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How to Ace the SAT Improving Sentences Section Without Turning Your Brain to Mush

Posted in Test Prep on August 19, 2010 by



Jesse is a Content Developer for Knewton’s SAT prep course.

Wouldn’t it be crazy if you had to read paragraphs that looked like this? If you had to read paragraphs that looked like this, wouldn’t it be crazy? The reading of paragraphs that looked like this would be crazy, wouldn’t it? The craziness of paragraph reading like this reading wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t the crazy reading of paragraphs like this?

Unfortunately, that is exactly how many people approach the Improving Sentences section of the SAT: by reading each answer choice, one after the other, trying to see which one sounds right. This kind of approach might be alright for SAT Sentence Completion questions, in which the answer choices only consist of one or two words, but when each answer choice is a full sentence, the effect is mind-numbing. Your ability to hear the correct answer will be dulled by the constant near-repetition.

So what’s a test-taker to do? Here’s the solution:

First, read the sentence in the question prompt, paying close attention to the underlined section and completely ignoring the answer choices. Next, ask yourself, “Is there something wrong with this sentence?” If your gut says, “No, there really isn’t,” pick choice A and move on! Seriously, A is correct 20% of the time, so don’t assume that there is always something wrong with the sentence the SAT gives you. If something does seem to be wrong, eliminate choice A and think of a short description, in your own words, of what is wrong with the sentence. Then, and only then, look at the answer choices.

Now that you have an idea of what the problem with the sentence is (possibly including a more exact part of the underlined portion that must be changed) you can go through the answer choices asking yourself, “Does this address the problem I’ve identified?” Eliminate the ones that do not, instead of reading the full answers in your head and asking whether each one sounds right.

This approach is much easier and less overwhelming than repeating every answer choice, and it should usually allow you to eliminate two more answer choices in addition to A, a good situation even if you just have to guess between the two that remain.

Let’s look at an example:

Born in Germany in 1879, the scientific theories developed by Albert Einstein were some of the most important in modern history.

Now remember, don’t look at those answer choices! We’ve made it easier by hiding it a little further down in the post. Read the sentence again and decide if there’s something wrong with it. Hopefully, you will notice that something is slightly off, so eliminate A for now.

Now, let’s try to identify the problem in our own words. The way the sentence is written, it sounds like “the scientific theories” were born in 1879 instead of Albert Einstein. You don’t have to know that 1879 was the year Einstein was born to spot this error, just that “theories” aren’t “born” like people are.

This error is called a misplaced modifier, but you also don’t have to know that in order to get the question right. You just have to know that “Albert Einstein” should come directly after the comma, because he is the only noun in the sentence that can logically be “born.”

NOW we can look at the answer choices:

A: the scientific theories developed by Albert Einstein were some of the most important in modern history.
B: developed by Albert Einstein were some of the most important scientific theories in modern history.
C: Albert Einstein developed some of the most important scientific theories in modern history.
D: the scientific theories being developed by Albert Einstein were some of the most important in modern history.
E: Albert Einstein, developer of some of the most important scientific theories in modern history.

Only two out of the remaining four place “Albert Einstein” directly after the comma where he belongs: choices C and E. Just looking at these two choices, it’s easier to see that choice E is a sentence fragment, because it’s missing a main verb. So, choice C is correct.

Easier, right? Plus, we avoid turning our brains to mush as we read each wordy answer choice again and again.