The SAT Prep Black Book
SAT Writing Multiple Choice
The Step-By-Step Approach To Identifying SAT Sentence Errors In Action
Now we’ll try our hand at some real SAT questions from the Blue Book, which is the College Board publication The Official SAT Study Guide. As you follow along with these explanations, remember that the goal is to build up your instincts for handling these kinds of questions.
Page 409, Question 12
(C) is wrong because two people can’t become one thing. A correct form would be “entomologists.” The College Board’s favorite issue to test, broadly speaking, is the difference between singular and plural phrases, so this is the kind of thing we want to get used to looking out for.
Page 409, Question 13
Nothing is grammatically wrong with this sentence, so (E) is the answer.
Page 409, Question 14
(A) is wrong because the form “badly” makes it sound like the casserole is doing a bad job of smelling—that is, it makes it sound like the casserole has a nose and isn’t using that nose very well. A correct form would be “surprisingly bad.” The College Board sometimes tests the difference between adjectives and adverbs, so whenever we see an adjective or an adverb underlined we have to make sure it’s the appropriate form. (For a thorough explanation of the difference between adjectives and adverbs, check out the Writing Toolbox in the appendix of this book.)
Page 409, Question 15
(C) doesn’t work because the word “whenever” indicates that the verb “learned” and the verb in (C) need to be the same tense. A correct form for (C) would be “sought out” or “would seek out.” Remember that we can only say a verb tense is wrong when the given tense makes the sentence logically impossible, as it does here.
Page 409, Question 16
(D) is wrong because in a situation like this we would have to say “thought it wise to suppress.”
Page 409, Question 17
(C) is the grammatical flaw in this sentence because it needs to be an adverbial form, because it’s modifying the verb “has risen.” A correct form would be “noticeably.” This is basically the same issue we just saw in question 14 from this page, except that in 14 the adverb needed to be an adjective, and in this question the adjective needs to be an adverb.
Page 409, Question 18
(A) needs to be “nor,” to match “neither.” The issues of “neither + nor” and “either + or” are probably the most basic and easily identified issues on the entire SAT, but for some reason test-takers miss them frequently, usually because they don’t read the question carefully enough. This is just one more example of how important it is to read EVERYTHING carefully.
Page 409, Question 19
(C) is wrong because “his or her” needs to be “their” in order to match the plural “passengers.” Again, the single most frequently tested issue is the difference between singular and plural phrases, and it’s something we always have to look out for.
Page 410, Question 20
Nothing is grammatically wrong with this, so (E) is the correct answer. Some students like to choose (B) because they think “or older” should be “and older,” but a single person can’t be both 65 and older than 65; he can only be either 65 or older, so (B) is okay the way it is.
Page 410, Question 21
This one contains a bad comparison: on the SAT, we either have to compare painters to painters or we have to compare paintings to paintings. We can’t compare paintings to painters. So a correct form for choice (B) might be “to the paintings of Rauschenberg.” Whenever you see a question on the Writing section of the SAT that involves comparing two things, you should check to make sure the two things are of the same type.
Page 410, Question 22
A lot of students don’t like the way this sentence is written, but there’s nothing grammatically wrong with it, so the answer is (E).
Most people who miss this choose (C) incorrectly, but “at too great a distance” is an acceptable phrase, because it doesn’t break any rules:
o“distance” is a noun
o“great” is an adjective, so it can be used to describe a noun
o“too” is an adverb, so it can be used to describe the adjective “great”
o“at” is an appropriate preposition for the word “distance”
This one is a good example of how important it is to remember that we’re only concerned with SAT grammar for Identifying Sentence Errors questions; it doesn’t matter if we think we could rephrase the sentence in a way that would be more stylistically pleasing.
Page 410, Question 23
For this one, (C) is the problem because “is released” needs to be “are released” in order to agree with “spears,” which is plural. Once more we see that the College Board is trying to get us to overlook a mis-match between singular and plural phrases. Remember how repetitive the SAT is, and how important it is to read everything carefully!
Page 410, Question 24
A lot of test-takers think something is wrong with this sentence, but if we read it carefully we’ll see that everything in it is actually okay, so (E) is the answer. Test-takers are often worried about (D) being in the passive voice, but the College Board doesn’t consider the passive voice to be a grammatical mistake, as this question (along with many others) clearly demonstrates.
Page 410, Question 25
The correct phrase should be “capable of distinguishing,” so (C) is the mistake here. This question is an example of the kind of prepositional idiom that the College Board occasionally tests. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can learn from this question, because it’s unlikely that the College Board will revisit this particular idiom when you take the test for real, since there are thousands of prepositional idioms and different ones show up on each test.
Page 410, Question 26
Though most people would say a sentence like this in real life and not think twice about it, the word “their” is plural, which doesn’t work because the town’s name is technically singular. A correct phrase would be “its residents,” so (D) is the mistake. This is one more case of the College Board hoping you won’t notice a mismatch between singular and plural phrases. It’s also a good example of how a sentence can be incorrect on the SAT even though it would seem perfectly normal to an educated speaker of English in real life.
Page 410, Question 27
Nothing is wrong with this sentence, though students often think there is. The phrase “long since forgotten” is acceptable, and the phrase “crafted by artisans” is also okay, even though it’s in the passive voice, because the College Board doesn’t consider the passive voice to be a grammatical problem. (E) is the correct answer.
Page 410, Question 28
Here, the word “requires” should be “require,” in order to agree with “grades,” so (D) is the answer. This is another example of the College Board hoping you won’t notice that a singular verb has been paired with a plural subject.
Page 410, Question 29
The problem with the original version of the sentence is that it compares a “story” to a person, “Hank Aaron.” Remember that the College Board requires us to compare stories to stories or people to people, but it doesn’t let us compare stories to people, so (D) is the mistake. A correct form might have been “than the story of baseball’s great hitter,” because then we’d be comparing one story to another story.
As you can see, the key to doing well on these Identifying Sentence Errors questions is to train yourself to look for the same handful of grammatical issues over and over in a variety of settings. It’s also very important to think only in terms of actual rules being broken, rather than in general terms of “awkwardness,” because the critical issue in any question is going to be a specific rule of SAT grammar, not a loosely defined concept like awkwardness.
If you’d like to see videos of some sample solutions like the ones in this book, please visit http://www.SATprepVideos.com. A selection of free videos is available for readers of this book.