The SAT Prep Black Book
SAT Writing Multiple Choice
The Step-By-Step Approach To Improving SAT Sentences In Action
To demonstrate how the Improving Sentences process works against real test questions, and to help you get a feel for the practical application of that process, I’ll go through all the Improving Sentences questions that start on page 407 of the first sample SAT that appears in the College Board’s Blue Book (the Official SAT Study Guide).
Page 407, Question 1
This is a question in which the underlined portion is very short, suggesting that the issue is likely to be grammatical, rather than stylistic. Sure enough, the correct form (“by falling”) indicates grammatically that the method by which the drivers cause accidents is “falling asleep.”
(A) is a run-on sentence.
(B) is a correctly punctuated compound sentence, but it’s not as short as (C).
(C) is correct.
(D) is grammatically incorrect—if we were going to use “and,” the following verb would need to be in the past tense to match “caused.”
(E) is also a run-on sentence.
Page 407, Question 2
In this question the underlined portion is longer, suggesting that the question might involve stylistic elements. The original has “is being,” something the College Board almost always dislikes. The correct form, (C), is also the shortest one, as we would frequently expect. Remember that when the shortest answer choice has no grammatical issues as far as the College Board is concerned, it will be the correct answer choice.
(A) doesn’t work because of “is being.”
(B) has a few different things wrong with it, but the biggest problem is the use of the word “is” in conjunction with the phrase “as a result of.”
(C) is correct.
(D) “hard studying” doesn’t work, because if we insert that phrase in the sentence we end up with a statement equating “the depths” with “studying.” Notice, by the way, that more answer choices begin with “to study,” which often suggests—but doesn’t guarantee by itself—that that form is likely to be correct.
(E) again, “hard studying” doesn’t work.
Page 407, Question 3
The original version of the question isn’t a full sentence because of the word “which,” which demotes the following phrase to a dependent clause. To be a full sentence while retaining the word “which,” the question would have to say something like “Several of the fires, which were caused by carelessness, burned out of control.” The correct version is (B), which omits the “which” and provides a verb in the past tense. Note that the correct answer choice features the passive voice, which is okay on the SAT because the College Board has no problem with the passive voice.
(A) creates a sentence fragment.
(B) is correct.
(C) also creates a sentence fragment.
(D) doesn't work because “are” is in the present tense, while “occurred” is in the past tense.
(E) doesn't work because we can’t say “happened from.” Also, the word “being” tends not to appear in correct answers on Improving Sentences questions.
Page 407, Question 4
This question has a short underlined portion, suggesting a grammatical issue. The correct answer is the only one that matches the form of the verb “showed” in the phrase “when she showed.” So (C) is correct, because it has the verb “disproved” in the simple past tense, just like the word “showed.”
Page 407, Question 5
Here, we need a conjunction that indicates that the two ideas being discussed are opposite to one another. “And” won’t work, so (A) and (B) are out. (C) and (D) are out because of “extending.” (E) is correct because it’s the only sentence with a negating conjunction (“however”) and an acceptable form of the verb “extend.”
Page 408, Question 6
(A) works fine.
(B) doesn't work because of the word “that.”
(C) doesn't work because of “culminating.”
(D) doesn't work because of “beginning” and “culminating”—remember that the correct answers to Improving Sentences questions tend to avoid words ending in “-ing” if possible.
(E) has a couple of problems. The biggest one is that the phrase “as a child” makes it sounds as though the actual memoirs themselves are a child, which is impossible.
Page 408, Question 7
For this question, the correct answer is the shortest answer choice, as we will often find. Really, that should be enough analysis for you to be certain you have the right answer: when the shortest answer choice is grammatically acceptable, it’s the correct answer. But let’s look at the other choices anyway:
(A) doesn’t work because the word “it” makes it seem as though the uniform itself is the thing that is “dressed in a uniform.”
(B) doesn't work because the “efficient manner” is the thing “dressed in a uniform,” grammatically speaking.
(C) doesn’t work because the word “that” turns the entire string of words into a sentence fragment.
(D) is grammatically correct and it’s the shortest answer choice, so it works automatically.
(E) is a sentence fragment.
Page 408, Question 8
Here, again, the shortest answer choice is grammatically correct, which means the College Board will say it’s the correct answer.
(A) is the shortest choice and it’s grammatically correct, so it’s right.
(B) has a lot of problems, the biggest of which is that in this version the scientists themselves are the “cure for some kinds of cancer.” Remember that the College Board’s grammar rules state that when a descriptive phrase is stuck to the beginning of a sentence with a comma, then the first noun after the comma is the noun being described by the phrase—in this case, “a cure for some kinds of cancer” is the descriptive phrase and “scientists” is the first noun after the comma.
(C) creates a sentence fragment.
(D) creates a comma splice.
(E) creates a sentence fragment.
Page 408, Question 9
(A) doesn’t work because “and” is a conjunction that indicates two similar ideas, but the ideas of being confusing and melodious aren’t similar.
(B) doesn’t work because of “by having,” two words the College Board tends to avoid placing in the correct answer to an Improving Sentences question.
(C) has the word “and,” just like (A) does, and is wrong for the same reason.
(D) doesn’t work because it would be saying that the review, not the symphony, had a melodious movement.
(E) is correct because the conjunction “but” indicates we’re joining two ideas that are dissimilar.
Page 408, Question 10
Many test-takers will find this question confusing because it has so many underlined words. One of the easiest ways to approach a question like this is to focus on individual parts of the answer choices—remember that even a single mistake in the answer choice causes the whole thing to be wrong, so once we identify a flaw in a choice we can stop worrying about it. In other words, if we take each choice on its own and discard it as soon as we run into a problem with it, then we don’t have to keep five different versions of a 19-word phrase in our heads at once.
(A) doesn’t work because the “consumption” would be “building new farms,” which is impossible.
(B) doesn’t work because the word “it” can’t be directly replaced with a singular noun phrase in the sentence, which is a requirement of SAT grammar (even if it’s not a requirement of English grammar in real life).
(C) is the correct answer because it’s grammatically correct and it’s the shortest answer choice—remember that when the shortest answer choice is grammatically acceptable, it’s always correct.
(D) doesn’t work because the word “it” doesn’t refer to a noun phrase elsewhere in the sentence.
(E) is grammatically okay (though a little awkward sounding), but it loses to (C) because (C) is the shortest choice and it’s also grammatically correct.
Page 408, Question 11
This question often frustrates students, because it often sounds to them like two or three of the choices are all equally acceptable. At times like this, it’s very important to remember that there is ALWAYS a single correct answer, and that the reasoning behind the correct answer must be consistent with the reasoning behind all other real SAT Writing questions.
In this case, the issue boils down to one of parallelism: since the original sentence says “in northern England,” our sentence needs to end with “in the Highlands.” Only one answer choice also contains “in,” and that’s (E), so (E) is correct.
We can learn a lot from this question, actually. Most test-takers will see this question, get frustrated, and just pick whatever sounds best to them. But a well-trained test-taker never forgets that EVERYTHING on the SAT follows certain basic rules and patterns, and there is ALWAYS one answer choice that is predictably correct. If we don’t see what separates the right answer from the other answers, then we must have overlooked some important detail somewhere, and it’s our job to find that detail before we answer the question—in this case, of course, the detail is the word “in.”
As you can see, being aware of the unwritten rules and patterns that the College Board uses when constructing the Improving Sentences questions makes answering them a lot easier. Now let’s look at some of the questions from the Blue Book that students have typically asked about most.
If you’d like to see videos of some sample solutions like the ones in this book, please visit www.SATprepVideos.com. A selection of free videos is available for readers of this book.