SAT Test Prep

CHAPTER 14
HOW TO ATTACK SAT WRITING QUESTIONS

Lesson 3: Attacking “Error ID” Questions

Mapping: What Are “Error ID” Questions?

The next questions on the SAT Writing are the “error ID” questions, which give you a sentence with four underlined parts and ask you whether any of the underlined parts contains a mistake. If one of them does, simply choose the underlined portion that contains the mistake. If the sentence is okay, choose (E).


Any sentence error must be fixable by replacing only the underlined portion. Every other part must remain unchanged, and no parts can be moved. If you think that a word or phrase should be moved to another part of the sentence, you’re wrong.


The team  practiced and  a clever game plan, but  never got the opportunity to use the  in the game. 

You might prefer to say that the team practiced diligently rather than that the team diligently practiced, but, choosing (A) would be incorrect because this “correction” would involve moving a word to a nonunderlined part of the sentence rather than just replacing it. Remember, every other part of the sentence must remain unchanged. In fact, either phrasing is fine: The adverb can come before or after the verb. There is a grammatical mistake here, though—do you see it? The definite pronoun they is plural, but its antecedent is team, which is singular. So choice (C) is the correct response, and should be replaced by it.

Analyze but Don’t Overanalyze: Listen for the Clunker


Attack each “error ID” question by first reading the whole sentence normally and listening for the “clunker.” Don’t overanalyze each underlined part just yet—just trust your ear for now. If your ear is well trained, then when something sounds bad, it probably is. As the questions get tougher, your ear may get less reliable, but it should get you through a lot of the easier questions. For the tougher ones, you’ll really need to know the rules in Chapter 15.


Check That It’s a Real Mistake


If something sounds bad, make sure that the error is completely underlined. (If it’s not, then it’s not really an error.) Next, think about how the error could be fixed. If you just want to replace a word or phrase with something that means the same thing—such as replacing put with placed—it’s not really an error, just a matter of preference. If you know the grammar rules in Chapter 15, do your best to identify the violation. If you can identify it, you’ll be sure you’re right.


 any longer, the assembly  extended  the next  

The first phrase, Had the speeches been, may sound strange to your ear. You may prefer to say If the speeches had been free-thinking But both phrases are fine; the original doesn’t violate any rule of grammar. Similarly, instead of would have needed to be, you might prefer to say would have had to be. But this, again, is just a matter of preference. The original does not violate any grammatical rule. Every grammatical rule that you need to know for the SAT is discussed in detail in Chapter 15. For this question, the correct response is (E), no error.

Alternative Mode of Attack: The Process of Elimination

What if your ear doesn’t catch a mistake? The sentence could be correct, or perhaps it contains a subtle error. In these cases, most students feel more confident working by process of elimination. Cross out any underlined parts that are clearly okay. If you can get it down to just two choices, it’s better to guess than to leave it blank.

Alternative Mode of Attack: The Systematic Approach

If you’re not sure whether a sentence has an error, you might want to take a systematic approach. Until you get very good at it, this strategy is a bit more time consuming and requires that you really know the grammar rules discussed in Chapter 15, so it’s best to save it for the tougher questions. With this strategy, you look at each underlined part, check whether it contains a verbpronoun, preposition, or modifier, and decide whether it is part of a list or comparison.

If it contains a verb:

• Does it agree with its subject in person and number? If not, it contains subject-verb disagreement (Chapter 15, Lessons 1 and 2).

• Does it convey the right time or extent? If not, it contains a tense error (Chapter 15, Lesson 9).

• Does it properly convey doubt or factuality? If not, it contains an error in mood (Chapter 15, Lesson 14).

• If it’s a past participle, is it in the correct form? If not, it is an irregular verb error (Chapter 15, Lesson 13).

If it contains a pronoun:

• Is it clear what the pronoun refers to? If not, it has an unclear antecedent (Chapter 15, Lesson 5).

• Does it agree in number and person with the noun it replaces? If not, it contains a pronoun-antecedent disagreement (Chapter 15, Lesson 5).

• Is it in the proper case, that is, subjective (I, he, she, we, they), objective (me, him, her, us, them), or possessive (my, your, his, her, our, their)? If not, it contains a case error (Chapter 15, Lesson 6).

If it contains a preposition:

• Does the preposition “go with” the word or phrase it is near? If not, it contains an idiom error (Chapter 15, Lesson 10).

If it contains an adjective or adverb:

• Is it near the word it modifies? If not, it is a misplaced or dangling modifier (Chapter 15, Lessons 6, 7, and 8).

• Is it in the correct form? If not, it is probably an adverb-adjective error or comparative form error (Chapter 15, Lesson 12).

• Does it add meaning to the sentence? If not, it is a redundancy (Chapter 15, Lesson 12).

If it is part of a comparison:

• Are the things being compared of the same kind? If not, it is an illogical comparison (Chapter 15, Lesson 4).

• Does it properly convey whether two or more than two items are being compared? If not, it is a comparison number error (Chapter 15, Lesson 4).

• Does it use fewer/lessnumber/amount, or many/much correctly? If not, it contains a countability error (Chapter 15, Lesson 4).

• Are the things being compared in the same grammatical form? If not, it contains a parallelism error (Chapter 15, Lesson 3).

If it is part of a list:

• Does it have the same form as the other item(s) in the list? If not, it contains a parallelism error (Chapter 15, Lesson 3).

If a word seems misspelled or unusual:

• Does the word have the right meaning for this context? If not, it is a diction error (Chapter 15, Lesson 11).

Check: Don’t Fear Perfection


Don’t be afraid to pick (E) “No error” if a sentence seems okay, but don’t go overboard, either. On recent SATs, there have been anywhere from 2 to 7 “No errors” among the 18 “error ID” questions. The ETS tries to distribute the five answer choices (A-E) evenly in the answer key, so choice (E) should be right about one-fifth of the time, on an average.


SAT Practice 3: Attacking “Error ID” Questions


The following sentences may contain errors in grammar, usage, diction (choice of words), or idiom. Some of the sentences are correct. No sentence contains more than one error.

If the sentence contains an error, it is underlined and lettered. The parts that are not underlined are correct.

If there is an error, select the part that must be changed to correct the sentence.

If there is no error, choose (E).


1. The abundance  recent   many  entrepreneurs. 

2. When scientists  about the traits that all humans have come to share, they must be keenly aware  that these traits  over  

3. The entire industry has steadfastly maintained  position  tobacco  and that smoking  of consumers. 

4.  the award, the critics’ guild praised the head writer,  her writing for the television series continued to be consistently more  than  

5. The  of Everest, its conquerors claim, is far more the  at its rarefied heights  the  ice falls or precipitous ascents. 

6. Those who talk more   are  to have their  addressed. 

Answer Key 3:
Attacking “Error ID” Questions

1C The subject is abundance, which is singular, so the verb should be has intimidated (Chapter 15, Lesson 1).

2C The phrase over thousands of generations indicates that the evolution occurred over an extended time in the past. This means that the verb should be in the present perfect form: have evolved (Chapter 15, Lesson 9).

3A Their is a plural pronoun, but it refers to industry, which is singular, so the pronoun should be its (Chapter 15, Lesson 5).

4D Since the sentence indicates that the show continued to be, it must have been still on the air. Since it could not be better written than itself, choice (D) should be replaced by anything else on the air (Chapter 15, Lesson 9).

5E The sentence is correct.

6A This word is modifying the verb talk, so it should be in the form of an adverb: respectfully (Chapter 15, Lesson 12).