The SAT Prep Black Book

SAT Writing Multiple Choice

The Recommended Step-By-Step Approach For SAT Identifying Sentence Errors

This is the process I recommend you follow when you’re attacking SAT Identifying Sentence Errors questions.

1. Read the entire prompt sentence.

You need to be able to place the underlined portions of the sentence in their proper context, so you have to read the entire sentence before you do anything else.

2. Focus on the underlined portions of the prompt sentence.

Remember that only the underlined portions of the text can have something wrong with them—and, on top of that, only ONE underlined portion per sentence can be wrong. Remember, too, that we’re not just looking for phrases that you would change if you could, just to make things sound better in your opinion; we’re looking for phrases that specifically violate the College Board’s grammar rules.

3. Think about how each underlined word relates to the other words in the sentence. Consider drawing lines from each underlined word to the other words it is related to, if that helps you keep track.

This step will help you see the relationships among the various parts of the sentence. For example, if the pronoun “she” appears in an underlined portion of the sentence, you could draw a line connecting the word “she” with the noun that it’s referring to. Then draw another line connecting “she” with the verb that goes with it. If you want, you can use the basic grammatical concepts outlined in the appendix to see which words in a sentence are related to each other—for example, a pronoun is related to the noun (or nouns) that it stands for, and a verb is related to its subject. On the other hand, you can probably develop an instinct for these relationships just by reviewing and digesting the sample solutions in this Black Book.

4. Look for a word that doesn’t fit properly with the words it is supposed to be related to.

Now that we’ve identified all the relationships between underlined and non-underlined words in the sentence, we check all those relationships to find the one relationship where a word doesn’t fit the words it should be related to. For example, if the singular pronoun “she” is supposed to go with the underlined word “were,” then we know that “were” needs to be “was.”

5. Consider that there may be nothing wrong with the sentence.

Remember that not every sentence will contain an error. If you’ve considered all the underlined portions of the sentence and you haven’t found one that has an error, then mark (E) and go on to the next question.

Don’t forget that (E) will be the right answer as frequently, or infrequently, as it would in any other section; the SAT distributes correct answers randomly in every section. For more on that, see the discussion of SAT Misconception 6 in the section of this book called “8 Things You Thought You Knew About The SAT Are Wrong.”

6. Re-read the sentence and mark your answer.

Re-read the entire sentence to double-check yourself, and then mark the answer you think is right and move on.

Conclusion

We’ve just seen an entire approach to the Identifying Sentence Errors portion of the SAT Writing Section. Now, to show you that the process works, and to help you build up your instincts for the Identifying Sentence Errors questions, we’ll try it out against actual SAT questions published by the College Board in the Blue Book. Let’s get started!