SAT General

SAT Writing + Language Review

The following are the most important points to remember when tackling the SAT Writing + Language Section

1. Don’t Trust Your Ears

The biggest mistake students make on the SAT Writing and Language Test is “trusting their ears.” You cannot select answer choices based on what sounds correct. Why? Because the SAT test makers are really good at making the correct answer choices sound terrible and the incorrect answer choices sound acceptable. Never trust your ears when it comes to the SAT Writing and Language Test.

Instead, ensure you know the grammar and rhetorical rules that the SAT frequently tests.

  1. Write down all the rules (grammar and rhetorical skills) on the “Your Ideas” page at the end of this chapter
  2. Go through the last 3-4 writing tests from the mock SATs that you have attempted.
  3. Add any rules that are required to answer questions that you may have missed out on
  4. Keep adding to this sheet as you attempt questions from this section

2. Read Paragraphs One at a Time

Adopt the following approach when attacking the writing passages:

  1. Read Paragraph 1
  2. Answer questions associated with Paragraph 1
  3. Read Paragraph 2
  4. Answer questions associated with Paragraph 2
  5. Read Paragraph 3
  6. Answer questions associated with Paragraph 3
  7. Continue to repeat until you have answered all questions

Easy enough? Essentially, after reading each paragraph, you then answer the questions associated with that paragraph.

The biggest benefit of using this approach is that it reduces the amount of information your brain has to process at once. Rhetorical questions usually are paragraph focused, so this strategy will also help you to focus on the ideas presented in a single paragraph.

Always read through the whole paragraph. Every word. Without a full understanding of a paragraph, its order, its content, and its main idea, how can you know what’s relevant or irrelevant, which paragraphs or sentences should go where, etc.? You’ll have no idea.

This rule is important even when it comes to grammar-based questions. Grammar questions are often based on context as well.

3. Compare Answer Choices

For grammar-based questions, eliminate the wrong answers - dont pick the “best answer” but pick the three worst answers.

Comparing answer choices enables us to find the wrong answers. Determining the differences between two answer choices will help you to figure out the grammatical errors in an answer choice.

Question: The house, heated from the sun when it was out and shining, was the first of its kind.
totally heated just from the sunlight and the warmth,
using the sun’s heat to heat the house,
heated only by the sun,

Solution: Compare A and B - “Heated from the sun when it was out and shining” is wrong because “it” could be referring to the HOUSE or to the SUN. Answer Choice B sounds silly but doesn’t break any monstrous rules. So we can eliminate A and move on to B.

Compare B and C - B still sounds odd, but C is horrible! “The house, using the sun’s heat to heat the house?” You’re repeating the subject twice in one sentence, and you’re repeating the noun “heat” and using it as a verb. C is out.

Now we take B and compare it to the last man standing, D. “The house, heated only by the sun” It’s clean, it’s short, it’s beautiful! It breaks no rules.

D is much better than B - Its shorter and less awkward. D is your answer. It’s the LEAST WRONG, by comparison.

4. Learn all the Comma Rules

A Comma is used for a variety of settings and is the most commonly tested concept on the SAT A comma is widely in writing and is the most commonly tested concept on the SAT Writing and Language Test. Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand how to correctly use commas and when to avoid them.

1. Used with FANBOYS Conjunction. We use a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS) along with a comma to connect two independent sentences and avoid a run-on.

Correct: Tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, but/yet they are mostly large and red today.

Important: If two sentences are being connected by a word that’s not from the FANBOYS list, the sentence is STILL A RUN-ON and is wrong. This is how the SAT tricks you. Here’s another example:

Wrong: He was hungry, therefore, he bought a chipotle burrito.

Question: Josh is one of the best players I’ve ever seen. He does everything so naturally and so confidently and he never misses a practice.
He does everything so naturally and so confidently plus he never misses a practice.
He does everything so naturally and so confidently, and he never misses a practice.
He does everything so naturally and so confidently; and he never misses a practice.

Solution: “He never misses a practice” is an independent clause; therefore needs to be separated from the sentence with a comma and FANBOYS conjunction. The only answer choice that does that is option C.

2. Connecting Independent and Dependent Sentences. A comma can be used to connect a dependent and an independent sentence. In the example below, the dependent sentence is in the orange font.

Correct: While tomatoes were originally small and multicolored, they are mostly large and red today.

Additionally, the SAT will try to complicate things by using complex structures.

Example: When I try to go to sleep, nightmares keep me awake at night; after brushing my teeth, I oddly feel energized in the morning.

This sentence contains a ton of clauses, but essentially there are two independent clauses being mashed together.

  1. When I try to go to sleep, nightmares keep me awake at night
  2. after brushing my teeth, I oddly feel energized in the morning.

In both the above sentences, the part of the sentence in orange font is the dependent clause.

Question: If you grow tomatoes to sell at a market, remember that it will take about 70 to 80 days from the time you set plants in the field until you can pick ripe tomatoes from them. 
NO CHANGE The clause after the comma is an independent clause. You separate a dependent clause from an independent clause with a comma.
market, and remember You cannot separate a dependent clause from an independent clause with a comma + FANBOYS
C. market. Remember A period cannot separate a dependent from an independent clause
market; remember A semicolon cannot separate a dependent from an independent clause

3. Removing Non-Essential Information. Best explained through an example.

  • Jonah, a fifth-grader, jumps rope on the playground everyday.
  • Josh, after thinking for a while, decided to go to law school.

Take the orange font clauses out of these sentences, and you still have three clear and complete sentences. If you aren’t sure whether a clause needs to be surrounded by commas, try crossing out the non-essential part. If the sentence still makes sense, then the commas are needed; if it doesn’t make sense, then the commas are not needed.

Question: London, which was originally built by the Romans along the banks of the Thames more than two thousand years ago contains some extremely modern neighborhoods.
ago; contains
ago, containing
ago, contains

Solution: If you focus only on the underlined portion of the sentence, you’re likely to get confused. The key is to go back to the beginning of the sentence and recognize that it contains a non-essential clause, as signaled by the word “which”.

London, which was originally built by the Romans along the banks of the Thames more than two thousand years ago contains some extremely modern neighborhoods. We need to remove the non-essential clause in blue font. Only D does that correctly.

4. Separating Lists and Adjectives. A comma rule that everyone is most familiar with: in lists of three or more items, you must place a comma after every item except the last.

5. Separating Adjectives. If you have more than one adjective in front of a noun or pronoun and their order doesn’t matter, then you need to put a comma between them. For example “The hot dry desert” can be written as “The dry hot desert” and it still makes perfect sense with the new word order, so it does need a comma: the hot, dry desert.

6. Names and Tittles. Context decides if we need commas around names and titles. The basic idea is that if the name being described is the ‘only thing’ in the world, use a comma to offset the name. If not, don’t use commas.

Correct: I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

In the above example, you need a comma after ‘movie’ because “Midnight in Paris” is the only film that could be described as Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters, and a comma after ‘friend’ because “Jessie” is the only thing in the world described by “my oldest friend.”

Question: Ada Lovelace and her acquaintance, Charles Babbage, were two of the most influential figures in the history of computer science.
acquaintance Charles Babbage
acquaintance Charles Babbage,
acquaintances, Charles Babbage

Solution: If you cross out “Charles Babbage,” a crucial piece of information is lost: we do not know who Lovelace’s acquaintance was - since she may have had many acquaintances. Therefore, the name is essential, and no commas are required. The answer is therefore B.

5. Know All Your Punctuation's

1. Semicolon. Semicolons have two major uses in standard modern English.

  1. Combine Two Independent Clauses - This is the most common use case.
  2. Separating Complex Lists - The second, and rarer, rule is to separate items in a list that involves commas. One common example of this is when listing cities followed by the states or countries in which they are located.

Important: Often the SAT will give you two answer choices that look identical; the only difference is that one has a semicolon, and the other has a period. Both those answer choices are wrong and can be eliminated.

2. Colons. The most important colon rule to remember is that colons have to be preceded by an independent clause.

The colon can be followed by an independent or dependent clause, which can be two things:

  1. A further explanation of what comes before the colon.
  2. A list.

Question: Researchers have found that the veritable army of trained volunteers travelling the country conducting face-to-face interviews can sometimes be replaced by another army the vast array of individual volunteering details about their lives through social media.
NO CHANGE You need punctuation to separate the two independent clauses.
replaced - by another army, You cannot have a comma and a dash.
replaced by another army; You cannot use a semi-colon as the second clause is not an independent clause.
replaced by another army: Text after the word “army” describes the other type of army. We need punctuation to separate the independent clause until the word “army.”

3. Dashes. A dash adds an additional thought to an independent clause. A set of two dashes is used in much the same way as you use a set of commas - to include non-essential information. You can either use two dashes or a dash and a period.

Question: My brother is a decent tennis player, he serves well: but his forehand could be hit with a bit more accuracy.
NO CHANGE The text prior to the colon can stand alone as an independent sentence. It’s not here.
player - he serves well - The non-essential part “he serves well” is located between two dashes. This is correct.
player, he serves well - You cannot have a comma and a dash.
player and he serves well - This option incorrectly makes the non-essential part of the sentence essential.

4. Apostrophes. It’s important to determine whether you need an apostrophe at all and, if so, whether the noun is meant to be plural or singular.

Happily, there’s an easy trick to determine whether a noun should be possessive. “Gary’s ball” is just another way of saying “the ball of Gary.” So, if you want to figure out whether a noun is meant to be possessive, try swapping the order of the nouns and put an ‘of’ in the middle.

6. Modify Appropriately

Modifiers are words or phrases that describe nouns. There are three types of modifiers (examples in blue font below):

  1. Beginning Modifiers - Having hiked for three miles, the travelers were very tired.
  2. Middle Modifiers - Joe Pulizzi, an internet marketing guru, is the foremost expert on creating content to increase traffic to your website.
  3. End Modifiers - Perhaps the most famous character in Mad Men is Don Draper, a successful New York advertising executive.

Modifiers are often tested on the SAT in the form of comma usage. Look out for the following two errors:

  1. When a modifier begins a sentence (and ends with a comma), the noun it modifies must be placed directly after the comma.
  2. Oftentimes, the noun that is directly next to the comma is similar to the noun that should be modified, but is not the exact noun needed. For example, there is a difference between the “office” and the “office manager.”

Question: Hurrying to get her things ready, the search for her laptop charger was nearly impossible for Clarissa.
NO CHANGE. The search cannot be hurrying. Eliminate.
it was almost ridiculous how long it took for Clarissa to find her laptop charger. The noun after the comma is “it,” we’re looking for Clarissa. Eliminate.
Clarissa’s laptop charger was impossible to find. Be careful here. Clarissa’s laptop charger is the noun being modified in this option, not Clarissa.
Clarissa frantically searched for her laptop charger. This is the correct answer.

7. Avoid Singular-Plural Mismatch

One of the most common grammatical errors tested on the SAT Writing and Language Test is singular-plural disagreement. A singular-plural mismatch occurs when a singular noun is incorrectly paired with a plural verb or vice versa. The SAT test makers are good at disguising these errors and often cleverly hide a sentence subject.

The key to making subjects and verbs agree is to find the subject that goes with a particular verb. To find the subject, ignore all the words that are not the subject. Consider this example: “The discovery of new medicines were/was vital to the company’s growth.”

What is the subject? A ask yourself, “What is vital to the company’s growth?” You may answer, “The discovery of new medicines is.” Therefore, the discovery (singular) is the subject, and “was” (singular) is the answer verb..

Remember that if a verb ends in an “s,” it is singular. If a verb does not end in an “s,” it is plural.

Like subjects and verbs, nouns should also agree in number with other nouns or pronouns.

Question: The frazzled librarian scampered back to the desk. “We checked the cover of all of the books in that sections of the library, but couldn’t find the title Amy requested,” she reported. “We need to log it in the ‘Missing Titles’ list.”
NO CHANGE Books is plural, whereas cover is singular. It’s a mismatch. Eliminate.
cover of all of the books in that section Cover is still singular. Eliminate.
covers of all of the books in that section All are in agreement. This is the correct answer.
covers of all of the books in that sections Changes “section” to “sections,” creating an ungrammatical phrase in “that sections.” Eliminate.

Additionally, you should also be aware of the following tricky noun forms:

  1. Singular nouns separated by “or” are singular
  2. Plural nouns separated by “or” are plural
  3. Nouns separated by “and” are plural.
  4. Collective nouns are singular
  5. Some tricky nouns that sound like they are singular, but are actually plural (i.e. data).

8. Preserve Parallelism

Parallelism requires that words or phrases in a sentence have parallel structure. You should make sure a sentence has parallel structure in three specific instances.

  1. Transitions - A word/phrase that comes before a transition should have parallel structure to the word/phrase that comes after the transition.
  2. Lists - Items in a list separated by commas should have parallel structure.
  3. Comparison - When you’re comparing two or more things in a sentence.

To make a sentence parallel, make sure the verbiage used to describe the sentence elements is as repetitive as possible. This also applies when creating parallel structure across multiple sentences.

Question: An actor stands on the stage and delivers a monologue as an audience hangs onto his every word. A singer performs a ballad as listeners fall silent. As a group of spectators watch in awe, dancers glide across the stage.

Which choice best maintains the sentence pattern already established in the paragraph?
Watched by a group of spectators, dancers glide across the stage.
Gliding across the stage, dancers are watched by a group of spectators.
Dancers glide gracefully across the stage as spectators watch in awe.

Solution: The question is asking us to look at the pattern already established in the paragraph.
Sentence #1: An actor...
Sentence #2: A singer...

Each of those sentences begins with a noun. That means the third sentence must start with a noun as well. Only the correct answer D places a noun right at the beginning of the sentence.

9. Pick the Noun over the Pronoun

Anytime you come across a pronoun-based question on the SAT, look over the answer choices to see if the noun is listed. If it is, always pick the option that lists the noun.

Question: Some sources claim that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés was the first person to bring the tomato to Europe in 1521. Others say that Christopher Columbus took it back as early as 1493. Regardless of which version is true, reports from that time period all agree that they were intensely suspicious when they first encountered the small yellow fruit.
NO CHANGE Who are they? The two explorers or other people? Eliminate.
members of the Spanish court Yes, it’s a noun, and it’s clear. This is the correct answer.
some of them Who are them? The two explorers or other people? Eliminate.
those people Which people? Eliminate.

One pronoun issue that seems to perplex all AP Guru students is the issue of when to use the pronouns ‘WHO’ and when to use ‘WHOM.’

The really, really easy trick to remember is: “HE vs. HIM.” If you would use ‘he’ in a sentence, replace “he” with ‘who,’ and if you’d use ‘him’ in a sentence, replace the word “him” with with ‘whom.’

10. Be Wary of Verb Tense Shift

Verbs must be consistent throughout a sentence if the time frame of the events or actions discussed has not changed. Whenever you see a verb underlined on the SAT Writing and Language Test, check to make sure that its tense agrees with the tense of other verbs in the sentence. Be wary of shifting verb tenses between sentences in the same paragraph.

For example “Abigail was frightened that she might be in danger due to the storm and stocks up on canned vegetables and water.”

“Was frightened” (past tense) should be changed to “is frightened” (present tense) because there is another non-underlined verb in the sentence, “stocks,” which is in present tense. Always look out for non-underlined verbs and check to be sure all underlined verbs match.

Question: As part of a prolonged effort to curb abuses, the governments reduce the amount of bonuses given for arrests. The hope behind this effort was that with fewer perks for arresting people, fewer needless and illegal arrests would be made. Since the new policies went into effect only two weeks ago, it remains to be seen if it will be an effective change of course in the long run.
the governments are to reduce
the governments reduced
the government’s reduction in

The opening clause of the sentence notes a “prolonged effort,” which indicates the government action has taken place over a long time period in the past. The proper verb will be in the past tense. C is the best choice among the answers.

11. Combine Sentences Correctly

To answer questions that ask you to combine sentences, consider grammar rules as well as the context of those sentences within the passage. The best way to approach these questions is to go directly to the answer choices and start comparing options two at a time.

Consider these points when comparing answer choices:

  1. Modifiers - Are the modifiers used correctly to describe the nouns?
  2. Non-essential information - Am I including any essential information between two commas?
  3. Comma Splice - Is there a comma splice?
  4. Context - Is there any redundant or off-topic information presented?
  5. Transitions - Did I include a faulty transitions between the two sentences?

Question: [1] While perhaps not as well-known as Bluebeard or Captain Kidd, Bill Johnston was still known as a feared pirate and river smuggler in his day. [2] That day was the War of 1812. [3] He came from a British Loyalist family and settled in Upper Canada before beginning a career as a Lake Ontario schooner captain. [4] His ships carried some legal cargo, but they also smuggled tea and rum into Canada.

What is the best option for combining Sentences 1 and 2?
While perhaps not as well-known as Bluebeard or Captain Kidd, Bill Johnston was still known as a feared pirate and river smuggler in his day, the War of 1812.
While perhaps not as well-known as Bluebeard or Captain Kidd, Bill Johnston was still known as a feared pirate and river smuggler during the War of 1812.
While perhaps not as well-known as Bluebeard or Captain Kidd, Bill Johnston was still known as a feared pirate and river smuggler in his day: that of the War of 1812.
While maybe he wasn’t as well-known as Bluebeard or Captain Kidd, Bill Johnston was still known as a feared pirate and river smuggler in his day of the War of 1812 era.

Solution: This question revolves around one main issue: how to mesh the phrasing “in his day” from Sentence 1 with Sentence 2’s, “That day was the War of 1812.” Recognizing this allows us to omit A, C, and D as potential answer choices, as they each attempt to keep both phrases in play, and the effect is a confusing and awkwardly phrased sentence. B is the best answer because it doesn’t equate the War of 1812 with a single “day” or “day” as meaning era.

12. Avoid Redundancy

The idea here is that it’s incorrect to use 10 words to express an idea you could express using five. Remember:

  1. The answer option that uses the fewest words to explain the same concept is the correct choice.
  2. 2. Answer choices that use repeated words or synonyms are wrong.

The shortest answer isn’t always the right answer, but when in doubt, the shortest answer is the best one far more often than not.

Question: I was strongly considering buying a painting the other day. I liked the piece, but it was because of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece. I ended up purchasing a book of photography instead.
it was because of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece.
because of the expense I chose not to buy it.
it was on cause of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece.
it was only and simply and rightly because of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece.

Solution: Option B cuts the unnecessary addition of “it was” and the repetition of “the piece.” Answer choice B is correct.

13. Pick the Correct Word

The SAT Writing and Language Test also tests you on your ability to pick the correct word from four given word options. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to cover the infinite number of ways this concept can show up on the test. Instead, here are a few general guidelines to remember:

  1. Avoid dramatic or high-sounding language. Don’t choose overly complicated words when simple words are enough to express the intended meaning.
  2. Choose specific words. The most specific words convey the most meaning, and on the SAT, the most meaningful words will usually be the answer.
  3. Be wary of commonly confused words. For example, affect vs. effect or cite vs. site.
  4. Avoid casual or informal language. Always pick the answer choices that use formal language. Avoid answer choices that include slang or casual words.

Question: Ketchup is a better compliment to french fries then mustard.
NO CHANGE To compliment is to praise someone. We are not praising French Fries. Eliminate.
compliment to french fries than Compliment again. Eliminate.
complement to french fries then Then is not the right form of comparison. Eliminate.
complement to french fries than This uses complement and than. It is the correct answer.

14. Apply the Correct Transitions

It does not matter if a transition word is located in the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence; it always relates to the sentence in question and the sentence before it.

Let’s go through how to approach transition questions step-by-step:

  1. Cross out the underlined word
  2. Read to the end of the sentence.
  3. Ask yourself if anything seems obviously necessary/correct?
  4. Ask yourself about the relationship type. Is it addition, contrast, or causation?
  5. Rule out any answers that don’t make sense based on Step 4
  6. Plug the answer into the sentence to check your work.

If two choices are synonyms, neither is correct. If two of the words mean the same thing, there’s no way to choose between them, so neither can be correct.

Question: Conditions in the interior of Antarctica are inhospitable to many forms of life. Therefore, sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and extreme dryness make it impossible for most animals to survive
NO CHANGE The second sentence is not a result of the first sentence. Eliminate.
On the other hand, sub-zero temperatures The two sentences express similar ideas, not contrasting. Eliminate.
Nevertheless, sub-zero temperature’s Nevertheless and on the other hand are both contrasting transitions. Eliminate.
Sub-zero temperatures The two sentences discuss similar ideas, but the second sentence simply provides more information to support the first sentence. This answer is correct.

15. The Strategy Behind Add or Delete

The Add or delete questions ask you to determine if a sentence should be added or deleted to a passage and to identify your reasoning. Use this strategy to tackle Add/ Delete questions:

  1. Analyze the added sentence to see what it’s doing.
  2. Refer back to the passage to see if the answer should be added or not.
  3. Answer the yes or no question first based on whether the sentence is directly related to the topic of the paragraph.
  4. Eliminate the two “yes” answer choices or the two “no” answer choices.
  5. Provide the reasoning in your own words.
  6. Pick the answer choice that most closely matches your reasoning.

Note: The most common reason, by far, for not including/ deleting something is irrelevance. The reason will likely be that it distracts the reader or that it’s irrelevant to the focus of the essay, or something similar. Similarly, if the answer is yes, the most common reason is relevance. The reason will likely be that it adds important information, or it supports the point the author wants to make.

Question: Fortunately, a new group of artists has discovered the murals, and efforts are underway to clean, restore, and repaint them. Once again, Siqueiros’s “America Tropical” is leading the way. [1] After a lengthy and complex restoration process, this powerful work is now a tourist attraction, complete with a visitor center and a rooftop viewing platform. Advocates hope that Siqueiros’s mural will once more serve as an inspiration, this time inspiring viewers to save and restore an important cultural and artistic legacy.

At point [1], the writer is considering adding the following sentence: When it was painted in 1932, Siqueiro’s mural was considered offensive, but now it is acclaimed.

Should the writer make this addition here?
A. Yes, because it provides historical context for the changes discussed in the passage
Yes, because it provides a useful reminder of how people once viewed Siqueiro’s work.
No, because it unnecessarily introduces an unrelated point in the passage
No, because it unnecessary repeats a point already made in the paragraph

Solution: The sentence is not related to the main focus of the paragraph. This narrows our options down to the two “no” answers, C and D. As discussed, irrelevance is generally the answer for no. Therefore, the correct answer is C.

16. Remember the Big Picture

All sentence order questions will ask you where a sentence should be placed in a passage. The strategy for answering these type of questions follows:

  1. Determine the topic of the sentence you’re being asked about: Focus on the keywords or phrases in the question.
  2. Go through the answer choices. The most important thing is to read the sentences before and after the insertion point
  3. Eliminate wrong choices
  4. The right choice should logically follow the sentence before and connect to the following sentence. Use chronological order or order of events when applicable.

Question: [1] The Mongols tried to conquer Vietnam at various points in the second millennium. [2] The first time, they were repelled by the unknown landscape and intemperate climate. [3] When they came back better prepared, the Vietnamese scared them off by setting fires to their encampments. [4] The Mongols finally succeeded twice in the late 13th century but mysteriously left each time. [5] It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Vietnamese were fully conquered - by the French. [6] On their third return, they were routed by the genius of the Vietnamese generals at the battle of Bach Dang.

For the sake of the logic and coherence of the paragraph, Sentence 6 should be:
placed where it is now.
placed after sentence 1.
placed after sentence 2.
placed after sentence 3.

Solution: “On their third return” are the keywords in sentence 6, so we know the sentence needs to be placed after the narrator has talked about the first and second attempts. The second time the Mongols tried to conquer Vietnam is discussed in sentence 3, so the correct answer is D.