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ACT English and SAT Writing and Language: Tricky Wrong Answer Types

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The ACT English and SAT Writing and Language sections are extremely similar. This similarity extends to the types of wrong answer choices commonly employed on the tests. Some of these choices are obvious: subject-verb mismatches, shifts in tense, and so forth. However, some of the ACT and SAT’s favorite wrong answer choices are far less well-known. In this lesson, we’re going to look at a few common types of wrong answer choices on the ACT English and SAT Writing and Language sections that you probably haven’t heard of.


Misuses of “being”

The ACT and SAT love wrong answer choices that use “being” as a synonym for “is” or “because.” While “being” resembles these words, it cannot fulfill their roles. Counter-intuitively, “being” is not a “to be” verb (is, are, was, were, etc.). Likewise, “be-ing” cannot express the “why” of a sentence like “be-cause” can. This wrong answer type is especially common on the ACT. If you see an answer choice with “being” on ACT English, that choice is almost-certainly incorrect.


Present Participles as Main Verbs

A present participle (“-ing” word) must be preceded by an auxiliary, or “helping,” verb to function as the main verb of a sentence. (This is how we form the progressive tenses in English.) Accordingly, any answer choices that attempt to insert an “-ing” word into a main verb role without an auxiliary verb are automatically wrong.


Overly Broad and/or Vague Topic Sentences

A good topic sentence introduces ideas that will be discussed in a paragraph and omits ones that will not. A popular wrong answer choice for “topic sentence” questions includes information that is broadly relevant to the passage as a whole but unrelated to the point(s) being addressed in the paragraph in question. Let’s say a passage provides an overview of a music scholarship program, but the paragraph with the topic sentence question is concerned solely with the types of wood that can be used to make instruments. The wrong answer choices might mention music or scholarship but would fail to mention instruments or wood.


Grammatically Correct but Rhetorically Wrong

This one is particularly annoying. Sometimes the ACT and SAT will ask you to make an underlined portion of a sentence consistent with the rest of the sentence. The correct answer will be the one that most-closely resembles the rest of the sentence, even if that choice would be wrong in other situations. A good example of this is passive voice. On most questions, an active voice answer choice would be correct and a passive voice choice would be incorrect. If the rest of the sentence is in passive voice, however, the correct answer will also be in passive voice. When dealing with ACT and SAT rhetoric choices, consistency with the rest of the sentence, paragraph, or passage takes precedence over strict adherence to “textbook” rules of writing.

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