The SAT Writing Section is divided into three sections: one 25-minute essay, one 25-minute multiple choice section, and one 10-minute multiple choice section. The multiple choice questions consist of improving sentences, identifying sentence errors, and improving paragraphs. They are arranged in ascending difficulty per section, with the 10-minute section always being the final part of the exam.
• Official SAT Study Guide
• Material from The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT
The Writing multiple choice is one of my favourite sections, and it’s not because I’m a stickler for proper English. In my opinion, it’s the easiest section to study for three reasons:
1. Because all the questions are related to proofreading, and because of the standardized nature of the test, you’ll end up seeing the same errors again and again, presented with different wording.
2. The questions are meant to indirectly test your knowledge of writing structure and conventions. This means you’ll need to be able to recognize what’s right and what’s wrong, but you don’t need to explicitly explain or describe the reason behind it.
3. You won’t be tested on any specialized terms or tricky language, which means you won’t have to spend any time memorizing lists of words. The emphasis is on the grammar, not the breadth of vocabulary. However, you may encounter diction errors involving improper word usage (e.g. incorrectly using “amount of” instead of “number of” when describing countable nouns). These are relatively basic and do not involve ambiguous or subjective language.
To ace this section, all you need is firm grasp on basic grammar (nouns, verbs, pronouns, etc.) and a solid understanding of the structure of the test. It’s okay if you can’t define what an intransitive verb or an apposition is; what you need to know are the specific errors that you’ll encounter.
Classification of Errors
The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT is the most highly-praised study guide for SAT Writing. Although it was published in 2005, it’s still completely relevant as the exam hasn’t really changed since then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on an actual copy, but I located a collection of free excerpts which can be found by searching “rocketreview revolution” at school.familyeducation.com.
This invaluable article, lists and explains the fourteen categories of errors that appear on the test. They are:
• Pronoun Errors
• Singular-Plural Errors
• Idiom Errors
• Comparison Errors
• Parallel Structure Errors
• Wordiness and Redundancy
• Modifier Errors
• Diction Errors
• Adjective-Adverb Errors
• Verb Tense Errors
• Sentence Fragments or Run-ons
• Transition or Punctuation Errors
• Logic Errors
Although you need to understand the grammatical basis for these errors, don’t get carried away with memorizing specific facts. What’s important is that you can identify the errors the way CollegeBoard likes to present them. A good approach is to categorize the errors as you do your practice tests. This will help you pick out the patterns and signs which give away the mistakes.
Of course, you shouldn’t be wasting time classifying all the errors on the actual test. On the easier questions, you want to make use of your natural “grammar instincts”. However, it can be risky to rely solely on intuition. Sometimes, something that “sounds” right or wrong may not be what it appears. The tricky questions are the ones where you should make use of the error categories. If you’re contemplating an option that doesn’t seem to fit the prototypical SAT mold, you may want to consider the alternative answers.
Depending on your level of English, the idiom and diction errors will either be the easiest or the hardest questions. Some people will find it very easy to identify improper uses of words or incorrectly worded phrases. However, if you have trouble with this, you may want to consider purchasing a study guide like RocketReview or Barron’s which contain exercises in specifically focusing on these areas.
One Last Tip
Many sentence proofreading questions have long, auxiliary phrases inserted into them to distract you. When you have a big hunk of text in the middle of your sentence, your focus is naturally directed towards it, causing you to lose sight of potential errors in the rest of the sentence. A trick to doing these questions is to place brackets around any prepositional phrases or any clauses set off by commas. Then, read the sentence without the words in the brackets and any errors should become much more apparent.
We’re getting nearer to the finish! The final section we need to cover is the juiciest of all; get ready for the essay.
This is part 5 of my article series, How to Ace the SAT in Three Weeks. Click below to read the rest of the series.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 4: Math
Part 5: Writing, Multiple Choice
Part 6: Writing, Essay