SAT Identifying Sentence Errors: the Ultimate Strategy

Did you know that there are only 18 Identifying Sentence Errors on the SAT Writing section? They count for the largest percentage of your Writing score out of the Writing question-types, and if you rock the grammar skills you already have, and practice a few hundred ISE’s, you’ll easily get most of these questions correct!

Step 1 –Identify the part of speech. What part of speech is underlined? Is it a verb, preposition, adjective, adverb, pronoun, etc? The SAT loves to test the same errors over and over, and we know that each part of speech comes with some predictable errors.
Is the underlined section a Verb? Double-check that it agrees with its subject in number and plurality and that the verb tense is logical with the timeline of the sentence.

Is the underlined section a Pronoun? Make sure it has a clear Antecedent, and that the Pronoun agrees with the antecedent in number. Make sure as well that the personal pronouns (“who” and “whom”, for example) are only being used to refer to people, not things.

Is the underlined section a Preposition? The preposition could be part of an Idiom – does the preposition make sense with the word that immediately precedes it?

For example, we can’t say “afraid from,” only “afraid of.” Is the transition appropriate? Make a flashcard of the most common Idioms and learn them like you would vocabulary words. Idioms alone account for approximately 10% of your SAT Writing score!

Is the underlined section an Adverb or Adjective? Adjectives can only describe nouns, while adverbs can describe verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Is there a word that is modifying a verb that needs an –ly suffix?

Step 2 – Check for Parallelism errors. Once you’ve examined each of the underlined portions, identified the parts of speech, and double-checked for the most-likely errors associated with that part of speech, re-read the sentence as a whole and look for any Parallelism. Items in a list (separated by commas), comparisons, and (in general) multiple verbs must be in the same format! For comparisons, remember that only “like” things can be compared to each other: people to people and things to things.

Step 3 – Still no error? Choose (E). Remember to trust yourself. After you’ve worked through each underlined part of speech and checked for Parallelism in the sentence as a whole, you still may not be able to find an error. Don’t worry — 5-8 of the ISE’s on Test Day will have “No Error”. That is approximately one-third of all ISE’s!

As you prep for your SAT, if you find yourself choosing (E) too often, it’s likely you’ll need to spend more time studying the most common types of grammatical SAT errors: idioms, run-on sentences, fragments, parallelism, subject-verb agreement, etc. If you find yourself hardly ever correctly choosing (E), then you need to relax and trust yourself. Don’t look for errors that aren’t there!

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