SAT Tips: The Writing Section
For the SAT Writing section, test-takers are asked to identify sentence grammatical errors and improve sentence structure. Knowing the basic elements and word order in a sentence is essential to spotting grammatical errors and fixing faulty structure. The typical word order in English is subject-verb-complement or SVC. The subject and verb are essential to a complete sentence and sometimes the verb and complement are referred to as the predicate. A complete subject can be a noun, proper noun, pronoun, group of words acting as a noun often called a noun phrase. A verb or verb phrase including any modifiers and words that complete the meaning of the verb or verb phrase collectively make up the predicate.
When a sentence lacks one of two main parts, the subject and the predicate, it is said that the sentence is fragmented. Identifying the missing subject or predicate can help you improve the faulty sentence structure to do well in this section. Look for the verb first as this word tells what is happening in the sentence. The verb must agree with the subject. Depending on who or what is doing the action or when the action occurs, the verb will change in tense, in singular or plural form, or can take on auxiliaries such as “has, will, was, were, etc.” The noun and its various types should also agree with the pronoun reference that describes them. In other words, a singular noun should agree with its singular pronoun reference, a plural noun with a plural pronoun, and singular subjects joined with the conjunction “and” must be referred to by their modifying plural pronoun in the sentence. For example, “Diet and exercise can significantly improve your health if you are committed to them.”
To fix a sentence fragment, add a subject or verb where it is missing so it completes the meaning of the sentence. For example, fragment: “And perhaps the residents down the street as well.” The problem here is that the previous sentence with its thought was assumed to carry over to refer to this fragmented sentence; therefore, the missing verb or verb phrase was left out. Fix it for clarity: “And perhaps the residents down the street were informed as well.”
Here some tips for spotting sentence errors and improving sentence fragments:
- Look for most common mistakes that writers make in grammar: subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, parallelism, placement of modifiers, and adjective/verb confusion.
- Identify errors in idioms, which are words and phrases that are particular to our language usage because of their meaning when used together.
- Read the entire sentence before you look at the choices.
- Read all five versions of the sentence quietly to yourself and read each choice along with the entire sentence.
- For spotting sentence errors, move quickly through the questions.
- For improving sentences, read more slowly than you normally do.
Follow this blog series for more helpful hints on the SAT Writing section.