The SAT Prep Black Book
SAT Writing Multiple Choice
The Step-By-Step Approach To Improving SAT Sentences
Here’s the process I recommend for SAT Improving Sentences questions.
1. Read the entire prompt sentence.
The first step in attacking these questions is to read the entire sentence, since you need to know the context of each element in the sentence.
2. Eliminate answer choices that make grammatical mistakes according to the SAT.
As we noted before, the correct answer choice must be grammatically acceptable, so any choice that breaks the SAT’s grammar rules is automatically wrong. On some questions, only one answer choice will be grammatically acceptable, so that choice must be right, and you don’t need to think about anything else. On other questions, the shortest answer choice will be grammatically acceptable, and that also automatically means that choice is right.
On many questions, though, more than one answer choice will be grammatically acceptable, and the shortest choice will not be among them, so you’ll need to consider a few other things.
3. Look for the 3 most important patterns in the answer choices that are grammatically acceptable: the length of the answer choice, the number of words ending in “-ed” or “-ing,” and the number of words that are less than 5 letters long.
Remember the rules for this section—we can only change things that are underlined, and we can only change them in the ways that appear in the answer choices! You have to focus on the underlined portion of the sentence. Without trying to rewrite it on your own, look for the patterns we frequently encounter on the Improving Sentences questions.
4. Determine which choice follows the most patterns.
Assuming that you’ve read correctly and that you’ve correctly eliminated the choices with bad SAT grammar, the correct answer choice will be the one that fits the most of the 3 hidden patterns we talked about for Improving Sentences questions.
5. Read the entire sentence with your favorite answer choice inserted in place of the underlined portion.
It’s important to remember that the correct answer needs to fit back in the sentence. Sometimes test-takers forget some key element of the sentence when they’ve been reading through the answer choices, and they don’t realize that an answer choice they like might actually create a grammatical problem when re-inserted in the sentence. So it’s always critical to consider the entire sentence again before marking an answer choice.
6. Re-examine all the other answer choices.
Remember—you never answer an SAT question without considering all the answer choices, and the Improving Sentences questions are no exception. When you look back through the other answer choices, you should be able to identify issues in those choices (whether grammatical or stylistic) that would prevent them from being correct on the SAT. If you don’t see anything wrong in one of the other answer choices, then you need to reconsider the question.
If you’ve done everything correctly up until this point, you should have one answer choice that is grammatically acceptable on the SAT and looks stylistically ideal, and four answer choices with identifiable issues that make them wrong, either because they’re grammatically unacceptable or because they don’t follow the style patterns as well as the choice that you like does.
7. Mark your answer or skip the question.
If you decide that one of the answer choices is clearly correct, then mark it with confidence and move on. If you can’t decide which answer choice is correct, consider skipping the question for the time being and returning to it later, so that you can move on and correctly answer questions that are easier for you to do.
You’ve now seen the entire process for Improving Sentences questions on the SAT Writing section. In the next section, I’ll show you the process in action against real SAT questions published by the College Board in the Blue Book!