SAT Test Prep

CHAPTER 14
HOW TO ATTACK SAT WRITING QUESTIONS

1. Mapping: What Do the Writing Questions Want from You?

2. Attacking “Improving Sentences” Questions

3. Attacking “Error ID” Questions

4. Attacking “Improving Paragraphs” Questions

Lesson 1: Mapping: What Do the Writing Questions Want from You?

The Writing portion of the SAT consists of the 25-minute essay and two multiple-choice grammar sections. The grammar questions ask you to spot and correct basic grammar and usage errors such as subject-verb disagreement (as in There is (are) more than thirty students in the class), pronoun-antecedent disagreement (as in The club requires their (its) members to pay dues), weak parallelism (as in She likes to hike, fish, and enjoys cooking (cook)), tense problems (as in The store changed (has changed) ownership several times over the last decade), and so on. All these errors are discussed in much more detail in Chapter 15.


Don’t worry—here are three pieces of really good news about the SAT Writing:

1. You don’t have to memorize hundreds of grammar rules to ace the SAT Writing, just the 15 basic ideas discussed in Chapter 15. Not so bad, right?

2. You don’t have to name a single grammar rule. You just have to notice mistakes and fix them. Of course, if you keep making mistakes because your “ear” doesn’t catch them, you should learn the rules in Chapter 15 so that you can spot mistakes more easily. However, the SAT itself won’t require you to label a mistake as, for instance, a “dangling participle.”

3. You don’t have to worry about those “grammar rules from nowhere” that your middleschool English teacher might have gotten hung up on, such as the ones listed below.


Five So-Called “Rules” NOT to Worry About on the SAT Writing

1. Never start a sentence with because. Although about 95% of all middle school students have been told this by one or another of their English teachers, guess what? It’s not a rule! As long as every other part of the sentence is okay, it’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with because, even on the SAT Writing.

2. Use which only for noninclusive modifiers and thatonly for inclusive modifiers. If you actually know this rule, God bless you. You know more than most English teachers. The simple fact is that the SAT folks don’t give a flying prune whether or not you know your that from yourwhich. The SAT Writing sentences will always use that and which correctly. Don’t waste time worrying about them.

3. Only use whom rather than whowhen the objective case is required. Again, if you know this rule, props to you. The fact is that the whole issue of who versus whom is a bit tricky even for folks who spend their whole lives talking about grammar. It’s not quite as clear cut as the himversus he rule. The SAT Writing sentences will always use who and whom correctly. Don’t waste time worrying about them.

4. The disappearing thats. Don’t worry about thats. Some students see a sentence such as “The boys found the soccer ball they had lost” and want to stick a that in it: The boys found the soccer ball that they had lost. Basically, it’s okay either way. Don’t spend any time worrying about missing thats.

5. Don’t split infinitives. The SAT hasn’t included a split infinitive in decades, and it’s unlikely to start now. Infinitives are the basic forms of verbs with to, such as to run and to be. They are split whenever someone sticks a modifier between the two words. The classic example is the oldStar Trek prologue where Captain Kirk says that his mission is “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Split infinitives drive some English teachers crazy, but the SAT is cool about them.