SAT Essay Prompts - 7

By | August 3, 2010

Some of you may have already noticed, but I added a page to the site last week of real SAT Essay Prompts.  The page provides every SAT Essay Prompt administered by the Collegeboard since the Essay was added to the SAT in March of 2005.  The essay prompts are also broken down into common themes and topics that the CollegeBoard has a pattern of repeating.  This should be a great resource as you prepare for the the Essay portion of the test.  You can access the page from the navigation menu above, or by clicking here.

Topics: SAT Writing, The ESSAY | 7 Comments »

How to Answer Inference Questions on SAT Critical Reading Passages - 6

By | May 20, 2010

Students often struggle with inference questions on the SAT because the inferences by the SAT standard are probably very different from those you make from daily conversations.

You should not treat the inferences you make on the SAT as you would when you’re talking to your friends, your parents, or even your teachers.  You should not jump to any conclusions on your own, or make your own assumptions.

Let me provide you with a simple example:

In your daily lives, someone may tell you, “James is fat.”

Based on this information, you may draw the assumption (or infer) any number of things:

– “James probably likes food”

– “James eats a lot”

– “James is lazy”

– etc, etc.

HOWEVER, on the SAT you can’t make such a conclusion.  A better answer may simply be that “James is a portly individual.”

I know this is a way oversimplified example, but it gets my point across. The reason that you can’t draw your own conclusions on the SAT is that the SAT is a standardized, or objective, test. This means that the only answers that could be deemed correct are the ones that every student can come to conclude is true based on what’s given.

This brings me to my second, and more important, tip: learn to evaluate the answer choices. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but your focus should be on the answer choices more than on the passages themselves. If you think about it, each passage-based question can only have one correct answer, which means that the test-makers have to devise four other choices that are intentionally meant to fool you and draw you to them. If you analyze the answer choices, you’ll notice that there are some patterns in these answer choices that’ll help you determine which ones are incorrect. The same goes for identifying the correct answer.

I’ve written about how to handle SAT Critical Reading passages extensively in the past.  If you want to learn more about this, check out these older posts:

How I Improved My SAT Critical Reading Score by 150 Points


How to Answer SAT Critical Reading Passages WITHOUT Reading the Passages

Also, if you’re just starting to prepare for the SAT, make sure you check out my updated review of the Best SAT Prep Books for 2010.  For specific help on the SAT Critical Reading Sections, I highly recommend you get Adam Robinson’s Rocket Review Revolution: the Ultimate Guide to the New SAT.

Topics: SAT Critical Reading | 6 Comments »

Illogical Comparisons: Why You Can’t Compare Apples to Oranges - 13

By | May 13, 2008

SAT Illogical Comparisons in Grammar: Comparing apples to orangesWow, I really suck at maintaining a blog. I thank those of you who’ve been reading regularly and letting me know that my advice is helping you prepare for your tests. You’ve motivated me to get back to blogging my SAT strategies more regularly.

On that note, today we continue with the fourth question type of the SAT Writing Error Identification questions: Illogical Comparisons.

This is a commonly missed error type that many students don’t even realize is tested on the SAT. However, once you learn this error type, it’s relatively easy to recognize and ensure you answer related problems correctly every time. So on to the learning…

Illogical comparisons errors are based on the old adage that states, “you can’t compare apples to oranges.” There’s simply faulty logic in this comparison; they’re too different to make a meaningful comparison of them. Aside from the fact that they’re both edible and that we as humans label them both as fruits, they have little else in common. An alternative, then, would be to compare apples to apples, or oranges to oranges. There are infinitely more meaningful comparisons to be made by comparing two apples or two oranges. But enough with the fruity metaphors. Let’s jump to an example:

Skateboarding in New York, (A) unlike California, (B) is usually (C) hampered by busy streets and (D) crowded sidewalks. (E) No Error.

Although it’s easy to understand what the writer of this sentence is trying to say (because we speak like this all the time in our daily conversations) there’s actually a fundamental error in this sentence. Although the point is clearly to compare skateboarding conditions in New York to those in California, what’s really being compared in this sentence is skateboarding (a sport or activity) in New York to California (merely a state).

This is what we call an illogical comparison:

Skateboarding vs. California

You can’t compare a sport to a state. It just doesn’t make sense. A more proper comparison would be the following:

Skateboarding in New York vs. Skateboarding in California


New York vs. California

Therefore, the correct answer here is (A). The sentence would be more properly rewritten as the following:

Skateboarding in New York, unlike skateboarding in California, is usually hampered by busy streets and crowded sidewalks.

So how do you make sure you don’t miss any of these error types? Well, any time you come across a problem that makes a comparison, make sure you check that it’s logically correct. It’s as simple as that. Don’t assume you know what the author means to say because it’s easy to read into her intent. Make sure that she is being precise with her words as to make the comparison logically. If the content of a SAT Writing Section question involves a comparison, 90% of the time there will be an Illogical Comparison error.

For more information on Illogical Comparison Errors on the SAT, get the Sparknotes Guide to the new SAT and PSAT.

Topics: Error Identification Questions, SAT Writing | 13 Comments »

May 2008 Test - 0

By | May 4, 2008

Congratulations to all those who took the test this weekend!  I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from many of you.  Most of you felt relieved to be done and confident that you did well.  If you have any comments about the test, I’d love to hear them.  Please share them below.

Topics: SAT Reasoning Test | Give Your Two Cents »

How to Write the Perfect 12-Point SAT Essay, Even if You Suck at Writing (Part 2) - 42

By | May 2, 2008

This post of is a continuation of my first post on the SAT Essay Section. If you’re preparing for the SAT Essay, you may want to first start there.

In my last post I talked a little bit about the Essay and some of the superficial things that matter. Basically what I wrote about yesterday is how to get an average essay – one that’ll pretty much assure you a score of 8. Today I want to talk a little bit about how to get your essay to the 10-12 score range. So what makes a good essay??

First Things First: Your Position

Let’s get some of the obvious out of the way first. The first thing you’re going to have to do is decide your position on the topic. Each topic has an inherent yes-side and a no-side. For example, turn to page 283 of the Official SAT Study Guide (the Big Blue Book). The essay prompt first brings up the debate as to whether or not technology has made our lives better. Then the assignment asks, “Do changes that make our lives easier not necessarily make our lives better?” So, for this prompt, you’re basically going to have to take a positions as to whether changes that make our lives easier (or more specifically advancements and technology) do or do not make our lives easier.

Whatever position you decide to take – the yes side or the no side – doesn’t really matter. It’ll be entirely up to you. This decision will be based mostly on which side your sources/evidence more naturally supports, but we’ll get a little more into this later.

The Most Important Part: The Motive

I know that in high school they teach you that the thesis is the most important part of an essay. However, when you get to college, most good expository writing classes will focus heavily on an essay’s motive.

So what is an essay’s motive? The motive of an essay is too complicated of a topic to cover entirely in this one post, but I can at least show you how to superficially produce a decent motive – since we know the superficial things matter on the SAT. While an essay’s thesis answers the question of “What,” its motive address the question, “why.” It’s what makes your essay significant, and any serious writer should address this question first.

The average high school student will jump into the essay with a thesis, something like “Technology makes our lives easier because…” This will make for a very bland and boring essay. Readers, especially SAT graders, want something interesting to read. They’ll have read thousands of essays that say the same thing before they even read yours. That’s why you need to first engage the reader by addressing why he or she should care in the first place, or why your essay is different. You can only do this by getting by the obvious. This is what the motive is all about.

Show the grader something more than the obvious (or at least pretend to).

You may be wondering, “How can I do this if I don’t know more about the topic than the average high school student?” Ah, this is where the superficial part comes in. Once, you’ve decided the position you’re going to take on the topic, you want to introduce a special word into your essay: ostensible. If you don’t know what ostensible, or ostensibly, means, look it up right now and add it to your vocabulary knowledge base. It’s a good SAT word to know anyway. Put simply, it means outwardly seeming or appearing to be. Applying this one word to your introduction will help for two reasons: first, it’ll show that you have a command of SAT vocabulary and second, it’ll make your essay appear more interesting because you’re offering something more than the obvious, meaning better than the average SAT essay.

So, again, here’s the average student’s introduction to the essay:

“Technology does (or does not) make our lives easier because…”

Notice, there’s no motive. Now here’s how you’ll apply a motive:

“While ostensibly technology makes our lives better, in reality technology only makes our lives more difficult.….

Which introduction appears to be a more interesting read?

Notice that not only does your sentence have a motive, but it also has an added level of structural sophistication with two different clauses and applies some SAT vocabulary. The best part is that it also leads naturally into a solid thesis. Your next sentence could now introduce the examples or sources you’re going to employ in the essay and reiterate your main point: “The climactic ending in the Great Gatsby, the protagonists anguish in the Catcher in the Rye, and the inevitable conclusion of the Bay of Pigs fiasco all attest to the fact that technology that promises to make our lives easier, do not necessarily make our lives better”….or something like that.

This method can be applied to any essay topic. Notice that there’s no flowery prose or unnecessary filler? It cuts straight to the point but does so in a more appealing way. It also guards against writer’s block because it provides a methodical way in which you develop your introduction without wasting time brainstorming.

Now I’ll briefly talk about your body paragraphs and sources…

Topics: The ESSAY | 42 Comments »

How to Write the Perfect 12-Point SAT ESSAY, Even if You Suck at Writing (Part 1) - 14

By | April 30, 2008

SAT EssaySince I’ve been getting so many requests in the last few days to write about the SAT Essay, I’m going to take a break today from the Error Identification Questions to address this topic.

When I was preparing for the SAT II Writing Test, the essay was one of the biggest sources of anxiety for me. With a different essay topic for each test, it just seemed like such a crapshoot. “What if the topic is something I know nothing about?” I always wondered. There were many times when I would take practice tests, and just not write anything! I didn’t know how to approach the essay and my mind would just blank. How could you prepare for something you know nothing about?? Thankfully, I realized that just like the rest of the SAT, the essay is graded by standardized measures, and if I could just meet those measures I could achieve a high score, regardless of my writing abilities or knowledge of the topic. As many of you can imagine I eventually did very well on the essay, and I’ll explain to you how.

But before we get started, first take out the Official SAT Study Guide (yes, that big blue book). Seriously, go get it right now. If you don’t own a copy yet, you have bigger issues than worrying about the essay. Ok, now turn with me to page 200. DO IT. Stop being lazy, go pick up your book, and turn to page 200. You with me now? OK, good.

This example essay (p. 200-201) is what the Collegeboard people consider to be a perfect SAT essay – it would receive a score of 6 (on a scale from 0 to 6) by two separate graders for a total of 12 points. You don’t have to read it yet. Just glance at it for a moment. Now turn to page 202: this is an example of an essay that would receive a score of 5. Turn the page again to p. 204: this is another example of an essay that received a score of 5. Turn the page again to page 206: here’s an example of an essay that received a score of 4. Turn the page again to page 208: you’ll find another 4 essay. Turn the page again to page 210: here, you’ll see an example of an essay that would receive a score of 3. Over on 211 you’ll see an example of an essay that would receive a score of 2. And finally, if you turn the page one more time to page 212, you’ll see an example of an essay that would receive a score of 1. Notice anything??

The Superficial Things Matter, a lot

If you actually followed along with me on this exercise, you should have noticed one obvious thing, there’s a direct correlation between the length of the essay and its score. Why is this the case? Well if you ask the ETS and CollegeBoard people (the people who develop and administer the SATs) they’ll readily admit that such a correlation exists. Their reasoning is that while quantity does not necessarily equal quality, in a 25-minute essay, which is a relatively short amount of time, the more you write, the more you’ll develop and articulate your ideas – which in essence is the point of the essay. Valid point.

Another significant factor also explains this correlation between the length of the essay and its score: time. No not the time it takes you to write the essay, but the time it takes the grader to grade it. How much time do you think a grader spends on each essay? One hour meticulously weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each argument you make, determining the validity of each point, checking the facts you cite, and evaluating the structural sophistication of your sentences? No way. You would think that they have to spend at least 25 minutes, the length it took for you to write the damn thing, right? Wrong again. 10 minutes? 5 minutes? Nope and nope.

The reality is that the graders spend in the ballpark of 2 minutes, if that, on each essay. And, they probably know after just the first 30 seconds what score they’re going to give you, within the range of one point. Think about it, with 2.5 million students taking the test each year, how much time COULD they really spend on each essay? Most of the graders are volunteer teachers who already have busy lives. Plus, they’re not getting paid!

So what does this mean to you the test-taker? The SUPERFICIAL things, like length, matter a great deal on this test. Obviously the content of your writing does matter, but for the most part, the more you write, the better you’ll score, so write more! On a short 2 page, hand-written essay every sentence you add, adds significantly more to the essay. One of the best areas to add to essay is to explain your evidence more thoroughly. So anytime you site an example from a book you read in English class, or an event you learned in History class, add at least one more sentence than you already have to more thoroughly explain how this example supports your main point.

Another superficial factor that could improve your score, is the use of SAT caliber vocabulary. You know all those words you studied for the Critical Reading questions? Use them in your essay! The best place to put these words is within the first paragraph of your essay. Since your grader will make a significant judgment of your writing abilities within the first few seconds of reading your essay, it would be smart to put those vocabulary words within the first few sentences. Just make sure you use them appropriately.


Ok, now on to how you should structure your essay. When it comes to structure, it may be worthwhile to first consider how every other student is going to organize his or her essay. Almost every high school English class uses a tripartite essay format, where the thesis comes in the first paragraph and introduces two or three examples. Then the body of the essay has one corresponding paragraph that elaborates on each example from the thesis. Finally, the conclusion just reiterates the main point one last time. Refer to the example below:

What the Typical Student Writes:


– General introduction to topic.

– Thesis: Examples A, B, and C prove my point that…


– Paragraph 1:

– Topic Sentence 1: Example A supports my point because…

– blah, blah, blah

– Paragraph 2:

– Topic Sentence 2: Example B supports my point because…

– blah, blah, blah

– Paragraph 3:

– Topic Sentence 3: Example C supports my point because…

– blah, blah, blah


– Through Examples A, B, and C, I have proven my point that…

Look familiar? I’m sure this is what most standard high school essays look like, and this is pretty much what every student’s SAT Essay will look like. If you follow this format and you’re a decent writer, this should garner a score of 8 (4 points by each grader). But you’re not reading this to earn an 8, you want that 12.

So what’s wrong with this essay? Nothing, it’s just that every single student will produce the same essay, and if you also produce such an essay, you’ll have give the grader no reason to give you a higher score than average, an 8. But not to worry. I’ll go over exactly how to distinguish your essay from all the others and impress the grader enough to earn you that 12 in my next post.

Click here to continue on to How to Write the Perfect 12-Point Essay (Part 2)

Topics: The ESSAY | 14 Comments »

SAT Parallelism that has Nothing to do with Math - 3

By | April 29, 2008

Continuing along with the Error Identification Question on the SAT Writing Sections, we come today to Faulty Parallelism Errors.

Certain sets of words in a sentence, or the general design of a sentence, often require parallel construction in order to nicely balance the sentence. This is what Parallelism Errors on the SAT test for – balanced sentence structure. Parallelism Errors show up very frequently on the SAT in two general forms:

1. Unbalanced lists – simply put, each word or phrase of a sentence that comes in listed fashion should be in the same grammatical form, whether they all be nouns, noun phrases, verbs, or verb phrases. The classic example of this error looks something like this:

As a multi-talented performer, Madison enjoys singing, dancing, and to play the piano.

You’ll notice in this over-simplified example that the first two listed verbs singing and dancing are in the gerund form (a gerund is simply the noun form of a verb ending with –ing), but that the final phrase to play the piano uses the infinitive form of the verb. To fix this, you could simply change the infinitive to play to match the two gerunds as written below:

As a multi-talented performer, Madison enjoys singing, dancing, and playing the piano.

Now that you understand the concept, let’s look at an example that may more likely show up on an actual SAT test:

Teachers and students (A) agree that developing good writing habits (B) is (C) not only important but also (D) of necessity to achieve academic success. (E) No Error

The correct answer here would be (D) of necessity which does not correct balance the adjective important. Instead, the phrase of necessity should simply be replaced with the adjective necessary. Try re-reading the sentence with this replacement.

2. Word-Pair Parallelism Errors – Word Pair Parallelism refers to certain correlative words that should always be used in conjunction with other specific words. For example, the word either should be used in conjunction with or, and neither with nor. The following is a list of the word pairs you’ll find tested on the SAT:




not only…but also…

not only…but…


Let’s look at an example:

Neither his wife’s pleas (A) or the (B) doctor’s advice scientific evidence (C) was enough to (D) convince him to quit smoking. (E) No Error

The correct answer is (A) or because neither cannot be used in conjunction with or, as listed above. Simply enough. Let’s move to another example:

(A) Few people (B) were aware that the famous opera singer was also as (C) accomplished a composer (D) than any.

The correct answer here is (D) than. The phrase should be more properly written as: as accomplished a composer as any.

As simple a grammatical concept as this is, these Word-Pair parallelism errors show up quite frequently on the SAT, especially the either…or and neither…no pairs.

For more information on SAT Parallelism Errors on the Writing Sections, get the Sparknotes Guide to the New SAT and PSAT.

Topics: Error Identification Questions, SAT Reasoning Test, SAT Writing | 3 Comments »

Hello to College Confidential - 4

By | April 27, 2008

Welcome New friends! My site statistics tell me that I attracted quite a few new visitors this morning from my post at If you haven’t been there yet, I suggest you check the CC’s Test Prep Forums, as they’re a great place to trade SAT strategies with fellow students, as well as learn from more knowledgeable individuals.

Also, many of you have told me that you’ll be taking the upcoming May test and would like me to post more frequently (Oh the pressures and anxiety the SAT causes, and I’m not even taking the test!). Anyway, in this last week before the test, I’ll try my best to pump out as much material as possible. I plan to finish out the Writing Section Error Identification Questions in the next few days (instead of weeks as I planned) and move on to some last minute strategies for the test. Check back regularly for updates. Hopefully I’ll get an opt-in mailing list form together on this site so that you can get updated posts directly to your email. This should help you keep up to date with anything new I post here.

Finally, I want to thank you guys for the positive feedback that I’ve been getting from you guys recently. I welcome all feedback from you (positive or negative). I’ll be away from my computer the rest of the day, so don’t feel bad if I don’t get back to you personally today. Perhaps a better option for the time being would be to leave comments here on the site, for any of the posts. I’ll read them when I get back. I hope you all have a productive day preparing for the big test.

Topics: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The Most Commonly Tested Error on The SAT Writing Sections - 6

By | April 26, 2008

Continuing with Writing Section Error Identification questions, today I’ll be discussing how to conquer Pronoun Errors. One thing you should note about Pronoun Errors are that they are the most common question-types tested on the Writing Sections, so pay close attention.

First the basics. What is a Pronoun? Pronouns are simply general nouns that are used in place of more specific nouns. For example I may use the pronoun she when in place of a more specific noun Angela, or I may use the pronoun it in place of a more specific noun such as book, or hour, or any other thing. Listed below are the Pronouns that are regularly tested for proper usage on the SAT.

Pronoun Chart

I’ll be referring to this chart throughout this post. While you don’t need to memorize this chart to answer Pronoun Questions correctly, it’ll help you to understand the various Pronoun Errors tested on the SAT.

Pronoun Errors Come in Four Varieties on the SAT:

1. Wrong Number (singular vs. plural) Errors – When dealing with pronouns, the term number refers to whether the pronoun is singular or plural. If you look at the chart above, you’ll notice that within each case (i.e. nominative case, objective case, and possessive case) there are both singular and plural versions for each person (i.e. 1st Person, 2nd Person, 3rd Person). Wrong Number Error Questions are simply testing if you know when to use a singular or plural pronoun as necessary. To determine if a pronoun is in the proper number, you simple have to find its antecedent (that is, the person or thing that the pronoun refers to) and make sure they match; singular pronouns should refer to singular antecedents and plural pronouns should refer to plural antecedents.

Wow, that sounds way more complicated than it needs to be. The following example problem should clear things up:

Harvard’s lacrosse team performed (A) well throughout the 1990s (B) because (C) they were able (D) to recruit high quality athletes from various preparatory schools across the country. (E) No Error

The correct answer here is (C) they were because the plural pronoun they incorrectly refers to its singular antecedent team. The correct pronoun to use here would be the singular pronoun it – but that alone sounds a bit awkward. Perhaps replacing that phrase altogether with “its coaching staff” would improve the sentence even more.

2. Wrong Case Errors – The term case here refers to whether the pronoun is in the nominative, objective, or possessive case. A pronouns case depends on how the pronoun is used in the sentence. The nominative case (which is also referred to as the subjective case) should be used when the pronoun takes the role of a subject, the objective case should be used when the pronoun takes the role of an object, and the possessive case should be used when the pronoun takes the possessive form. Simple enough, right?

Wrong Case Pronoun Errors occur when a sentence has , say, an objective pronoun such as me, when it should be in the nominative case I, for example. Notice that the person and number are the same, but it’s only the pronoun case that’s used incorrectly. The pronoun case can be interchanged incorrectly from among any of the cases. Again, that explanation makes it sound way more complicated than it actually is, so why don’t we look at an example:

(A) Determined that we sleep eight hours a night, (B) my mother made (C) my brother and I turn all our lights out (D) at ten o’clock every night. (E) No Error

The correct answer here is (C) my brother and I because the nominative pronoun I should be in the objective case form me.

Two important tips should be noted about Pronoun Case Errors: Firstly, Pronoun Case errors show up on the SAT almost always as the second noun in a compound noun phrase. What this means is that the pronoun will show up with another noun usually joined by and. In the example problem above, the entire compound noun phrase is my brother and I. This is a very typical example of how this error shows up on the SAT. So the point to take here is that whenever you see a compound noun phrase with a pronoun, always check to make sure the pronoun is in the correct case.

A secondly, when you’re unsure in these cases if the pronoun is in the proper case, simply ignore the other noun in the phrase. This will make it a lot more obvious if the pronoun is in the correct case or not. If I were to use the same problem above as an example, I would do the following:

(A) Determined that we sleep eight hours a night, (B) my mother made (C) my brother and I turn all our lights out (D) at ten o’clock every night. (E) No Error

Now when you read through the sentence the phrase “my mother made I turn out the lights” sound very awkward, as it should since the pronoun is in the wrong case.

3. Pronoun Shift Errors – The term shift refers to an incorrect change in person within a sentence. As a general rule on the SAT Writing Sections, the person should remain the same throughout the sentence. The most frequent Pronoun Shift Errors occur on the SAT involving the third person term one and the second person pronoun you. Note that when the term one is used to refer to a hypothetical person, it’s the equivalent of the third person pronouns he or she. Take a look at the following example:

(A) If one wishes (B) to play piano (C) like a virtuoso, you (B) must begin by mastering basics like chords and scales.

Notice in this sentence both one and you are used almost interchangeably. The answer is clearly (A) If one wishes. The person should remain consistent throughout the sentence.

4. Ambiguous Reference Errors – Ambiguous Reference simply means that it is unclear what a pronoun is referring to. Sentences with Ambiguous Reference Pronoun Errors will have a pronoun that could refer to two different antecedents in the sentence; the sentence will have two different things or people in the same number and person making it unclear which one the pronoun is referring to. For example, if I were to say, “James and John went to the mall, and he bought a shirt,” who does the pronoun he refer to? Since he is a Singular 3rd Person Pronoun, it could refer to either James or John, making the reference unclear. Of course, it won’t be that obvious on the actual SAT. A typical problem may look like the following example:

(A) Many writers rely (B) heavily on their editors (C) when publishing a book because (D) they are determined to present the best final product possible. (E) No Error

The correct answer here would be (D) they are because it’s unclear in the sentence whether the pronoun they refers to the writers or the editors because both of them are Plural 3rd Person subjects.


As a general rule, because pronoun errors show up so often on the SAT Writing Sections, any time you come across a pronoun, make sure that it’s being used properly. You’ll be surprised how often the pronouns are misused not only on the SAT, but in your everyday lives.

For more information and practice with SAT Writing Pronoun Errors, Get the Sparknotes Guide to the New SAT and PSAT.

Topics: Error Identification Questions, SAT Writing, Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

The 10 Grammatical Concepts You Need to Know to Ace the SAT Writing Sections (MC) - 9

By | April 21, 2008

The big lie of the SAT Reasoning Test is that the Writing Sections test a student’s writing proficiency. Even the 25-minute written essay is not as subjective as you may think. However, I’m not going to get into the Essay today (I’ll go over that in another post). Instead, this post will focus on the main chunk of the SAT Writing Sections, the multiple-choice questions.

Even if you suck at writing, you can still achieve a very high score on the SAT Writing Sections with minimal preparation. That’s because the majority of the Writing Sections test for grammatical errors you learned very early on in school; I’m talking about rudimentary grammar here.

Although it may seem as though the SAT can test an endless variety of questions based on a vast array of topics, in reality the test-developers limit themselves to a few, very specific question types. This is especially true of the Writing Section of the SAT. Almost all questions in the Writing Section can be categorized into 10 fundamental grammatical errors. Furthermore, question within these categories often repeat the same formatting. The following is a list of the grammatical concepts tested on the SAT Writing Sections.

The 10 Fundamental Question Types on the SAT Writing Sections:

I. Subject-Verb Agreement

1. When Subject and Verb Are Separated

2. When the Subject SEEMS plural

3. When the Subject SEEMS singular

4. When the Subject Follows the Verb

II. Pronoun Errors

1. Wrong Number

2. Wrong Case (in Compound Noun Phrases)

3. Person Shift

4. Ambiguous Reference

III. Faulty Parallelism

IV. Faulty Comparison/Illogical Comparisons

V. Misuse of Adjective or Adverb

VI. Improper Idiomatic Expression

1. Infinitive vs. Gerund

2. Wrong Preposition after Verb

VII. Wrong Word

VIII. Wrong Tense

1. Basic Tense Shifts

2. Use of Past vs. Past Participle

IX. Irregular verbs

X. Double Negative

I’ll be going over each of these common SAT Writing question types and their variations, along with detailed strategies on how to conquer them over the next few days. But today, I’ll start with the first one:

I. Subject-Verb Agreement

Believe it or not, this is the single-most overlooked error on SAT Writing Sections. In fact, when I first took the SAT II Writing Test, the one question I answered incorrectly was a subject-verb agreement error question. Obviously it wasn’t because I didn’t understand the concept. Instead, I fell for some of the traps that the test makers use to disguise this error-type. So read my strategies carefully, so you don’t fall into the same traps.

Subject Verb Errors come in 3 Varieties:

1. When the subject and verb are separated – Actually, I lied. This shouldn’t be a category of its own because the subject and verb will always be separated for subject verb errors. But it’s important enough to note because this is one of the disguises that makes these errors so easy to overlook.

2. When the subject seems plural – In this variation, the subject will usually involve a collective noun (e.g. a team, a class, an organization, etc.) where the subject will represent a group of people making it appear to be plural, but will actually be a singular subject. Take a look at the following example:

The team (A) of researchers, technicians, and interns (B) have (C)worked hard during the (D) three-month project. (E) No Error

Did you spot the error? It’s pretty easy when I separate this sentence for you from all the other different Error Types, eh? As you probably noticed, the correct answer is (B.). The actual simple subject in this sentence is “the team,” a singular collective noun, so the verb have should be in the singular form has.

An easy way not to fall into the trap of overlooking this error is to cross out the portion of the subject that follows the preposition – in this case of.

The team (A) (of researchers, technicians, and interns) (B) have (C) worked hard during the (D) three-month project. (E) No Error

This should make it clearer that the simple subject of the sentence is simply team.

2. When the subject seems singular – This is the opposite variation of the last error. Sentences that test for this error will usually have to separate subjects (often both singular) that are conjoined by and making the overall subject plural. Take a look at the following example:

The new library on campus (A) dedicated to the former university president and the student recreation center (B.) built on the old lot (C) was funded (D) by private endowment. (E) No Error

In this example, there are two subjects, each individually a singular noun – the library and the student recreation center – that are joined together by and, so the verb was should actually be in the plural form were.

3. The final type of Subject-Verb Agreement error occurs when the subject follows the verb. In most standard sentences, including the examples above, the subject comes early in the sentence followed later by the verb. However, on every SAT, there will be at least one sentence that test for subject-verb agreement in which the verb comes first. In these cases, you have to identify that the verb matches the subject that comes later in the sentence. Take a look at the following example:

The band (A) has been played on the radio for years, (B) but only recently (C) has the less polished tracks from their first album (D) become known. (E) No error

You’ll notice here that that the correct answer is (C) has because the singular verb has does not correctly match the corresponding subject tracks that comes later in the sentence. The correct form of the verb should be the plural have.

Important Tips!

There are two things to note about subject-verb agreement errors:

1.) It’s almost always the verb that is incorrect, not the subject. If you look back at the examples above, you’ll notice that the subject that corresponds with the verb usually isn’t even a choice, and therefore by default, you can only chose the verb as the correct answer.

2.) Subject-Verb Agreement errors almost always involve the most basic verbs. The questions will almost always test for the usage or is vs. are; was vs. were; or has vs. have. You would think that this would make this question type even easier with this being the case. However, the fact that these questions involve the most basic verbs only makes it more likely that you would overlook this error. To make sure you don’t fall into the trap, every time a Error Improvement question on the SAT Writing sections has is, are, was, were, has, or have as a choice, double check to make sure it they match the subject.

That wraps it up for this first error type. Make sure you check up on this blog over the next few days as I go over each of the different question types on the Writing Sections.

Topics: Error Identification Questions, SAT Writing | 9 Comments »

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