Correct and Effective Standard Written English
Out of the 49 multiple-choice questions in the SAT writing section, there are 25 questions of Improving Sentences. This sub-section is more difficult than Identifying Sentence Errors since it does not only require students to find the correct expression but also the most effective one.
Below is the instruction given in the Improving Sentences section. Read it carefully, especially the parts highlighted in blue. The instruction is the same as that in the actual SAT, so do not waste time reading it in the exam center.
Choice A is always the same as the original expression, so you do not need to read choice A. Choose A if you think the sentence is correct. Usually, there are 5 correct sentences.
From the instruction above, you can see that the task requires you to choose an answer which is both correct and effective:
That is grammatically correct. The option you choose need to follow the requirements of standard written English.
An effective sentence is one that is clear and precise, without awkwardness or ambiguity. It logically and clearly conveys the writer’s intended meaning.
Common problem areas
Remember the writing section is well-structured with inter-related sub-sections. You will need to apply the skills you have learnt in one sub-section to the others. Thus, as you are improving one sub-section, you are improving the others as well. Improving Sentences is crucial for recognizing and developing sophisticated techniques for expressing your ideas effectively in your writing.
In the Improving Sentences section, you need to look out for the 11 grammatical mistakes I have discussed in the Identifying Sentence Errors section, especially disagreement in number, pronoun without specific referent, wrong choice of relative pronoun, parallelism and dangling participle.
Together with the 11 grammatical mistakes, the following list covers almost all the areas tested in this sub-section. Do familiarize with them. When you are on the lookout for these, you can identify the most effective sentence much more quickly. Some of the items below have the same name as the grammatical areas mentioned in Identifying Sentence Errors. It is, however, worth mentioning them again either because their specific areas of concerns are different in this section or they are frequently tested.
When a sentence is clear and effective, it follows the logical principles below. (I will apply them in my discussion of the 6 areas above in the coming articles.)
- Principle of consistency
Different parts of a sentence are consistent in number and parallel in forms so that readers can relate the different parts to each other easily and follow the flow of ideas smoothly.
- Principle of proximity
The more closely related the parts, the more closely they should be placed. The reason why we write, for example, “a handsome plant expert” is that “plant” is the objective nature of his expertise while “handsome” is a subjective quality of him. Hence, “plant” should be placed more closely to “expert” than “handsome”.
- Principle of clarity
The relationship between different parts of a sentence is clear and precise when the sentence is not open to more than one interpretation (ambiguity).
- Read the entire sentence quickly to get an idea of what it intends to say.
- First see if the underlined part commits any of the 11 grammatical errors. Determining if the sentence is erroneous is easier than judging if it is effective.
- Eliminate all the choices that have the same errors. (Remember choice A is the same as the original sentence.)
- See if the remaining choices have other grammatical errors. If so, eliminate them.
- Compare the final remaining choices to determine which one is the most effective. Look out for the 6 common problem areas above.
- Read each of the choices along with the entire sentence since this section mainly focuses on effectiveness of the sentence as a whole.
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(Next Tue: Improving Sentences cont’d)