Breaking Down the SAT: Sentence Error

Everyone who takes the SAT must do their best to pass the Sentence Error section of the exam.

Can you spot the error in the sentence above?

If you recognized that the pronoun “their” does not agree with its antecedent “everyone,” then you are probably well on your way to becoming a pro when it comes to identifying sentence errors for the SAT.

Identifying Sentence Errors questions are what comprises the bulk of the new Writing section of the exam with 20 questions at the beginning of the multiple choice portion and another 10 at the back, making 30 questions in all. You will be presented with a series of sentences like the one above that may contain a grammar mistake and asked to identify it from among four underlined options, or if there is no mistake to choose the fifth option, “No error.”

These types of questions test your “writing sense,” or your ability to identify errors based on the way sentences sound and on grammar rules. Because of this, in order to do well on this section it is helpful to have a solid “reading” background: the more you read sentences like the ones presented on the SAT, the more attuned your “inner ear” will become to mistakes that sound wrong. However, even if you are taking the SAT next week and don’t have time to read the New York Times everyday, there are a few strategies and things you can do to boost your confidence and your score for this section of the test, including online SAT test prep.

One important thing to remember is that these identifying sentence error questions are not going to test you on your knowledge of punctuation conventions. While it is probably helpful to be familiar with things like comma rules or where to place apostrophes, what these questions really probe is your understanding of grammar and syntax within the context of sentence structure.

The best method of approaching these questions is to read through the sentence quickly, “listening” for what sounds wrong. This often yields an obvious error. If there is more than one possible answer that you think sounds wrong, look at each option within the context of the surrounding sentence and apply your grammar knowledge to eliminate those without errors.

If upon reading the sentence you cannot “hear” anything wrong, go through each underlined option and eliminate those that you are sure do not contain errors. After that, if you cannot identify an error, mark “No error” and move on.

The sentence errors you will be asked to identify can have to do with a variety of topics such as subject/verb agreement, parallel structure, pronoun/antecedent agreement, verb tenses, infinitives and gerunds, adjectives and adverbs, and prepositions. You’re not going to be asked to name or correct these errors, only identify them, so don’t worry too much if you cannot remember exact definitions. In the example above, for instance, you may not remember what an antecedent is, but if you remembered that singular subjects do not go with plural pronouns, you probably spotted the error anyway.

To prepare, do your best to familiarize yourself with grammar principles. Online SAT test prep can be very helpful in giving you a quick refresher on concepts you may have forgotten.

If you keep these tips in mind, you can breeze through this section and concentrate on others that may be more difficult for you.


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