The SAT Prep Black Book

SAT Writing Multiple Choice

Selection of Challenging Questions

We’ve just finished answering a whole test’s worth of Improving Paragraphs questions. Now let’s take a look through the College Board’s Blue Book (the Official SAT Study Guide) and talk about some of the challenging Improving Paragraphs questions from the rest of the book.

We’ll find that all of the other Improving Paragraphs questions rely on the same basic concepts from the Improving Sentences questions and the Passage-Based Reading questions that we’ve already discussed elsewhere in this book; our job as test-takers is really just to look for opportunities to apply those principles on each new question. Following along with these solutions in your copy of the Blue Book will help you continue to improve your performance on Improving Paragraphs questions.

As with all the other question explanations in this book, you’ll need a copy of the second edition of the “Blue Book” to follow along. Let’s get started!

Page 473, Question 30

This question is basically an Improving Sentences question. That means we should choose the answer that combines correct grammar with the most ideal stylistic patterns (all according to the College Board, of course).

The original version of the sentence isn’t grammatically acceptable because it’s a comma splice—in other words, it incorrectly uses a comma to join two sets of words that could each stand as complete sentences on their own. Choice (B) is grammatically okay. Choice (C) is grammatically unacceptable, since it would technically be making the “version” the thing that was doing the “expecting.” Choice (D) is almost grammatically acceptable, but putting the word “these” in a new sentence introduces some ambiguity: “these” might refer to the plural word “reviews” or to the plural word “purists.” (E) is grammatically acceptable because the comma after “purists” makes it clear that the phrase “those who expect” is referring to that word.

So that leaves us with (B) and (E) as grammatically acceptable options according to the SAT. Now we need to figure out which option has the best style according to the College Board. We can use the style patterns from the Improving Sentences questions for that. We see that (E) is shorter, has fewer words ending in “-ed,” and has fewer words that are less than 5 letters long.

So (E) will be the choice that the College Board says is correct.

Page 473, Question 33

This question is essentially a Passage-Based Reading question, so we’re just looking for the answer choice that describes the first paragraph of the essay.

(A) is the correct answer because the verb “elaborate” means to discuss something in detail, and the “view” being discussed in detail in the first paragraph is the view that these remakes are “disrespectful and a waste of time and money.” The rest of the essay then “contrasts” with that view.

(B) is wrong because no personal experience is included in the first paragraph—the author never says, “I went to see movie X and this is what I thought . . .”

(C) is wrong because the first paragraph does mention what some modern critics have thought, but it doesn’t analyze what they’ve thought. For this answer to be correct, the text would need to discuss the motivations and repercussions of modern criticism, which it doesn’t do.

(D) is wrong because there is no introduction, and the passage isn’t about any kind of approach to writing fiction.

(E) is wrong because the text never mentions playfulness.

Page 536, Question 30

This question is essentially an Improving Sentences question. To answer it, we’ll find the version of the sentence with acceptable grammar and the most ideal stylistic choices.

The shortest answer choice for this question is (E), and it’s grammatically acceptable. So it’s going to be the right answer . . . as long as the word “it” at the beginning of the sentence is referring to a singular noun from the previous sentence. So we check the previous sentence, and confirm that the word “it” in sentence 2 is referring to the word “camp” from sentence 1. So (E) checks out as the correct answer.

Page 536, Question 32

This question probably looks pretty bizarre, but it’s actually asking us to use the same kinds of paraphrasing skills we would use in a Passage-Based Reading question. The correct answer here is (D), because this sentence restates the ideas in sentence 5: “live together” in sentence 8 is the same thing as “eat and play together, share bunkhouses.”

Page 536, Question 34

These types of questions are often confusing for untrained test-takers, but we should know by now that we’re going to answer this by applying the rules and patterns from the Improving Sentences questions, particularly the patterns about making sentences as short as possible, avoiding words ending in “-ing” and “-ed,” and avoiding short words.

Only (C) would bring the sentence more in line with those patterns, by swapping an “-ing” word (“being”) and a short word (“that”) for the word “since.” (A) and (B) would only make the sentence longer, (D) would have no real effect, and (E) would create a grammatical mistake.

This question is just one more great example of how important it is to be aware of the subtle patterns on the SAT!

Page 603, Question 31

At first, this question looks like it’s basically an Improving Sentences question. If we look carefully, though, we’ll see that many of the answer choices seem grammatically and stylistically okay from the College Board’s standpoint, but no two answer choices express exactly the same idea. That means we also need to bring in some Reading Comprehension skills to see which answer choice is restating the concepts in the original sentence.

One thing that’s very important to realize here is that the second sentence is saying that the worker needs to “assume responsibility.” We know this because the second sentence says “he or she” should assume it, and “he or she” can only refer to a singular noun. The only singular noun in the previous sentence is the word “worker,” so the worker needs to do the assuming.

(D) might seem like a good answer choice, but (D) actually says that the only workers who need to assume responsibility are the ones “whose employers are familiar.” The original text doesn’t say that, though—it says that any worker should assume responsibility.

(B) is the only answer choice that gets that relationship exactly right, because it says that all workers need to assume responsibility, just like the original version of sentence 3.

Remember that it’s absolutely critical to read things carefully and to think about the rules of the SAT! If you commit to doing that on each question, you’ll be nearly unstoppable.

Page 604, Question 33

This question is essentially an Improving Sentences question. The shortest answer choice is (D), but it has a grammatical mistake: it results in a sentence fragment. So now let’s think about other patterns.

(A) is a run-on sentence, so it can’t be right.

(B) is pretty awkward, but let’s try to quantify what’s actually wrong with it (just calling something “awkward” is too subjective to be a reliable approach). It has 9 short words (which are words less than 5 letters long, as I mentioned in our discussion of the patterns to look out for on Improving Sentences questions).

(C) has 7 short words, along with 1 “-ing” word.

(E) has 5 short words and 1 “-ing” word.

So the answer choice with the fewest offensive words (according to the College Board’s unwritten rules and patterns) is choice (E), which means (E) will be correct. It’s grammatically acceptable and does the best job of conforming to the College Board’s patterns of preferring the fewest short words and the fewest “-ed” or “-ing” words possible.

Just to be crystal clear, I’d like to reiterate that there’s nothing actually wrong with short words or
“-ing” words in real life. The reason we care about them on the SAT is that the College Board generally doesn’t like to see those kinds of words in correct answers on Improving Sentences questions. Once more we see the extreme importance of knowing the unique rules that the test follows.

Page 661, Question 30

This question is basically a Passage-Based Reading question, so we’ll answer it by reading carefully and avoiding any kind of subjective interpretation.

(A) works because the “possible response” might be that a person who reads sentence 1 wonders if “microphones” are involved, since sentence 1 mentions “listening in.”

(B) might seem tempting, but the second sentence doesn’t actually provide “historical background” for sentence 1. It does provide a historical fact, but it doesn’t provide background for sentence 1 because sentence 1 isn’t set in the historical time period mentioned in sentence 2. Sentence 2 is talking about how things were in the middle ages, but sentence 1 is talking about “this summer.”

(C) is wrong because no idea is repeated.

(D) is wrong because no contrasting view is mentioned. The first sentence says the author “felt as if” something was happened, while the second sentence says that thing could not literally have happened. But the first sentence doesn’t say that anything did happen—it just says the author felt like it happened. So there’s no actual contrast here.

(E) is wrong for the same reason (D) is. It would have been inaccurate to say that the writer really was listening in on the middle age, but that’s not what sentence 1 says—sentence  1 just says the writer “felt as if” that was happening, which isn’t necessarily an inaccurate statement.

This question is one more example of the importance of reading every word carefully. (Now that this book is almost over, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve come back to the idea of reading everything carefully roughly a million times. There’s a reason for that. Reading everything carefully is the single most important thing we can do as SAT-takers.)

Page 661, Question 35

This is basically a Passage-Based Reading question, so we’ll answer it by looking carefully at the text.

(A) appears in the passage in places like sentence 6, when the author gives “background information” on the practical realities of traveling in the middle ages.

(B) would be kind of troubling to me: there’s definitely description, but how can we know for sure if the College Board thinks the description is “imaginative?” I would put this answer aside and keep looking to see what the other choices are. If one of the other choices clearly isn’t in the passage, then we’ll know that must be right, and we’ll know that the College Board apparently considers this kind of description to be “imaginative.”

(C) is clearly not anywhere in the passage—not only are there no “rhetorical questions,” but there aren’t any questions at all, of any kind. There are no question marks. So we now know that (C) is the thing missing from the text, and (B) must be present in the text. This means (C) is correct, since the question asked us to find the one choice that wasn’t present in the passage.

(D) is in the text because the entire passage is narrated in the first person.

(E) is in the text because sentences 10 and 11 contain quotations.

Page 778, Question 32

This question is essentially a Passage-Based Reading question.

(A) doesn’t work because the topics in sentence 5 have already appeared in the essay.

(B) doesn’t work for basically the same reason that (A) doesn’t work. Even if Nancy Price is an example of something, she’s already been mentioned, so sentence 5 doesn’t provide an additional example of anything.

(C) works, and for a pretty subtle reason: the word “right” in the sentence emphasizes the word “there.” I’ll have more to say on this after we go through the other answer choices.

(D) doesn’t work because there are no contrasting discussions in the essay.

(E) doesn’t work because this is a statement of fact, not an opinion of the author.

This is a question that many test-takers will be inclined to guess on, or to skip, because none of the answer choices is likely to seem too appealing. We can only realize that (C) is correct if we notice that the phrase “right there” is a way to emphasize a particular location—in this context, the only way that the word “right” can make any sense is as a word emphasizing the word “there.”

This is a pretty subtle thing to notice, but it’s also as clear as day once we do notice it. And the ability to pay close attention and notice these kinds of things is exactly the kind of skill we need to have if we’re going to get an elite score on the SAT.

Page 779, Question 35

This question is one that most untrained test-takers will struggle with, because they don’t know the College Board’s style patterns (which we talked about in the section on Improving Sentences questions).

But since we know those patterns, all we have to do is look for the answer choice that would violate those patterns the most (because the question asks us to find the worst answer choice in terms of those patterns, not the best one).

The two choices that would violate the patterns at all are (C) and (E). (C) adds an “-ed” word and makes the sentence a little longer, while (E) adds one extra short word and makes the sentence longer as well. So each choice adds in a new word that goes against the patterns, but if we look closely we can see that (E) makes the sentence slightly longer overall than (C) does. This means that (E) will be the revision that the College Board dislikes the most. Once more, the SAT’s style patterns save the day.

I realize that it’s a little ridiculous that the width of a couple of letters is enough to make one answer choice right and another wrong, but these are the principles the College Board has decided to follow, so these are the principles we have to use when answering questions on the SAT Writing section.

Page 840, Question 32

This question is basically an Improving Sentences question. Since the shortest answer choice, (C), has no grammatical mistakes, it’s the right answer according to the College Board’s rules and patterns. Some students like (A), but (A) is another example of a comma splice: both sets of words on either side of the comma could be a sentence by themselves, which makes a comma inappropriate.

Page 840, Question 34

This question asks us which sentence should be inserted into the paragraph. In these cases, we’ll look for the answer choice that has the most in common with the concepts that are already in the passage, because that’s what the College Board likes.

Choices (A) and (D) might both seem like pretty good options at first glance. In these cases, one of two things is basically possible: either there’s some small distinction between the two choices that makes one of them right, or they’re actually both wrong.

So let’s see if we can identify any differences between them that are relevant to what the SAT likes when it comes to Improving Paragraphs questions.

One thing that jumps out at me is that (A) involves the idea of the mother teaching the speaker something, while (D) omits any mention of the mother.

Since the mother appears throughout the essay, and since we know that the College Board likes us to introduce sentences that include concepts that are already in the essay, we can tell that (A) must be the right answer here.

Remember that knowing the real rules and patterns of the test will always allow us to know which answers are correct with total certainty.

Page 840, Question 35

This question asks us where a new paragraph should begin, which is kind of an unusual thing for the College Board to ask. But we still answer this question by choosing the answer that will group similar concepts together into paragraphs.

(D) is correct because it allows us to group all the sentences about the speaker being an authority at school into one paragraph without other ideas being involved.

Page 897, Question 34

This question might look at first like an Improving Sentences question, but it actually has elements of Passage-Based Reading in it, as well. Many of the answer choices may seem grammatically or stylistically similar, but only one answer choice begins with a phrase that ties it back to the previous sentences in the essay. Choice (B) begins with “in addition,” which shows that the idea in this sentence is meant as another example of the way that Hoover “triumphed over the limits of her position and the times in which she lived,” as described in sentence 12.

This question is an excellent example of the way that an easily overlooked issue like the lead-in phrase on a sentence can clearly indicate which answer is correct once we notice it.

Page 958, Question 30

This question asks us how to handle sentence 4, so we’ll rely mostly on the approach we would use for Improving Sentences questions. Since the question gives us the option to delete or move the sentence, we may also have to consider the College Board’s patterns for ideal paragraphs. Let’s see what happens.

(A) doesn't seem to make much sense because we should delete sentences if they only contain ideas that don’t appear elsewhere in the paragraph, which isn’t the case here.

(B) doesn’t work because nothing would be improved from the standpoint of the College Board’s patterns if those two sentences were switched.

(C) might look like a pretty bad answer at first, since it would make the sentence longer, which is generally not good on the SAT. But (C) actually fixes an SAT grammatical issue that we might not have noticed originally: the word “they” in sentence 4 technically can’t refer to the word “elevator” in sentence 3, because “elevator” is singular and “they” is plural. So this answer choice actually fixes a grammatical issue that no other choice will fix, which is why it’s correct.

(D) doesn’t help any of the College Board’s rules or patterns for the Writing section.

(E) just makes the sentence longer without fixing anything.

Once more we see the importance of reading carefully and knowing the test’s rules!

Conclusion

Now you’ve covered everything you need to know in order to answer Improving Paragraphs questions on the Writing Section of the SAT. As long as you remember that these questions are mostly Improving Sentences and Passage-Based Reading questions in disguise, you’ll have no problems.

The next page contains a one-page summary of the major ideas for the Improving Paragraphs questions. Make sure you don’t stop reading after that, though—we still have a few important points to consider.

Video Demonstrations

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.