The SAT Prep Black Book

SAT Writing Multiple Choice

Unwritten Test Design Rules For Improving Sentences on the SAT

We don’t need to talk about that many rules for these questions, because there’s very little variation from question to question. Here are the 4 rules you’ll need.

SAT Improving Sentences Rule 1: Grammar Still Matters

I mentioned earlier that the Improving Sentences part of the SAT Writing section involves some stylistic considerations, while the Identifying Sentence Errors questions only test SAT grammar. That’s still true, but it’s important to remember that the Improving Sentences questions ALSO test grammar in addition to style.

The correct answer to every single Improving Sentences question will always follow the grammar rules on the SAT. So you can always feel safe eliminating an answer choice that is grammatically incorrect according to the College Board.

SAT Improving Sentences Rule 2: Style Counts, Especially When The Underlined Portion Is Longer

Sometimes you’ll have Improving Sentences questions in which two or more answer choices would be grammatically acceptable, in the sense that none of them breaks a rule of SAT grammar. In these cases, you have to pick the choice that is the most stylistically acceptable to the College Board.

In other words, sometimes the difference between a wrong answer choice and a correct answer choice is an issue of knowing which one just “feels” better to the College Board.

This might upset you at first—how are you supposed to know what the SAT thinks is good writing style? Don’t worry. The stylistic choices that the College Board prefers may have been originally chosen in an arbitrary way, but they have to be consistent from test to test just like every other part of the SAT. That’s what makes the test standardized, after all.

In a couple of pages, I’ll give you a list of 3 style patterns that the College Board rewards on the Improving Sentences questions. All you need to do is pick the answer choice that is grammatically correct and does the best job of following those patterns.

Don’t worry if that sounds a little weird or intimidating. The patterns are pretty easy to apply, and we’ll see plenty of examples of solutions that use them when we look at some questions from the Blue Book later on.

By the way, style is more likely to be an issue in the answer choices when the underlined portion is longer than 4 words. When the underlined portion is under 5 words long, the question will typically (but not always) be purely grammar-based, which means that there will probably be only one answer choice that is grammatically acceptable. Of course, any time a question only has one grammatically acceptable answer choice, that choice is the right answer because of Rule 1.

SAT Improving Sentences Rule 3: Don’t Make Trouble

The correct answer choice must do more than fix any mistakes in the underlined portion of the prompt sentence—it also has to avoid creating new mistakes.

Sometimes students zero-in on a problem in the prompt sentence and then choose the first answer choice that gets rid of that particular problem. But this isn’t good enough! The correct answer choice must not have ANY mistakes. So it’s important to consider each answer choice in its entirety before settling on an answer.

SAT Improving Sentences Rule 4: (A) Is The Same

This isn’t really worth mentioning from a strategic perspective, but it’s probably still worth pointing out—the first answer choice in each Improving Sentences question is an exact restatement of the underlined portion of the prompt sentence.

I thought I should mention this just in case, because some students skip the instructions to each section and get confused when they can’t see a difference between the prompt sentence and choice (A).