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SAT Writing: An Ordered Approach

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In this lesson we’re going to cover what I consider to be the most effective order for learning the different parts of the SAT Writing exam. This section of the SAT has three distinct types of questions: Improving Sentences, Identifying Sentence Errors, and Improving Paragraphs. When all three question types are present in a Writing subsection, they will appear in this same order.

However, the order in which these three “mini exams” appear on the SAT Writing exam is not necessarily the best order to begin familiarizing yourself with them. Instead, I recommend the following order: Identifying Sentence Errors, Improving Sentences, and Improving Paragraphs. This approach begins with the section that requires the fewest English grammar skills and ends with the one that requires the most, building upon the skills that you having already studied as you go.

Identifying Sentence Errors

The Sentence Errors portion of SAT Writing asks you to do only one thing: find the grammar error (if any) in each of the sentences. Matters of style and composition are irrelevant. You don’t need to be able to explain why an error is an error or choose a better, error-free version of a sentence. You only need know what is or what might be wrong with a sentence. We already covered the most common SAT grammar errors in an earlier lesson. Familiarize yourself with the errors and practice identifying them until you feel ready to move on to the next section.

Improving Sentences

These types of questions test you on both English grammar and style. You need to find the version of each sentence that is error-free and most effectively communicates the information contained therein. The SAT’s concept of “style” is fairly rudimentary. The exam tends to favor shorter sentences that possess fewer –ed and ­­–ing words and fewer words (such as prepositions and conjunctions) that are under five letters long. In other words, simpler is usually better.

Improving Paragraphs

Improving Paragraphs questions test students on grammar, style, and composition. Treat questions that ask about fixing or combining sentences the same way you would Improving Sentences Questions. When you come across a question that asks about the meaning of a word or phrase, consider how that word/phrase is being used. Similar to how Passage-Based Reading questions sometimes ask you for the meaning of a word “in context,” the concept that an Improving Paragraphs author is trying to communicate with a particular word is more important than the dictionary definition of that word.

Finally, keep the following in mind for questions that ask about adding, deleting, or changing the position of sentence: First, the SAT wants sentences to flow in a logical order. If a sentence seems out of sequence with the rest of a paragraph or abruptly introduces new information, that sentence should be moved or deleted. Second, the SAT likes paragraphs in which the same idea is mentioned more than once. Sentences that restate existing ideas and contribute few, if any, new concepts should generally be added or kept. Conversely, sentences that mention ideas that aren’t found anywhere else in the paragraph should usually be deleted.


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