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Improving Sentences Questions

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[edit section] SAT Writing Section Guide: Improving Sentences

  1. Improving Sentences Questions
  2. Modifiers
  3. Terse Language

[edit section] Improving Sentences

So far, we have spent our time devoted to studying the kinds of grammar rules you will need to know to excel on ISE questions. However, there is one other major type of question in the SAT Writing section - the Improving Sentences question. Unlike ISE questions, which only require you to point out what is wrong with a sentence, Improving Sentences questions require you to make a correction to the sentence such that the new sentence conveys the original meaning with the correct grammar. For example, a simple IS question may be:


4. I firmly disagree with the idea, which we may disobey perceived unjust laws.


A. disagree with the idea, which we may disobey

B. disagree with the idea that we may disobey

C. disagree that we can't obey

D. agree that we do have to obey

E. disagree with our obedience not being required


In the original sentence, the error is that the word "which" is used incorrectly - it should be "that." Answer B corrects this error. Note that answer A is the same as the original sentence. Answer A will always be the same as the original sentence, which is your way of saying that "the original is better than all of the other choices."

One of the reasons that IS questions can be so much harder than typical ISE questions is that you must be able to make an appropriate correction to the sentence. Before you can make a correction, though, you must first determine exactly what is wrong with the original sentence. So, we have the following strategy for answering IS questions:


  • 1. Determine the error, if any, in the original sentence
  • 2. Identify what your solution would be (without regard to the choices)
  • 3. See which choice most closely matches your solution


It is important to remember that when you make corrections to these sentences, you are trying to change the sentence as little as possible for it to be correct. For example, the sentence:


6. He was so tired that he didn't hardly notice the oncoming car.


... is obviously incorrect. "didn't hardly" is a double negative and is therefore an incorrect formation in English. However, there are multiple ways to correct this sentence. Both of the corrections below are gramatically correct, but one is simply closer to the original sentence and meaning than the other. It is also less clumsy:


C) Tired, he didn't notice the oncoming car.

D) He was so tired that he didn't even notice the oncoming car.


Both of the sentences above convey the same meaning; some people would even find C more readable than D. However, D is a better correction to the original sentence. It deviates the least from the original.


The most common errors that are tested in IS questions are structural errors involving the following big three:


  • Parallelism: We have covered this before, but in brief, elements of a list or a structure should be in the same gerund or verbal form. For example: We walked to the store, we biked to the mall, and we ran to the beach. Incorrect: We walked to the store, we are biking to the mall, and we also went on a run to the beach."
  • Modifier Errors: Modifiers change parts of speech, typically verbs. Misplaced, dangling, or other modifier errors can cause confusion in the sentence. We will cover this more in the next lesson, but you should know that the following sentence is incorrect: "The siren blowing, James barely avoided the coming train." Correct: "James barely avoided the coming train with the siren blowing."
  • Compound Structure: The use of and, or, and nor should be appropriate. Correct: "Either you clean your room or you will feel the consequences." Incorrect: "Either you clean your room but you will the consequences."


Although other errors are tested in the IS portion (and you should constantly be studying the grammar rules we have previously covered, your score depends on a thorough knowledge of these big three. We will cover more on modifiers in the next lesson, but take the brief SAT IS quiz and see how you do!


[edit section] SAT Writing Section Guide: Improving Sentences

  1. Improving Sentences Questions
  2. Modifiers
  3. Terse Language

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