SAT Test Prep


Lesson 4: Attacking “Improving Paragraphs” Questions

Mapping: What Are “Improving Paragraphs” Questions?

The last type of question on the SAT Writing is the “improving paragraphs” question. “Improving paragraphs” questions give you a draft of a short essay that needs revision. You are then asked questions about how to improve it.

How to Attack “Improving Paragraphs” Questions

You can answer many “improving paragraphs” questions without even reading the passage, and you may want to answer those “isolated sentences” questions first. Some of the questions, however, require you to understand the general purpose of the passage and the individual paragraphs. These questions often contain the phrase in context or ask you to insert, remove, or combine sentences to make the passage clearer, more concise, or more coherent. Before answering these questions, you may want to read quickly through the passage to get the general purpose and central idea.

“Isolated Sentence” Questions

Some “improving paragraphs” questions are very much like “improving sentences” questions. These questions don’t contain the words in context and just ask you to improve a single sentence in isolation. These “isolated sentence” questions may differ from “improving sentences” questions only in that there may not be a “no error” choice.

Which of the following is the best way to revise sentence 7 (reproduced below)?

If the students would of known in advance about the shortage, they could have prevented the crisis.

(A) If the students would have known in advance

(B) It being that the students might have known in advance

(C) If the students had known in advance

(D) Being known in advance

(E) If it had been that the students knew in advance

In this case the correct choice is (C) because it is the only one in standard subjunctive form.

“Sentence in Context” Questions

“Sentence in context” questions usually contain the phrase in context. They ask you to improve sentences by taking the previous sentences into account. Often the given sentences contain pronouns (such as it or they) that refer to things in previous sentences or transitional adverbs (such astherefore, yet, nonetheless, although, or furthermore) that serve as logical connections among ideas.

When answering “sentence in context” questions, always read the previous sentence or two before thinking about how to improve the given sentence. In the given sentence, pay special attention to pronouns (such as it or they) and transitional adverbs (such as therefore, yet, nonetheless, although, or furthermore), and notice how they relate to ideas in the previous sentences.

In context, which of the following is the best version of sentence 12 (reproduced below)?

The racers were shivering as the race began.

(A) (As it is now)

(B) Nevertheless, the racers were shivering

(C) Furthermore, the racers were shivering

(D) Therefore, the racers were shivering

(E) All the while, the racers were shivering

Since the question contains the phrase in context, the correct answer depends on what immediately precedes sentence 12 in the passage. For instance, if the previous sentence were The race organizers had arranged for large, powerful heaters to be placed at the starting line, then (B) would provide the most logical transition. If, however, the previous sentence were The temperature had plummeted 20 degrees in the hours before the race was to start, then (D) would make the most sense.

“Insert, Remove, or Combine” Questions

Some “improving paragraphs” questions ask you to consider inserting, removing, or combining sentences to make the passage clearer, more concise, or more coherent. They ask questions such as Where is the most logical place to insert the following sentence? Or Which of the following is the best sentence to insert after sentence 4?

When answering “insert, remove, or combine” questions, remember that every sentence in a paragraph must support the same central idea. If a sentence doesn’t follow the flow, it has to go.

SAT Practice 4:
Attacking “Improving Paragraphs” Questions

Below is a draft of an essay that needs improvement. Some sentences may contain grammatical errors, and the paragraphs may need to be altered to improve their logic, clarity, and cohesiveness. Read the passage and answer the questions that follow.

(1) John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was born in 1854 as the only son of America’s richest man and first billionaire. (2) Intensely shy as a child and young man, he came out of his shell at Brown University, where he was elected president of the junior class and senior manager of the football team. (3) After graduating from Brown, John had the opportunity to follow his father into the oil business and add to the family fortune. (4) He soon discovered that wealth, rather than being something to hoard, was “an instrumentality of constructive social living.” (5) Because of the hard-nosed business practices of John’s father, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the name Rockefeller had become synonymous with greed and trade-busting. (6) The younger John decided that he could make this better.

(7) Perhaps no American has ever done more in the area of philanthropy than John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (8) He created charitable foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Institute, and the General Education Board. (9) He sponsored the construction of Rockefeller Center in New York City, financed the reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg, which stands to this day as an invaluable historical treasure, and donated the land in New York City for the United Nations complex.

(10) The scope of Rockefeller’s conservation efforts, also, was profound. (11) He donated thousands of acres of land to national parks like Acadia, Shenandoah, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Grand Tetons. (12) He also financed the construction of museums in Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde.

(13) John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is considered the father of philanthropy in the United States never before or since has any one person made such an impact on public institutions. (14) Although always willing to support a good cause, Rockefeller never sought accolades for himself. (15) He was offered dozens of honorary degrees from prestigious universities, and declined all but one, from his alma mater.

1. In context, which of the following is the best revision of the underlined portion of sentence 4 (reproduced below)?

He soon discovered that wealth, rather than being something to hoard, was “an instrumentality of constructive social living.”

(A) However, he soon discovered

(B) Furthermore, he soon discovered

(C) He would only have soon discovered

(D) Therefore, he soon discovered

(E) When he soon discovered

2. Where is the most logical place to insert the following sentence?

John’s discovery of philanthropy could hardly have come at a better time for the Rockefellers.

(A) After sentence 1

(B) After sentence 3

(C) After sentence 4

(D) Before sentence 7, to begin the second paragraph

(E) After sentence 8

3. Which of the following revisions of sentence 6 (reproduced below) best improves its clarity in the context of the first paragraph?

The younger John decided that he could make this better.

(A) The younger John, the son of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., decided that he could make this better.

(B) The younger John decided that he could restore the prestige of his family name.

(C) The younger John, who was affectionately called “Johnny D,” decided that he could make this better.

(D) This was something that the younger John himself thought he could improve greatly.

(E) But this was something that young John knew he could do something about the problem of his family honor.

Answer Key 4:
Attacking “Improving Paragraphs” Questions

1A Sentence 3 indicates that John could have added to the family fortune. Sentence 4 indicates that he did not, but rather used the money for philanthropic purposes. This contrast of ideas should be accompanied by a contrasting transition, as provided by the word however.

2C Because sentence 4 introduces John’s “discovery of philanthropy,” and because sentence 5 explains why it “could hardly have come at a better time,” the sentence belongs most logically between sentence 4 and sentence 5.

3B The original sentence is unclear because the word this does not have a clear antecedent; that is, it is unclear what this refers to. A reader could probably figure out that it refers to the problem with the Rockefeller reputation, discussed in the previous sentence, but sentence 5 does not actually contain the words the problem with the Rockefeller reputation, so the reference is unclear. Choice (B) is the only sentence that clarifies that reference.