SAT Test Prep

CHAPTER 14
HOW TO ATTACK SAT WRITING QUESTIONS

Lesson 2: Attacking “Improving Sentences” Questions

Mapping: What are “Improving Sentences” Questions?

Every SAT Writing section begins with “improving sentences” questions, each of which gives you a sentence and asks you to figure out whether an underlined portion has an error in grammar, usage, or awkwardness. If it does, you must choose the best correction from the choices. If the sentence is okay, choose (A), which leaves the sentence as it is.

The children couldn’t hardly believe their eyes.

(A) couldn’t hardly believe their eyes

(B) would not hardly believe their eyes

(C) could hardly believe their eyes

(D) couldn’t nearly believe their eyes

(E) could hardly believe his or her eyes

The original sentence contains a double negative, couldn’t hardly. The right answer has to fix this mistake without breaking any other rules of grammar. Choices (C) and (E) both fix the double negative, but choice (E) introduces a new problem: His or her is a singular phrase, but the noun it refers to, children, is plural. Therefore, the correct answer is (C).


“Improving sentences” questions require you to fix grammatical mistakes rather than merely find them. So the best way to attack them is to look actively for errors and correct them before looking at the choices.


The College Hill Method for Attacking “Improving Sentences” Questions

1. Read the entire sentence naturally. If you have a good grammar “ear,” let it tell you if anything in the underlined part sounds wrong. Don’t overanalyze the sentence when you first read it. If you have read a lot of well-written prose, you will have developed a good “ear” for grammatical mistakes. Trust it. If you haven’t read much good prose, your ear won’t help as much, so you’ll have to really memorize the rules in Chapter 15 (and start reading good books now).

2. If the underlined part has an obvious error, try to fix it so that you have a good idea of what to look for among the choices. Then eliminate choice (A) as well as any other choices that repeat the same error. Remember—the error must violate one of the grammar rules discussed in Chapter 15.

3. If the underlined portion does NOT contain an error, be inclined to choose (A), but test any choices that are shorter than (A) to see if they convey the idea as clearly as the original. If you find a shorter option that is just as clear and logical as the original, choose the shorter one.

4. Reread the sentence with your choice, and make sure that the sentence works as a whole and that it does not contain any other errors. Remember that a sentence may have more than one mistake that needs to be fixed!

Check: Only Worry About the “Standard” Errors Listed in Chapter 15


When your ear catches a possible error, take one more step to check it. Make sure that any error is a “standard” error in grammar or usage and not just a matter of personal preference. Don’t assume that a sentence contains an error just because you might have phrased it differently. Instead, try to identify the error as a violation of one of the “standard” errors discussed in Chapter 15.


The captains were given awards despite the team’s loss, for they had sacrificed a great deal for the sake of the team.

(A) for they had sacrificed a great deal for the sake of the team

(B) in the sense of sacrificing a great deal for the sake of the team

(C) but had sacrificed a great deal for the sake of the team

(D) their sacrifice for the sake of the team being the reason for them

(E) nevertheless, they sacrificed a great deal for the sake of the team

The original sentence may sound a bit odd, so you may think that it has an error. But after you read the choices, it should be clear that no other choice is clearer or more logical. In fact, the original sentence is best. It sounds odd because it uses the word for in a slightly strange (but acceptable) way. Although for is usually used as a preposition, it is here used as a conjunction similar to because or since.

Consider Alternatives: There Are Often Several Ways to Fix a Mistake, So Be Flexible

The coaches weren’t as interested in winning games during spring training, they considered it as an opportunity to experiment with different permutations of players.

(A) spring training, they considered it

(B) spring training; but they considered it

(C) spring training, but

(D) spring training as they were in using it

(E) spring training they were in using it

You might notice that the original sentence is a “run on” (see Chapter 15, Lesson 15) because it joins two independent clauses with only a comma. Usually, run-ons can be fixed by replacing the comma with a semicolon, colon, or conjunction. So you might go through the choices and eliminate those that also don’t contain a semicolon, colon, or conjunction, leaving you with (B) and (C), but these don’t work. Choice (B) incorrectly combines the semicolon and the conjunction, and choice (C) is illogical. Choice (D) is the correct answer because it is the only one that logically completes the as comparison.

Simplify and Check: All Else Being Equal, Shorter Is Better


If you’ve developed a good ear by reading a lot of good prose, trust it. If a sentence sounds okay, it probably is, and you should be inclined to choose (A). But some writing problems are hard to identify. For instance, some needlessly wordy phrases don’t sound so bad at first. Even if a sentence sounds okay, always read any choices that are shorter than the original. If a choice says the same thing in fewer words, it’s probably better.


Several reviewers suggested that the article was not only frequently inaccurate, but additionally it was needlessly obtuse and, ultimately, it was insubstantial.

(A) but additionally it was needlessly obtuse and, ultimately, it was insubstantial

(B) but it was also needlessly obtuse and it was ultimately also insubstantial

(C) but they also commented on the needless obtuseness and also the ultimate insubstantiality

(D) although it was also needlessly obtuse and ultimately insubstantial

(E) but also needlessly obtuse and ultimately insubstantial

What’s wrong with the original sentence? You might have a tough time identifying the grammatical problem, but notice that it is wordy and awkward. Don’t pick (A) immediately just because no mistake jumps out. Notice that (B), (D), and (E) are more concise than the original. The most concise is (E), which is the correct answer. (In fact, the grammatical problem is weak parallelism, which is discussed in Chapter 15, Lesson 3.)

Check: Check for Dangling Modifiers

Every “improving sentences” section is likely to have one or more dangling modifier questions (Chapter 15, Lessons 7 and 8). Make sure that you know how to handle them by applying this simple rule:


Any modifying phrase must be as close as possible to the word it modifies.


Chosen from the best players from around the county, the coaches found the recruits to be very easy to work with.

(A) Chosen from the best players from around the county

(B) Being chosen from the best players from throughout the county

(C) Having chosen the best players from around the county

(D) Being the best players from throughout the entire county

(E) The best players having been chosen by them from throughout the county

The underlined phrase is a participial phrase based on the participle chosen. Who was chosen? The recruits, not the coaches. Since coaches is closer to the modifying phrase than recruits is, the modifier is misplaced (see Chapter 15, Lessons 7 and 8). Notice that choice (C) changes the participle from chosen to having chosen so that it modifies coaches, the noun that follows. This choice makes it clear that the coaches have chosen the best players.

Analyze: Inspect the Sentence for “Extra” Problems


Remember that the sentence may have more than one problem. Always reread the sentence with your choice to make sure that there are no “extra” problems.


The entire editorial staff worked diligent for completing the article in time for the midnight deadline.

(A) diligent for completing

(B) diligent in order to complete

(C) diligently for completing

(D) diligent to complete

(E) diligently to complete

The most obvious problem is that diligent, an adjective, should be changed to diligently, an adverb, because it modifies the verb worked. But don’t jump right to choice (C) because the sentence also contains an error in idiom (Chapter 15, Lesson 10). The correct answer is (E) because it corrects both the modifier problem and the idiom problem.

SAT Practice 2:
Attacking “Improving Sentences” Questions


Each of the sentences below contains one underlined portion. The portion may contain one or more errors in grammar, usage, construction, precision, diction (choice of words), or idiom. Some of the sentences are correct.

Consider the meaning of the original sentence, and choose the answer that best expresses that meaning. If the original sentence is best, choose (A), because it repeats the original phrasing. Choose the phrasing that creates the clearest, most precise, and most effective sentence.

(A) couldn’t hardly believe their eyes

(B) would not hardly believe their eyes

(C) could hardly believe their eyes

(D) couldn’t nearly believe their eyes

(E) couldn’t hardly believe his or her eyes


1. Being highly efficient and with plentiful fuel, physicists consider nuclear fusion to represent a profoundly promising source of energy.

(A) Being highly efficient and with plentiful fuel, physicists consider nuclear fusion to represent

(B) Being so efficient and its sources so plentiful, physicists consider nuclear fusion to be

(C) Because nuclear fusion is so efficient and its fuel so plentiful, physicists consider it to be

(D) Being an efficient and plentiful energy source, nuclear fusion is what physicists considered as being

(E) For an energy source that physicists consider efficient and plentiful, nuclear fusion is

2. Committed to improving student achievement, the use of standardized tests in the elementary grades by the administration has increased dramatically.

(A) the use of standardized tests in the elementary grades by the administration has increased dramatically

(B) standardized tests have been used by the administration increasingly in the elementary grades

(C) the administration has used standardized tests increasingly in the elementary grades

(D) the use of standardized tests by the administration has increased dramatically in the elementary grades

(E) the administration have used more standardized tests in the elementary grades

3. More and more athletes are turning to yoga as a means of increasing flexibility, refining balance, to control their energy, and they can use it to enhance their awareness of their bodies.

(A) increasing flexibility, refining balance, to control their energy, and they can use it to enhance their awareness of their bodies

(B) increasing their flexibility, refining their balance, controlling their energy, and enhancing their body awareness

(C) increasing one’s flexibility, balance, energy, and body awareness

(D) to increase flexibility, to refine balance, to control energy and the enhancement of the awareness of one’s body

(E) increasing the flexibility and the balance and controlling the energy and the awareness of the body

4. Many of the rights granted by the Constitution were not regarded by the founding fathers as self-evident at all, but rather the subject of often vicious debate.

(A) as self-evident at all, but rather

(B) so much as self-evident at all as they were more

(C) so self-evidently as they were

(D) as self-evident as

(E) as being self-evident, but nevertheless were

Answer Key 2:
Attacking “Improving Sentences” Questions

1C The original sentence is awkward and contains a dangling participle (Chapter 15, Lesson 7). Being is the participle, but the noun that it modifies does not follow the participial phrase. Furthermore, the logic of the sentence is unclear. Choice (C) shows the essential cause-and-effect relationship.

2C The original sentence contains a dangling participle (Chapter 15, Lesson 7). Committed is the participle, and the participial phrase must be followed by the noun it modifies. Who is committed? Certainly not the use of standardized tests, but rather the administration. Notice that choice (E) is incorrect because it contains subject-verb disagreement (Chapter 15, Lesson 1).

3B The original sentence violates the Law of Parallelism (Chapter 15, Lesson 3). In a list, all items should, as far as possible, have the same grammatical form. Choice (C) is parallel and concise, but it changes the meaning of the sentence from the original, and uses the pronoun one’sinappropriately.

4A The original sentence is best.