Milton’s head.

11. ____ a.  After winning two Critics’ Circle awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama, Tennessee Williams earned fame and lots of money.

 ____ b. Usually, he’s named with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller as one of the leading American dramatists of the twentieth century.

 ____ c. They flocked to Broadway to see his plays and later swarmed to the movies to see filmed versions of his works.

 ____ d. All of a sudden, the public began to view him as one of the best of the modern playwrights.

Functions of Paragraphs

A paragraph-improvement question may single out a paragraph or one of its parts and ask you to identify its role in the essay. To answer the questions, you should understand how paragraphs function in an essay. Part III, on essay writing, offers a thorough discussion of this topic, but here is a brief overview.

The First Paragraph. An effective opening paragraph introduces the essay and makes the intent of the essay clear to the reader. Because the essay you’ll scrutinize on the SAT won’t be more than three or four paragraphs long, its introduction will be succinct and straightforward. SAT questions often refer to sentences in the first paragraph that are irrelevant to the essay’s main idea.

The Last Paragraph. The final paragraph should give the reader a sense of completion. A weak or irrelevant conclusion may dilute or even obliterate the effect of the essay. No ending is as effective and emphatic as one that grows logically out of a thoughtful arrangement of the writer’s ideas. A good last paragraph, for example may suggest a solution to a problem discussed in the essay. Or it may call on the reader to think about an issue or perform an action. On the SAT any concluding paragraph that seems to end the essay very abruptly, that dissolves into irrelevancy, or that fits the essay too loosely is fair game for a multiple-choice question.

Developmental Paragraphs. Paragraphs usually perform more than one function in an essay’s development. For example, a paragraph may carry forward the main point of the essay by contributing a solution to the problem being discussed. At the same time, it may reinforce an idea proposed earlier and also supply background information for the next paragraph.

On the SAT, you may be asked to identify the main function of a particular paragraph. Function has little to do with meaning. Rather, it pertains to the role the paragraph plays in the journey from the beginning to the end of the essay. Developmental paragraphs can perform myriad functions, among them:

•  Reinforce an idea with a telling example

•  Evaluate an opinion stated earlier

•  Add new ideas

•  Cast doubt on a common misconception

•  Tell a brief anecdote that illustrates a point

•  Continue the discussion begun in an earlier paragraph

•  Provide a contrasting point of view

•  Explain or define a term

•  Persuade readers to change their opinions

•  Summarize the argument made thus far

•  Turn the essay in a new direction

•  Describe the relationship between ideas presented earlier

•  Provide background material

•  Justify or explain contradictions within the essay

•  Ask a hypothetical or rhetorical question about the topic

A common question on the SAT may be worded something like this: “Which of the following sentences, if inserted after sentence 6, would best improve the third paragraph?” Knowing how paragraphs function in an essay will give you a leg up in finding the correct answer.

A Review

While looking for errors in Improving Paragraphs Questions, use this checklist as a guide. Always keep in mind:

images The strategies used to answer both the Sentence Improvement and Identifying Sentence Error questions.

images How topic sentences signal the purpose and organization of each paragraph and of the essay as a whole.

images Potential contradictions, breakdowns in logic, and shifts in emphasis throughout the essay.

images The unity and coherence of each paragraph and of the whole essay.

images The relationship of each sentence to those that precede and follow it.

images Transitional words and phrases.

images The functions of opening, closing, and developmental paragraphs.