The SAT Prep Black Book

SAT Writing Multiple Choice

A Selection of Challenging Questions

We’ve now completed an entire section of Identifying Sentence Error questions. Let’s take a look at some of the more challenging questions from the second edition of the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide, the Blue Book.

As we’ve seen with every other question type on the SAT, we’ll find that these questions simply recycle the same basic concepts that all other questions of the same type use.

Of course, you’ll need a copy of the Blue Book to follow along. I strongly advise you to follow along with these solutions as a way to continue to improve your instincts for answering Identifying Sentence Errors questions.

Page 471, Question 18

Many test-takers get hung up on the verb phrase in choice (A), because they wonder if it would sound better as “evaluated.” But we have to remember that it’s not our job to think about what would sound better; it’s our job to identify grammatical errors. Since “was evaluating” and “evaluated” are both in the past, even if they’re in slightly different forms, there’s no way for one form to be grammatically acceptable and the other one to be unacceptable in the context of this question.

The actual issue is something we should always be on the lookout for: the word “they” in choice (C) is plural, but it’s referring to the singular noun “tax.” Remember that the College Board will test you on the singular/plural issue more frequently than on any other single issue!

Page 472, Question 29

For a lot of test-takers, this sentence just kind of ‘feels’ like it has something wrong with it—but we have to remember that we can only mark answers on this section if there are specific grammatical issues we can identify in the underlined phrases. In this case, there aren’t any issues. (A) is okay because “herself” can refer to the accountant. “To help” goes fine with “offered.” “As they were” might seem a little odd, but it’s actually totally fine: “as” is okay, “they” refers to the plural word “accounts,” and “were” is okay as a past-tense plural verb with “accounts” as the subject. “By” is also okay as a pronoun used in this passive-voice construction (remember that the passive voice is not a grammatical error on the SAT). So the correct answer is (E).

Page 533, Question 13

Some test-takers think the mistake in (D) is the odd phrase “than did X,” but that isn’t actually the issue here. It would have been okay to write “than did Jim’s science project.”

The mistake is actually that the SAT doesn’t let us compare things of different types. So we can compare a science project to another science project, or we can compare a person to another person, but we can’t compare a science project to a person on the SAT.

Remember that it’s always very important to figure out the exact reasoning behind a right or wrong answer on the Writing section (or for any other part of the SAT, really). That way you can be sure you’re getting the maximum benefit from your practice sessions.

Page 534, Question 22

This is a question test-takers often miss, even though the idea being tested here is the most commonly tested issue on the entire test: the difference between singular and plural.

The word “they” is plural, but it’s referring to the singular “gecko,” which the College Board doesn’t like. So (A) is the correct answer.

Remember that you must ALWAYS be on the lookout for things that change from singular to plural or from plural to singular.

In this case, I think a lot of test-takers miss the question because the pronoun appears before the noun, instead of in its usual position after the noun. Remember that you have to consider all the words in the entire sentence to make sure phrases are agreeing with one another properly.

Page 534, Question 24

Test-takers often miss this question because they overlook the verb tense issue in (A).

Remember that verb tenses can be potential errors for Identifying Sentence Errors questions on the SAT, but only when they lead to logically impossible situations.

In this case, (A) leads to a logical impossibility because the sentence says that the people “decided” to do something “after” the verb in (A)—but (A) is in the present tense (yes, the present tense—I’ll get to that in a minute).

It’s a logical impossibility to say that something that happened in the past (the decision) happened “after” something in the present (the completion of the leading). The past must come before the present, not after it.

You may be wondering how I can say that (A) is a verb in the present tense, since many English teachers would describe “has led” as a past-tense form. But from a technical perspective, “has led” is a verb in the present tense with something called “perfect aspect”—in other words, it’s a verb in the present tense that indicates that an action has already been completed. In this case, it indicates that the action of leading has been completed in the present moment.

In this sentence, an acceptable form for (A) might have been either “led” or “had led.”

You may be thinking that this is all a bit complicated right now, and I don’t blame you. Luckily, there’s a relatively easy way to keep it all straight. When you see a compound verb in English, the tense of the helping verb is the same as the tense of the overall verb phrase. So, in this case, we can tell that “has led” is a present-tense verb because the helping verb “has” is a present-tense verb.

Don’t worry about the issue in this question too much. For one thing, it’s fairly easy to identify the tense of a verb phrase using the helping-verb method I just described. For another thing, there aren’t a ton of questions that test verb-tenses as sneakily as this one does. So it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll see something like this on test day, and, even if you do, it’s not that hard to focus on the tense of the helping verb anyway.

Page 535, Question 29

This is one of the relatively rare SAT Writing questions that tests the idea of redundancy. In this case, (D) restates the idea of the word “annually” from earlier in the sentence, so we should remove it because it’s redundant according to the rules of the College Board. Notice that “annually” isn’t underlined as well, because, if it were, there would be no way to say whether “annually” or the phrase in (D) should be removed to fix the redundancy.

Page 601, Question 19

Test-takers frequently miss this question because they don’t like the phrase “in which,” and would like to change it to something like “where” or “whose.”

But we have to remember that we can only choose answers that represent verifiable grammatical mistakes, and “in which” is not a grammatical mistake. “Which” is referring back to the word “cities;” since “which” can refer to either singular or plural words as long as they aren’t people, it’s fine here. And “in” is an okay pronoun to use with “cities,” since cities are physical locations and it’s possible to be located inside them.

People sometimes also want to pick (C) or (D) because of the passive-voice construction they create, but, as always, we have to remember that the College Board doesn’t consider the passive voice to be a grammatical mistake. So the answer is (E), because the College Board doesn’t see anything wrong with any of the phrasing in this sentence.

Let this question serve as an important reminder to look only for grammatical mistakes and ignore everything else!

Page 602, Question 27

This question, like many others, tests your ability to recognize a mismatch between singular and plural phrases. In this case, the singular verb “was” needs to agree with the plural phrase “the proposed health clinics and the proposed center,” so (A) is the answer. If (A) had been the word “were,” it would have been fine.

Even though test-takers should know to look out for mismatches between singular and plural phrases, many people miss questions like this because the word-order is a little abnormal (since the verb comes before the noun). Remember that underlined phrases might have to agree with words that come before them or after them, and always consider the entire sentence when looking for mismatches!

Page 659, Question 25

This is one of those questions that people often miss if they aren’t familiar with some of the College Board’s more idiosyncratic grammatical rules. We have to remember that the SAT doesn’t allow us to substitute words like “with” where the word “and” could have worked, so (C) needs to read “and a decrease.” (Of course, it’s okay to use the word “with” in other contexts on the SAT. We just can’t use it as a replacement for “and.”)

This is a rule that tends to be tested more frequently on the Improving Sentences questions, but, as this question demonstrates, we’ll sometimes see it tested in the Identifying Sentence Errors questions.

Page 720, Question 16

Test-takers often miss this question because they think that “its” should be “their,” but if we read carefully we’ll see that “its” is actually correct. The thing doing the eating is technically the word “each,” which is singular. So the answer here is (E).

This question demonstrates how critical it is that we pay very careful attention to the details of the sentences we encounter. Remember that paying attention to details is one of the most important skills to have for the entire SAT!

Page 721, Question 25

For this question, we have to think very carefully about the meanings of the words “results” and “as.” The verb “results” indicates that a process has finished and an outcome has been achieved, but the word “as” indicates that something is still going on. We would need to change “as” to a word like “when” or “after” in order for this to work. So (C) is correct.

This question is one that students ask about pretty frequently, and it really helps to demonstrate how important it is to read things carefully and to think about them carefully. Most people who read this sentence end up feeling that it’s a little odd, but they don’t scrutinize the sentence carefully enough to realize where the mistake lies.

Page 721, Question 28

This is another question that test-takers often struggle with, but the issue here is actually very simple: “neither” has to be followed by “nor,” not by “or.” So (D) is the mistake. Remember that the last few sentences in the Identifying Sentence Errors questions might have bizarre word orders, but they test the same basic concepts as the rest of the questions.

Page 838, Question 19

This is a sentence that probably sounds pretty normal to speakers of American English, but we have to remember that the SAT is interested in whether sentences follow its grammar rules, not in how they sound. For the College Board, the problem here is the use of “your.” Since the reader can’t possibly be a person living in an ancient society, “your” isn’t appropriate in the eyes of the College Board. It might have been okay to replace “your” with “their” (referring to the word “people” at the beginning of the sentence). So (D) is correct.

Page 839, Question 26

This question is a great example of the way the College Board can keep testing the same basic concepts in subtle ways that sometimes go unnoticed by test-takers.

In this case, we need to remember that the College Board only lets us use the word “it” when the rest of the sentence contains a singular noun that “it” can refer to. If we look carefully, we’ll see that this sentence has no singular noun that “it” can refer to—the phrase “to relive the moment” is a verb phrase, not a noun phrase. So (D) is the mistake here.

If we wanted to correct this sentence, we could change “do it” to “do so.” (Of course, you don’t have to correct anything on this part of the test, but I wanted to explain the correct version of this phrase because many students aren’t familiar with the idea of using “to do so” when referring to a verb phrase.)

As we can see from this question, it’s very important that we always remember to check the rest of the sentence for an appropriate singular noun whenever we see the word “it” underlined! It’s also important to remember that SAT grammar sometimes deviates from normal American speech, especially when the words “it” or “they” are involved.

Page 894, Question 15

Even though this sentence is pretty long, the issue being tested is fairly simple. The word “which” can’t be used to refer to people; the correct form would have been “who.” So (B) is the right answer. Remember to take each sentence phrase-by-phrase, and not to let yourself get overwhelmed just because a particular sentence is very long.

Page 895, Question 23

This question involves two of the College Board’s favorite things to include in an Identifying Sentence Errors question: a mismatch between singular and plural phrases, and an intervening prepositional phrase designed to keep you from noticing that mismatch.

The plural verb-form “show” in choice (A) needs to be “shows,” in order to match with the singular noun “observation” at the beginning of the sentence, because the observation is what’s doing the showing. Notice that the phrase “of diverse animal species” has been placed between the subject and the verb, in an attempt to get you to forget that the subject was singular by the time you get to the verb.

As always, it’s important to read everything very carefully and not to get sidetracked by the College Board’s tricks!

Page 956, Question 17

In this question, “are” needs to be “were” in order to match the past-tense verb phrases “were watching” and “feared” in the rest of the sentence. So (D) is the correct answer.

We know that the verbs’ tenses need to match in this question because the phrase “just when” indicates that all the verbs are happening at the same time. Remember that verb phrases on the SAT Writing section can’t create situations that are logically impossible.

Page 957, Question 26

The College Board only lets us use “she” or “he” when the word is clearly referring to a singular noun phrase somewhere in the sentence. In this case, “she” could refer either to the manager or to Ms. Andrews, so it’s not okay, and (C) is the correct answer.

Page 957, Question 28

Once more, we have a sentence in which the College Board switches from the plural to the singular—as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, this is the College Board’s favorite mistake to test. In this case, the word “they” is plural but the phrase “a candidate” is singular. We would need to change “a candidate” to “candidates” in order to make this acceptable to the College Board, so (A) is correct.

Conclusion

We’ve now seen how to handle the Identifying Sentence Errors questions on the SAT Writing Section. We’ve learned all about the rules, patterns, and processes for these questions, and we’ve seen real solutions worked out to real SAT questions published by the College Board in the Blue Book.

As is the case with every other question type on the SAT, the more you work with these questions, the better you’ll be able to answer them!

The following page offers a brief summary of the major ideas for these Identifying Sentence Errors question. After that, we’ll move on to the questions that deal with both SAT grammar and SAT style: the Improving Sentences questions.

Video Demonstrations

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.