SAT Writing section techniques, strategies & approaches

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SAT Writing Section Techniques, Strategies & Approaches

  • Note on abbreviations
    • IC = "independent clause"
    • DC = "dependent clause"
    • Phr = "phrase"
    • SV = "subject + verb"
    • SVO = "subject + verb + object"
    • CC = coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS)
    • SJ = subordinating conjunction
    • CB = College Board

Writing section overview[edit | edit source]

  • SAT Writing Section Test Directions
    • the test instructs students to answer questions based upon:
      • "expression of ideas" and "correct errors in sentence structure, usage, or punctuation"
        • clear, concise and precise language
        • direct voice
        • word & syntax choices that focus on the main point and most effectively convey that idea
          • i.e., not wordy, not redundant, not passive voice, no unclear pronoun references
            • unclear pronoun reference = a pronoun, such as "they" that doesn't have a clear match, or reference, to a previously stated noun or idea
      • interpret graphs and apply to text corrections
        • graphs in the Writing section are often purely textual (i.e, the information is in the graph and does not require inference)
        • passage text & author choices are to align with information in the graph
    • other directions include:
      • questions will relate to underlined portions or a numbered sentence or paragraph
        • = sentence or paragraph placement
      • the correct answer “most effectively improves the quality of writing
        • = clarity, concision, and direct voice
      • correct answers conform to “conventions of standard English
        • = grammar and punctuation
        • = rules-based elimination
  • SAT Writing Test Structure
    • students have 35 min. to answer 44 questions
    • test has four readings passages with 11 questions each
      • = average of 8:45 min per passage

Quick start Writing Section strategies & approaches[edit | edit source]

  • Writing section is RULES based: eliminate using logic and grammar/punctuation/ syntax rules
    • these will help answer "passage" and "conclusion" questions
  • the word "being" as a possible answer is 100% of the time wrong
  • the shortest answer is usually correct (80/20% rule)
    • but make sure it is grammatically correct
    • often the shortest answer is the wrong answer in comparison questions
  • if two possible answers are synonymous, they both are wrong
    • be careful w/ this one, but if they clearly do the same thing, eliminate both!
    • but it helps to eliminate such things as
    • examples
      • synonymous transition words, such as "however" and "but" or "therefore" and "consequently"
      • punctuation that does the same thing, such as a period and a semicolon, or a dash and a colon
        • make sure they are doing the same thing and if so eliminate (they don't always do the same thing)
  • identify core subject - verb - object and see how the sentence builds from them
  • nouns in prepositional phrases are NEVER the subject of a sentence
    • i.e, "Books about sailing is/ are fun"
      • "about sailing" is a preposition phrase, so the subject-verb matching is "books" and the plural "are"
  • identifying prepositional phrases is helpful on this test!
  • the word "that" does a number of things, but when it introduces "necessary" or "requisite" information, it should not be separated by a comma or other punctuation
    • ex.: "The satellite ran out of fuel that it depended on to stay in orbit"
      • = no punctuation or pauses because all the information is required for the sentence to make sense
  • affect/ effect
    • effect = noun
    • affect = verb
  • expand contractions to eliminate
    • i.e. read "it's" as "it is" and "they're" as "they are"
  • possessives:
    • nouns can only possess nouns, so if a noun possesses a verb or a preposition, it is wrong
    • note that some possible answers w/ possessives nouns are actually indirect and direct objects
      • i.e., "She gave her brother's presents" = she gave away the presents that belonged to her brother, as opposed to
        • "She gave her brother presents" = she gave presents to her brother
  • be comfortable w/ what constitutes an independent or dependent clause:
    • independent clause: a sentence part that has a subject + verb AND stands as a complete thought (i.e. could be a sentence by itself)
    • dependent clause (or subordinate clause): a sentence part that has a subject + verb BUT does make a complete thought
    • ex., "Since it's raining..." = has subject + verb but is an incomplete thought

Quick start guides for punctuation & grammar rules[edit | edit source]

  • see further below for more on all these concepts and rules in the quick start guides

Punctuation quick start guide[edit | edit source]

periods .[edit | edit source]

  • periods separate sentences
  • periods do ONE thing =
  1. separate grammatically correct and complete thoughts that are distinct sentences

click EXPAND to see what PERIODS do & how to eliminate using the rule:


  • periods separate grammatically correct and complete thoughts that are distinct sentences
  • elimination:
    • if the sentence is grammatically or logically incomplete, the period is wrong
      • i.e., SUBJECT VERB and an object or subject complement if needed to make sense
    • note that "interjection" verbs do not have an explicit SUBJECT, but can still create a complete sentence
      • ex. "Go to the store." or "Stop!"
    • if a period and a semicolon are both possible answers, they are both wrong

semicolons ;[edit | edit source]

  • combine independent clauses for comparison, contrast or some relation between them
    • as opposed to periods which completely separate the ideas/ thoughts
  • semicolons do ONE thing:
  1. combine ICs
  • note that semicolons can -- but rarely:
    • separate a list of IC's:
      • as in "IC; IC; IC; IC."
    • separate a list of common examples, usually following a colon
      • as in, "IC: this; that; the other thing."
        • ex. "On our trip, we will visit tons of places: in Africa, Egypt & Morrocco; in Europe, Greece and Italy; and in Asia, Turkey."
      • < this is very rare and we have only seen it on one SAT test (May 2022)

click EXPAND to see what SEMICOLONS do & how to eliminate using the rule/s:


  1. combine two ICs
    • "School is boring; I should go anyway"= IC; IC
  • can also create a list of IC's (IC; IC; IC; IC.)
    • "School is boring; I already know that stuff; I should go anyway" = "IC; IC; IC
  • elimination:
    • must have IC or complete sentences & thoughts on both sides of the semicolon
      • i.e., if the two clauses on either side of the semicolon would not stand on their own as grammatically complete sentences and thoughts, the semicolon is incorrect
    • if a period and a semicolon are both possible answers, they are both wrong

commas ,[edit | edit source]

  • create pauses
  • commas do FIVE things:

click EXPAND to see what COMMAS do & how to eliminate using the rule/s:


  1. combine IC, DC, or DC, IC
    • or IC, Phr or Phr, IC
      • ex. "He ate fast, which upset his stomach" = IC, DC
      • ex. "After eating too fast, his stomach was upset" = Phr, IC
        • (prepositional phrase, independent clause)
  2. combine ICs
    • but only with a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS), i.e., IC, and IC
    • ex.: "IC, and IC" or "IC, but IC"
      • "They played hard, and they won big" = IC, and IC
      • "They played hard, but they lost" = IC, but IC
  3. separate lists (subjects, verbs, objects)
    • ex.: S, S and S V, V O, O and O
  4. act parenthetically
    • ", .... ," (like these parentheses)
      • The movie, which was about Ancient Rome, was very informative" = S, .... , V
  5. introduce a direct quotation
    • ex. "The judge declared, "Guilty!"
  • elimination:
    • commas can only separate a S-V or V-O if acting parenthetically (see below for examples)
    • commas can NOT combine two ICs without a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS)
    • 1 or more commas can separate multiple subjects, verbs or objects from one another
      • "Joey, Joella and Josephina jumped for joy"
        • = a single comma between the subject "Joey" and its verb "jumped" because the comma creates a list and not a grammatical separation of the subject and verb

colons :[edit | edit source]

  • distinguish additional information following an IC, usually a list, explanation, or example to clarify or extend the idea presented in the IC
  • colons = do ONE thing:
  1. extend or provide examples in support of a prior IC
    • i.e., a colon MUST be preceded by an IC
    • i.e., colons follow a complete statement with an extended idea or example/s
      • The prosecutor presented the evidence: a fingerprint, the weapon, and a written confession" = IC: list
    • just about any grammatical form can follow a colon, including
      • an IC, phrase, exclamation, multiple ICs with semicolons or coordinating conjunctions
      • a direct quotation (if that quotation is a complete sentence and if the colon is preceded by an IC
  • note that colons DO NOT:
    • follow a dependent clause
    • interrupt a clause or requisite (essential, required) element in a sentence
      • ex., "I went to the store: because I needed some supplies"
        • the colon here interrupts the connection between "I went to the store" and the reason why, "because..."
      • or "She knew: that it was the right thing to do"
        • the colon here interrupts the requisite relative pronoun "that" and the clause it creates
    • have multiple colons in a sentence

click EXPAND to see what COLONS do & how to eliminate using the rule/s:


  1. extend or provide examples following an IC
  • what follows the colon can be in any grammatical form (IC, DC, phrase)
    • except a conjunction (as in : I bought shoes: and some socks (= incorrect)
    • or a required (requisite) phrase or clause ("I bought shoes: that fit" = incorrect)
    • colons are usually followed by a list or an example
    • a colon may set up a direct quotation, such as:
      • The lawyer claimed the accusation was wrong: "He's innocent!" = IC: IC
  • elimination:
    • if NOT preceded by an IC, eliminate the colon
    • if another possible answer is a dash that is acting like a colon, then both cannot be correct, so eliminate

dashes --[edit | edit source]

  • separate ideas within a sentence, either parenthetically or like a colon
  • dashes do TWO things:
  1. act like a colon
  2. act like parentheses (...) = -...-

click EXPAND to see what DASHES do & how to eliminate using the rule/s:


  1. act like a colon
    • ex. "She left stuff behind -- a plastic ring, a cheap phone, and a pencil" = IC -- list
    • the dash is often used for emphasis (as opposed to a colon, which adds information)
  2. act like parentheses (...) = -...-
    • The stuff that she left behind -- a plastic ring, a cheap phone, and a pencil -- wasn't that expensive"
  • elimination:
    • if there is NOT another dash in the sentence, then the dash is NOT acting parenthetically (...)
    • if not acting like parentheses, and there is NOT an IC preceding the dash, eliminate
    • if another possible answer is a colon and the dash is not acting like a parentheses, then both cannot be correct

Apostrophes quick start guide[edit | edit source]

  • apostrophes do two things:
    • create contractions ("it's" from "it is" or "can't" from "can not")
    • show possession
      • nouns possess nouns and nouns can only possess nouns (not verbs)
      • punctuation can NOT separate the possessor noun from the possessed noun
      • adjectives may separate the two nouns, as in "The cowboy's fast horse"
    • possessive apostrophes singular v plural:
      • 's for singular nouns ("that dog's toys") and s' for plural nouns ("those dogs' toys")
  • elimination:
    • if punctuation or a verb follow the possessor noun, eliminate (see examples below)
  • note: use of an apostrophe to create a contraction with a noun and the verb, "to be" is informal and not measured on the SAT
    • ex., "winning's good" for "winning is good" is informal

Conjunctions quick start guide[edit | edit source]

  • conjunctions combine words, phrases, and clauses
    • coordinating conjunction (CJ)
      • combines ICs (FANBOYS)
        • I was hungry, so I bought a burger
  • note: the word however is NOT a conjunction,
    • therefore it must be combined with another CJ or a semicolon if combining two ICs
    • subordinating conjunction (SJ)
      • = turns an IC into a DC by requiring additional ideas to complete the thought of the clause
      • ex. "I was hungry, so I bought a burger" = two IC w/ a CC
      • whereas, if we use the CS "since" = Since I was hungry, I bought a burger"
        • = DC, IC ("Since I was hungry is not a complete thought, therefore it is a DC, or subordinate clause)
  • requisite or necessary clause or phrase (Phr)
    • usually, when the SC follows the IC, there is not a comma
    • the subordinating conjunction becames a relative conjunction
      • We couldn't play when it rained
    • just as SV or SVO are not separated by punctuation (because they are necessary or required of each other to make sense):
      • some clauses and phrases are requisite or necessary to complete a thought, which means they are not separated from the main clause by punctuation
      • ex. "I bought the shoes that were on sale" << "that were on sale" is necessary to the idea that "I bought" particular shoes
    • see "Relative clause" below for more on essential and non-essential sentence elements

Prepositions quick start guide[edit | edit source]

  • prepositions
    • include about, by, from, near, of, on , etc.
  • prepositions create a relationship between nouns
    • the nouns or other words that follow the preposition are called a "prepositional phrase" ("about something I once knew")
  • prepositional phrases establish a relationship with a noun or as part of a subject-verb clause:
    • ex. adding information to a subject noun: "The ideas of the professor are novel."
    • ex. adding information to a subject-verb: "The professor was educated at Yale."
  • for the SAT, only prepositions that come before the verb matter
  • the noun in prepositional phrases are NEVER the subject of a sentence
    • elimination:
      • for subject-verb matching, the preposition/ prepositional phrase is NOT the subject
        • ex. "Books about sailing are fun" and not "Books about sailing is fun"
          • "about" = a preposition, so "sailing" is not the subject and the verb is therefore matched to the plural "books"

BIG IDEAS[edit | edit source]

  • this S4Swiki entry is designed to help identify grammar, punctuation, usage and logic rules and conventions
  • in general:
    • any text that is not underlined is to be assumed as correct
      • therefore you can test grammatical rules based on it
  • use the test to answer itself
  • read punctuation "out loud" to yourself" so as not to miss it

Passage titles[edit | edit source]

  • use passage titles!
    • titles express author intent
    • titles are frequently a thesis statements (no other details are provided)
    • titles generally answer the last question on each passage (not always)

Writing section is rules-based[edit | edit source]

  • answers and eliminations follow set grammar, punctuation, and usage conventions
  • therefore, identify the rules as you practice & apply them in your elimination strategies
  • see SAT Writing section grammar rules chart for quick start review of Writing section Rules & eliminations

Difficulty level[edit | edit source]

  • difficulty level is based on the passage and not the questions
    • there can be difficult questions on easy passages, but the bulk of "hard" questions will coincide with difficult passages

Elimination[edit | edit source]

  • eliminate the "low-hanging fruit" first
    • i.e., the easy or most obvious eliminations
  • always eliminate for errors, don't select for correctness

Grammar, logic & punctuation[edit | edit source]

  • build grammar literacy as you practice
  • speak punctuation as you read so as not to miss
  • every sentence contains a SUBJECT and a VERB (and usually an OBJECT)
    • identify the CORE of the sentence (the "main clause")
      • then identify the sentence core then you will see how the rest of the sentence is built out from there
  • editing or sentence placement questions follow simple logic, either:
    • chronology
      • what has to happen first or after
    • presentation of ideas
      • what information belongs to a logical argument
      • i.e., "if this then that" or statements necessary for an argument

Identify sentence core[edit | edit source]

  • every sentence starts with a subject and a verb (SV) and usually an object (thus, "SVO")
  • identify the core of a sentence
    • then see how the sentence builds out from there
    • ex:
      • Jamal plays chess. (subject + verb)
      • On Tuesdays, Jamal plays chess. (adds prepositional phrase for when)
      • On Tuesdays, Jamal plays chess at the library with his friends. (adds prepositional phrases for where and with whom)
      • On Tuesdays, Jamal plays chess at the library with his friends since he can't make it there on Thursdays. (adds subordinating conjunction since which creates the subordinate (or dependent) clause to express why)
  • finding the core SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT helps to identify other sentences parts and to avoid confusing or mismatching subject-verb agreement and other mistakes

Parallelism[edit | edit source]

  • the SAT Writing test frequently measures "parallelism"
    • or maintaining "parallel" verb tense, subject-verb agreement, prepositions, and comparatives

parallel verb tense[edit | edit source]

    • if one verb is in the past, then (usually) the other verbs in the sentence must also maintain "parallel" tense, i.e. also be in the past tense
  • ex.
    • “He went to the store, bought food, and returned home.
      • each verb, "went," "bought," and "returned" and in the same (past) tense

click EXPAND for an example from CB Writing practice test 10, question 9:

Children were entertained by its plot about the antics of a mischievous cat and [9] [is] captivated by its eye-catching illustrations and memorable rhythms and rhymes. 

B) was
C) has been
D) DELETE the underlined portion
  • the correct answer B) was matches or is "parallel" to the verb "were" from "Children were entertained"

subject-verb agreement[edit | edit source]

  • subjects and verbs match singular vs. plural forms
    • = a form of "parallel" structure (i.e, matching singular or plural subjects and verbs)
  • the SAT Writing measures student ability to recognize the conjugations of verbs and match them to the correct subject
    • note that this
    • ex.:
      • "People who live on an island know how to swim" v.
      • "My friend who lives on an island knows how to swim"
        • "people" = plural, thus "people live" and "people know"
        • "friend" = singular, thus "friend lives" and "friend knows"

click EXPAND for conjugation of "to live" and "to know"

I live know
You live know
He/She/It lives knows & singular nouns
We live know
They live know & plural nouns

parallel comparatives[edit | edit source]

  • when making a comparison, we must compare similar, or parallel, things
    • thus the grammar of comparisons must also be parallel
    • the SAT Writing measures student ability to maintain parallel comparisons
  • ex.:
    • "The students who studied hard performed better on the test than those who didn't study"
      • maintains the parallel" "students who studied hard" with "those [students] who didn't study"
  • or
    • "Looking at the results, it is clear that the students who did study hard performed better on the test than did students who did not study hard."
      • maintains the parallel "students who did study hard" with "the students who did not study hard"

click EXPAND for an example from [ CB Writing practice test 10:

She found that students who were required to volunteer rushed to complete their service hours in early high [19] school; they then did significantly less regular volunteer work in the twelfth grade [20] [than the service hours of those] not required to volunteer.

A) than the service hours of those [NO CHANGE]
B) than did students who were
C) than hours worked by students
D) compared with students
  • B) "than did students who were not required" parallels to "students who did study hard"
    • note that question 19 correct answer "D) sets up correct reading of question no. 20

parallel prepositions[edit | edit source]

  • if the object of a prepositional phrase modifies two nouns, it may require two separate, or parallel, prepositions:
  • example:
    • The couple wants love and respect for their marriage"
      • if we remove "and love" we see that the sentence does not make sense:
      • "The couple wants love for their marriage"
    • se we can fix it to read:
      • "The couple wants love in and respect for their marriage"

Practice[edit | edit source]

What effective SAT prep practice looks like

Reading v. skimming[edit | edit source]

  • "hard" reading is not necessary for Writing section success
  • however, pure skimming is not recommended
  • read for context but not necessarily for every detail

Synonymous answers[edit | edit source]

  • if two answers are synonymous, or essentially the same, then:
    • eliminate because they can't both be right, so they are both wrong
  • this elimination strategy is especially useful for punctuation and transition word questions

click EXPAND for examples of eliminating synonymous possible answers in CB practice tests

CB Writing practice test 9, question 14:

In 2013 Tallinn, Estonia, instituted fare-free rides for city residents (becoming the largest city in the world to do so), but car use in Tallinn has only slightly [14] [declined; as] a 2014 study by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden found that car traffic in Tallinn was down less than 3 percent since it was enacted.

A) declined; as [NO CHANGE]
B) declined:
C) declined,
D) declined. As
  • note that A) declined; as and D) declined. As do the same thing: a period and a semicolon both create a hard pause between independent clauses.
    • since both do the same thing and only one answer can be correct, then both are wrong
  • the correct answer is B) because it creates an appropriate setup of the following information:
    • answer C) is incorrect because it creates a comma splice; however, it would be correct if it were written "declined, as", but that is not one of the possible answers.

CB Writing practice test 9, question 29:

The photo is then immersed in water and warmed. [29][In conclusion,] it is coated with lavender oil to give it (a protective finish).
A) In conclusion, [NO CHANGE]
B) Finally,
C) Thus,
D) Nevertheless,
  • note that A) In conclusion and B) Finally are synonymous, since both can't be right, they ar eboth wrong.
  • the correct answer is B) Finally as it expresses a correct chronology

Timed test[edit | edit source]

  • all SAT sections are timed
    • keep time awareness per passage
    • practice for accuracy first (regardless of time), then build efficiency (accuracy + speed)

General strategies & approaches[edit | edit source]

  • unlike on the Reading section, for the Writing section students are advised to review possible answers before reading the text
  • speak punctuation to yourself while you read
  • click EXPAND for an example
      • when reading a sentence such as "John Stevens, a prominent researcher, said, "Look at me!"
      • read it as, "John Stevens, ["comma"] a prominent researcher, ["comma"] said, ["comma"] "["quotation mark"] Look at me!["exclamation point"]"["close quotation mark"]
      • this help you to identify important punctuation in sentences that you may otherwise miss

Test & booklet formatting[edit | edit source]

  • you will note that the Writing test will use page space in order to separate sentences or paragraphs across pages
  • you will have to flip pages back/forth to make sense across paragraphs and sentences
  • frequently, the SAT test will add graphs which will separate sentences and paragraphs by an additional page
    • or questions regarding the graph will be on a different page
  • the Writing section lists most possible answer A's in the text itself and are marked "No Change"
    • students can be fooled by the inline placement
    • so it is advised to ignore the possible answer while reading the text and consider it equally as you would the other possible answers
  • possible answers are only as underlined, so be careful to identify if punctuation is included or not in the underlined section

Using titles[edit | edit source]

  • Writing section passages do not have introductions
    • therefore, passage titles are the only direct statement of author purpose or thesis
  • titles will help answer questions, especially:
      • add or delete questions ("focus" questions)
        • is the insertion or deletion consistent w/ the title?
      • final paragraph questions
        • last sentences of a passage generally summarize the main point, which is usually also expressed in the passage title

click EXPAND for example of using the title to answer question 2 from CB practice test 10:

  • Passage title: "How a Cat in a Hat Changed Children’s Education"
  • Test 10, question 2:
The writer wants to include a quotation by Hersey that supports the topic of the passage. Which choice best accomplishes this goal?
A) (NO CHANGE) interesting, since “an individual’s sense of wholeness... follows, and cannot precede, a sense of accomplishment.”
B) interesting, since “learning starts with failure; the first failure is the beginning of education.”
C) interesting because “journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it.”
D) interesting with “drawings like those of the wonderfully imaginative geniuses among children’s illustrators.”
  • elimination using the title, "How a Cat in a Hat Changed Children’s Education"
    • note: this assumes the student knows that the "Cat in a Hat" is an illustration book designed to teach reading (fairly common knowledge for English speakers)
  • x A) a sense of wholeness and accomplishment unrelated to the title << so eliminate
  • x B) failure has nothing to do with illustration books and reading<< so eliminate
  • x C) nothing about journalism in the title << so eliminate
  • y D) drawings and children's illustration assumed in the title << correct

click EXPAND for example of using the title to answer question 11 from CB practice test 10:

  • Passage title: "How a Cat in a Hat Changed Children’s Education"
  • Test 10, question 11 -- the final question of the passage regarding the last sentence (thus a concluding sentence):
Full sentence: "But perhaps the best proof of The Cat in the Hat’s success is not its influence on other books but its __"
Question: The writer wants a conclusion that restates the main themes of the passage. Which choice best accomplishes this goal?
A) (NO CHANGE) limited vocabulary and appealing word choices.
B) impressive worldwide sales that continue to remain high to this day.
C) enduring ability to delight children and engage them in learning how to read.
D) important role in the history of illustration in the twentieth century
  • elimination using the title, "How a Cat in a Hat Changed Children’s Education"
  • x A) title is not about word choices (or limiting vocabulary) << so eliminate
  • x B) title is not about the book's sales, it's about changing children's education << so eliminate
  • y C) we can infer that the title is about learning to read << correct
  • x D) title is about children's education not history of illustration << so eliminate

Elimination strategies[edit | edit source]

  • where possible, re-write A) NO CHANGE with the actual word or phrase
  • look at possible wrong answers and identify:
    • how they are similar
    • how they are different
    • pair similar possible answers
      • you will notice how possible answers tend to operate in pairs
  • go for the low-hanging fruit first:
    • = eliminate the easy or obvious wrong answers first
  • now read the relevant sentence/s or phrase/s from the passage
    • speak the punctuation so that you don't miss anything
  • apply your grammar, usage, and logic rules

Identify & apply rules[edit | edit source]

  • every question measures some skill, rule or logic
    • by identifying the rule, students may eliminate more accurately
  • rules for punctuation
  • click EXPAND on elimination by punctuation rules
  • get the low-hanging fruit first:
    • identify a punctuation rule you know and eliminate the wrong possible answers
  • ex., Practice Test 1, Writing Q3
If it is improperly introduced into the environment, acid-whey [runoff can pollute waterways,] depleting the oxygen content of streams and rivers as it decomposes.
A) NO CHANGE << can pollute waterways, 
B) can pollute waterway's,
C) could have polluted waterways,
D) has polluted waterway’s,
  • the easy elimination ("the low hanging fruit")
    • A and C do not have the apostrophe indicating the possessive form
    • B & D both have the apostrophe indicating the possessive form
  • apply the possessive noun rules:
    • nouns can only possess other nouns
      • i.e., if possessor noun cannot be followed by a verb (as in "waterways' depleting" = incorrect)
    • no punctuation comes in between a possessor noun and the possessed noun (as in "waterways', depleting" = incorrect)
    • only an adjective can separate a possessor noun from the possessed noun
      • ex. "the dog's tasty bone" ("tasty" is an adjective that describes the bone)
  • therefore B & D must be wrong because the possessive noun "waterway's" is followed by a comma ("waterway's,") and a verb "depleting"
  • rules for usage
  • rules for logic & chronology

Common errors[edit | edit source]

punctuation & combining clauses & phrases[edit | edit source]

  • comma splice
  • run-on sentence

adverbs used to combine independent clauses[edit | edit source]

  • adverbs and other transition words are not coordinating conjunctions that combine independent clauses
  • especially "however," which cannot combine independent clauses

grammatical usage[edit | edit source]

  • misplaced or dangling modifier

logical usage[edit | edit source]

emphasis shift[edit | edit source]

object preposition mistaken for subject[edit | edit source]

subject-verb mistakes[edit | edit source]

  • verb tense switch in same sentence
  • subject-verb conjugation mismatch
    • regards third person singular or plural mismatches

parallelism mistakes[edit | edit source]

  • comparison mismatch
  • lists mismatch or inconsistency
    • >> to complete

Parts of speech & rules[edit | edit source]

  • identifying parts of speech will yield higher scores
  • the Parts of Speech are generally considered:
    • 1. adjective 2. adverb; 3. article; 4. conjunction; 5. determiner; 6. interjection; 7 noun; 8 preposition; 9. pronoun; 10. verb
    • see this article for more details on Parts of speech (which includes "particle" as an additional part of speech, thus there are 11 parts of speech)
  • below sections will expand on word parts of speech and their associated rules and applications to the SAT Writing test

Adjective[edit | edit source]

  • = modify nouns
  • for the SAT Writing, pay attention to adjectives in order to:
    • to identify context of vocabulary word questions
    • identify punctuation mistakes
  • adjectives are always singular, even with plural noun/s
      • ex. "happy dogs" or "red shoes" (as opposed to "happys dogs" or "reds shoes")
  • adjectives and punctuation
    • adjectives are not separated from the noun they modify by punctuation
      • ex.: "happy dog" or "red shoe"
    • including use of multiple adjectives that modify a single noun
      • ex.: "happy playful dog" or "old red shoe"

click expand for an example of elimination using punctuation following from CB Writing practice test 8, question 13

Buildings are [13] [draped with festive, red,
banners,] and garlands. 

A) draped with festive, red, banners, [NO CHANGE]
B) draped, with festive red banners,
C) draped with festive red banners—
D) draped with festive red banners

eliminate A) bc the adjectives "festive" and "red" cannot be separated from the noun they modify, "banners" click EXPAND for additional eliminations and the correct answer:

  • x A) draped with festive, red, banners, [NO CHANGE]
    • eliminate as per above because of comma between the adjectives "festive," "red" and the noun they modify "banners"
  • x B) draped, with festive red banners,
    • eliminate because "with" creates a "requisite," "restrictive," or "necessary" phrase, which means that it cannot be separated from the clause by a comma ("draped with...")
  • x C) draped with festive red banners—
    • eliminate because it incorrectly separates the object "garlands" from the verb "are" and subsequent list of parallel objects (festive red banners)
  • y D) draped with festive red banners
    • creates a correct list of objects for the SV clause "Buildings are"

dangling and misplaced modifiers[edit | edit source]

Adverb[edit | edit source]

  • adverbs usually end with -ly and act to qualify or further describe a verb (“She ran quickly”)
  • other adverbs include, very, much, more, many
  • for the SAT Writing, note that however is an adverb and not a coordinating conjunction ("fanboys")
  • see

Noun[edit | edit source]

  • nouns = people, places things, act as subjects or objects
    • proper nouns are capitalized

noun phrase[edit | edit source]

  • any phrase (sentence part that does not have a subject-verb) that consists of nouns, including:
    • appositive noun phrase
    • attributive noun or "noun adjunct"

apposite noun, attributive noun, or noun adjunct (noun as adjective)[edit | edit source]

  • a noun that acts as an adjective to describe another noun next to it
    • = "attributive" "apposite" or "noun adjunct"
      • "attributive noun" bc it adds an "attribute" to another noun:
        • "dog food" for "food that is for dogs"
      • "apposite" = "in relation to"
        • thus "apposite noun" = the noun in relation to the other next to it ("brick building")
      • "adjunct" = "supplementary", as in supports or adds to another noun ("internet security")
  • attributive nouns can be accompanied by modifier, such as "yummy dog food"

appositive: nouns as parenthetical or introductory phrases[edit | edit source]

  • "appositive" is from Latin for "to put near"
  • = nouns that explain another noun (or pronouns)
  • = nouns that add to or qualify another noun
  • appositives used parenthetically:
    • "Steve, my little brother, hates Minecraft."
      • "my little brother" = appositive, as it identifies, in a parenthetical form, who Steve is
    • note the commas:
      • commas set aside appositives / appositive phrases when the information is parenthetical, i.e.
    • the appositive is not necessary for the sentence to make sense
    • so, like an adjective, it acts as additional information only
    • SAT Writing will typically use appositives regarding the profession or title of a person
      • and will exclude one of or delete the necessary commas in wrong answers:

Click EXPAND to see example from CB practice test 1, question 15:

But Jason [15] [Box, an associate professor of geology at Ohio State] believes that another factor added to the early thaw; the “dark snow” problem.

A) Box, an associate professor of geology at Ohio State [NO CHANGE] 
B) Box an associate professor of geology at Ohio State,
C) Box, an associate professor of geology at Ohio State,
D) Box, an associate professor of geology, at Ohio State
  • the correct answer C) places the commas around the appositive phrase, "Box, an associate professor of geology at Ohio State," thus correctly adding that non-essential, parenthetical information, separated by commas
    • note that "Jason Box" is the subject of the verb "believes"
  • appositives without commas
    • = "essential appositive"
    • commas are not used when the appositive is necessary for the sentence to make sense
    • ex.: "My little brother Steve hates Minecraft"
      • the subject is "Steve"
      • "my little brother" is the appositive, i.e., it describes who Steve is, only directly, not parenthetically
  • appositives as introductory phrases:
    • "A little brat, my brother Steve hates Minecraft"
    • "An expert gamer, my other brother John loves Minecraft"
      • these phrases are not essential for the sentence to make sense
  • See:

consecutive nouns[edit | edit source]

  • nouns that are next to one another in a sentence can be doing one of several things:
    1. making a list, if separated by commas
      • ex. "Tom, Joe & Buck went hunting, fishing, and hiking."
        • the nouns are multiple subjects and objects separated by commas
    2. indicating possession if the first noun has an apostrophe and there is no punctuation separating them
      • ex. "the dog's food"
    3. acting as distinct Indirect and Direct Objects, if not separated by punctuation
      • ex. "The owner gave the dogs food"
        • dogs = Indirect Object (it is the recipient of the action but not the "direct" result of the action itself)
        • food = Direct Object (it is the direct result of the action)
          • i.e. the owner gave "food" (DO) to the dogs (IO)
  • # the first noun acting as an adjective, if not separated by punctuation and if the 1st noun is singular
      • ex. "dog food"
        • dog = a noun that describes, as an adjective, what kind of food it is

noun modifying another noun (attributive noun)[edit | edit source]

  • one of consecutive nouns may be acting as an adjective, i.e, adjective (noun) + noun
  • such nouns are called "attributive" nouns
    • also called "apposite" (related to) or "adjunct" (supporting of) nouns
  • attributive nouns modify or qualify another noun
    • modify = change or add to the meaning of
    • qualify = limit the meaning of
    • attributive = provides an "attribute" or characteristic or quality to the other noun
  • ex.: "dog food"
    • i.e.: "dog food" = "a type of food that is for dogs"
    • "dog" thereby indicates a type or characteristic of "food"
  • example of multiple objects + a attributive nouns:
    • "The pitcher threw the batter a hardball pitch"
    • S: pitcher V: threw IO: catcher ADJ: hardball (appositive noun) DO: pitch
      • could also be expressed as: "the pitcher threw a (hardball) pitch to the catcher"
        • "hardball" = a noun, but here it is describing the direct object "pitch"
        • thus "hardball" is acting like an adjective
  • the attributive noun is (almost) always singular
    • = because it is acting like an adjective, which always remains in the singular form ("red shoes" as opposed to "reds shoes")
    • = as a category or type, the noun must remain singular
    • exception for plural attributive nouns = special words such as "arms race" or "rewards card"
    • possessive attributive noun:
      • ex.: "the National's game"
      • these are often morphed into plural attributive, thus "National's game" becomes "Nationals game", "reward's card" becomes "rewards card", or "lady's night" becomes "ladies night"
    • multiple attributives
      • ex.: "beef dog food" or "
      • news headlines often use multiple attributives, such as "South Park man Kenneth "Kenny" McCormick dies again"
  • strict grammatical terms does now apply the "attributive" label for "adjective homograph" nouns (such as "iron" or "paper") or "compounds" or "open compounds"
  • see also additional entry on
  • SAT Writing test questions on attributive nouns:
    • they may also appear in the passages
    • and they can help the student to isolate word parts and understand what is going on in a sentence, especially to eliminate possessive noun forms

click EXPAND for an example of how identifying attributive noun can help answer [CB Writing practice test 10, question 14]:

By requiring students to do community service in order to graduate, school [14] [officials’ are taking away students’] choice to give up their time for nonprofit activities, making volunteerism less meaningful and pleasurable.

A) officials’ are taking away students’ [NO CHANGE]
B) officials are taking away students
C) officials are taking away student’s
D) officials are taking away students'
  • elimination:
    • x A) the noun "official's" incorrectly possesses the verb "are" (see possessive nouns for more)
    • x B) "students choice" = an incorrect plural form of the attributive noun "student" (student choice = the kind of choice for students)
  • we now have the distinction between C) student's (singular possessive) D) students' (plural possessive)
    • thus we match the correct D) students' to "By requiring students" from the sentence
  • note that when two nouns are next to one another without apostrophes (possessive forms), it is not necessarily an attributive noun
    • it could also be two nouns juxtaposed as direct and indirect objects

click EXPAND for an example of how two nouns next to one as direct and indirect objects not possessive or attributive nouns [CB Writing practice test 10, question 36]:

Tuition-reimbursement programs signal that employers offer their [36] [workers' opportunities] for personal and professional development. 

A) workers' opportunities [NO CHANGE] B) workers opportunities' C) workers opportunities D) workers' opportunity's

  • elimination:
    • x B) workers opportunities' << "opportunity's" cannot possess the next word, "for" (a preposition); nouns can only possess nouns, so eliminate
    • x D) workers' opportunity's << same as B)
  • we now have either "worker's opportunities" or "workers opportunities"
    • in context, do the "workers" possess "opportunities"
      • reading the sentence, we see that the core SV of the sentence is: "programs offer"
      • the verb "offer" requires an object: what does it offer? = "opportunities" = the direct object of the verb "offer"
      • then we see that "programs offer opportunities" to whom? = "workers" = the indirect object of "offer"
      • therefore we eliminate A) because "workers" do not possess "opportunities", they are being "offered them," so C)

Verb[edit | edit source]

  • verbs are the center of a sentence and express action
  • but verbs can also act as descriptors, or modifiers, to add information to a sentence
    • ex.: "On my way to to the store, I saw my friend" v. "Going to the store, I saw my friend"
      • both express the same idea using different grammatical forms

multiple verbs[edit | edit source]

  • one or more verbs an act upon one subject
  • if so, they must maintain “parallel” tense (past, present or future)
  • ex.:
    • “He went to the store, bought food, and returned home.”

subject-verb agreement[edit | edit source]

  • for SAT Writing, maintain subject-verb agreement
    • i.e. singular subject = singular verb form
  • identify the correct noun as subject, as test will try to confuse subject nouns from relative nouns

transitive v. intransitive verbs[edit | edit source]

  • transitive verbs require an object:
    • ex. “She offers” must be followed by an object (“she offers help”
  • transitive verbs often include an indirect object:
    • ex. “She offers help” may include an indirect object (“she offers them help
  • intransitive verbs require a preposition or adverb:
    • ex. w/ preposition: “She arrived” requires a preposition: “She arrived at the house” (note how “She arrived house” is incorrect, thus requiring a preposition)
    • ex. w/ adverb: “She arrived at the house late” (late = adverb bc it modifies the verb “arrive” – how did she arrive? she arrived late.)

infinitives[edit | edit source]

  • = the "to" form of a verb
    • in Romance languages, would be the unconjugated root verb ("jugar" means "to play"; "yo juego" means "I play")
  • infinitives are NOT the action verb a sentence
  • instead, infinitives are used to express or describe the state or purpose of something or to give an opinion about it
    • infinitives answer who, what, or why
    • when assessing infinitives, as yourself what the verb is doing and how does the infinitive relate to it or the other words
      • i.e., "I studied hard in order to pass the test."
    • i.e, infinitives act like adjectives, adverbs or nouns
  • as adjectives, infinitives describe a noun
    • ex. "I wanted her tears to disappear"
      • "tears" = direct object; "to disappear" modifies not the verb "want" but the noun "tears," so "to disappear" is acting as an adjective
  • as adverbs, infinitives describe a verb
    • "One must study to learn" (or could be, ""To learn, one must study")
      • "to learn" is an adverb modifying the verb "study"
  • as nouns, infinitives act as a thing or condition
    • as nouns, infinitives can be either the subject or object of a clause or phrase
    • ex. "To err is human; to forgive is divine"
      • the subject of these clauses are both infinitives, the verbs are "is", and the objects/subject complements are the noun "human" and the adjective "divine"
    • ex. "I want to do something"
      • here the infinitive "to do" is the direct object and "something" is the indirect object
        • i.e., what do I want? "to do"; what do I want to do? "something"
    • ex. "My dog loves to chase his ball."
      • what does my dog love? "to chase" (direct object); what does he love chasing? "his ball" (indirect object)
  • sources:

Pronoun[edit | edit source]

  • "pro" = "for"
  • "noun" = "word"
    • therefore, pronoun = "for the word"

pronoun reference/ antecedent[edit | edit source]

  • pronouns are a reference to a previously (or sometimes later) stated noun or idea
    • pronoun antecedent (when the noun comes before the pronoun) to a previously stated noun:
      • "The sky is entirely blue. It's a pretty color."
    • pronoun antecedent to a previously stated idea:
      • "The sky is entirely blue. It makes me happy."
    • pronoun precedent (pronoun comes before the noun) to a subsequently stated noun (uncommon):
      • "It went well, but the test was still hard."

pronoun functions in Writing section questions[edit | edit source]

  • in the Writing section, pronouns mark important distinctions for:
    • subject-verb matching
    • object matching/ identification
    • dependent clauses
      • especially subordinate clauses ("..., which are ....") and relative clauses ("... that are...")

"any" and other pronouns with multiple parts of speech (not always a pronoun)[edit | edit source]

  • pronouns can also be determiners, subordinating conjunctions or relative pronouns that act distinctly
    • "that" can be:
      • "That is the question!" << "that" = pronoun/ subject of the sentence
      • "That point is irrelevant" << "that"= adjective / determiner (specifies "point")
      • "The point that is irrelevant is not the question" << "that" = relative pronoun/subject of the relative clause ("that is irrelevant")
    • "any" can be:
      • "Any difficulty is to be ignored." << "any" = determiner / adjective
        • note that the subject is "difficulty" and not "any"
      • "Any of you guys want candy?" << "any" = pronoun / subject
        • "of you guys" = prepositional phrase, which is never the subject of a sentence
        • "any" can act as a singular or plural pronoun
          • "Any is better than none"
          • "Any of them are crazy"

click EXPAND for example of "any" as a determiner and not a subject pronoun on CB practice test 9, question 35:

Any New York City construction project using municipal funds [35] ____  required to consider whether historical artifacts will be affected during construction... 

A) are
B) have been
C) is
D) were

  • the subject of the clause is "project" and not "any" or "funds"
    • therefore, the subject-verb agreement is "project is" (third person singular conjugation "is")
  • A) are is designed to fool the student into match "any" or "funds" as plural (conjugating as "are")
    • here, "any" is a determiner/adjective that modifies "project"
      • thus, "any", "New York City," and "construction" are all adjective modifiers
        • any = determiner(adjective) that describes "project"
        • New York City = attributive noun that describes "project"
        • construction = attributive that describes "project"
    • here, "funds" is an object of the present participle adjective "using" (verb acting like an adjective)
      • thus, "using" and "funds" are a modifying phrase to describe "project"

personal v. relative pronoun[edit | edit source]

  • personal pronoun
    • = I, me, you, he/she/it, him/her, we/us, they/them
    • personal pronouns act as a subject or object of a sentence or preposition:
      • subjective case: I, you, he/she/it, we, they
      • objective case: me, you, him/her/it, us, them
        • note that the noun in a preposition is an object, so it uses the objective case
          • ex. "the girl next to me", "the desk between you and me"
  • relative pronoun
    • = a pronoun that creates a conjunction between an independent and a dependent or relative clause
    • include: that, when, where, which, who, whom, whose
      • "who" relative pronouns have subjective, objective and possessive cases
        • subjective: who
        • objective whom
        • possessive: whose

personal and relative pronouns and prepositional phrases[edit | edit source]

  • ex., "of which", "of whom" v. "of them"
    • the preposition "of" creates a relationship
    • the personal pronoun "them" is the object of a preposition:
      • The players took off their jerseys, and only two of them were dirty
      • Most of the jerseys used by the players were clean, but two of them were dirty
        • "two" = the subject
        • "of them" = prepositional phrase, with "them" the object of the preposition
          • "them" refers to "jerseys"
    • the relative pronouns, "that", which" or "who" create a relative clause and acts as the subject of that clause:
      • "The players took off their jerseys, which were almost all perfectly clean"
        • "which" = the subject of the relative clause
        • "which" refers to "jerseys"
      • "The game was one by five players, of whom we are most proud
        • "we" = subject of the relative clause
        • "of whom" = prepositional phrase (adverbial as it modifies "are")
        • "whom" refers to "the players"

Punctuation[edit | edit source]

  • the purpose of punctuation is to mimic on paper verbal, or spoken, language
    • ex., periods and commas mark spoken pauses between sentences and sentence parts
      • however, for written language, punctuation provides additional guidance to a reader that does not exist in spoken language
      • ex., semicolons are not differentiated from other forms of pause in spoken language

Period[edit | edit source]

  • periods mark a full stop between complete sentences
    • see Independent clause (IC) below for what constitutes a complete sentence
  • eliminate periods in possible answers when there is not an IC on both sides of the period.
  • the SAT will not ask to distinguish between use of other punctuation that separates independent clauses
    • such as semicolons and commas (+ conjunction)
      • periods separate complete sentences from each other as distinct thoughts
        • i.e., IC << . >> IC
      • semicolons juxtapose sentences for comparison
        • i.e., IC >> ; << IC
      • commas + conjunction combine sentences and ideas into a single thought, with each IC weighed equally
        • i.e., IC <=> , + <=> IC

Semicolon[edit | edit source]

  • semicolons juxtapose complete sentences (ICs) for comparison or emphasis or their relationship
  • eliminate semicolons if there are not ICs on both sides of the semicolon

comma[edit | edit source]

  • commas create a pause
  • commas have multiple uses, including:
    • separate lists (of subjects, verbs or objects)
    • combine IC + DC or DC + IC
    • with a conjunction, to combine IC's
      • i.e. "IC, and IC"
    • act parenthetically (two commas)
  • eliminate according to the rules

Apostrophe[edit | edit source]

  • apostrophes indicate either
    • possession ("the dog's toy")
    • or a contraction ("it's" = "it is")

Apostrophe for possession[edit | edit source]

  • only nouns can possess nouns
    • that is, possessive nouns must be followed by a noun
      • ex. "the dog's bone" ("dog" and "bone" are nouns)
      • with the exception that an adjective may modify the possessed noun
        • as in, "the dog's tasty bone" << "tasty" correctly modifies "bone"
      • otherwise, possessive nouns cannot be followed by punctuation, verbs, adverbs, preposition, etc.
As the carbon dioxide level in Earth’s atmosphere rises, the [10] [worlds’ ocean’s] absorb more carbon dioxide

click EXPAND for an example from CB Practice test no. 9 Writing section no., question no. 10:

A) worlds’ ocean’s [NO CHANGE]
B) world’s oceans’
C) world’s oceans
D) worlds oceans


x A) worlds’ ocean’s [NO CHANGE] << eliminate because "ocean's" absorb" = the singular noun "ocean" cannot possess the verb "absorb"; also a possessive noun cannot possess another possessive noun; also 
x B) world’s oceans’ << eliminate because "oceans'" absorb" = the plural noun "oceans" cannot possess the verb "absorb"
y C) world’s oceans << the possessive noun "world" correctly possesses the plural noun "oceans"
x D) worlds oceans
<< eliminate because the plural noun "worlds" cannot modify the plural noun "oceans" (see "attributive noun" in section above on nouns for rules on how a singular (and not plural) noun can modify another noun)

click EXPAND for more on apostrophe for possession:

  • 's
    = the suffix for a singular noun to indicate possession
    • ex. "the dog's toy" = one dog possesses (has) a toy
  • s'
    = the suffix for a plural noun
  • exceptions occur when a noun ends with an "s", as that creates confusion between the singular "'s" and plural "s'" possessive indicator
    • normally, nouns that end with an "s" are pluralized by added "es" to the end, such as
      • walrus (singular)
      • walruses (plural
    • possessive forms are:
      • "the walrus' tusk" (singular)
      • "the walruses tusk (plural)
  • note
    • if there are two possessor nouns both possessing the same thing, only the 2nd will use the apostrophe
      • i.e., "Ted and Javon's team won the game"
    • if there are two possessor nouns possessing different things (such as "their own"), both possessor nouns will use the apostrophe
      • i.e., "Ted and Javon's teams both won the game"

Possessive pronoun[edit | edit source]

  • my, your, his, her, its, our, your (plural), their
  • note that many other languages have the possessive pronoun
    • however, they lack the apostrophe indicator for nouns, thus instead of using the apostrophe to indicate possession ("the dog's toy") they structure the idea as "of" or "belonging to", as in, "the toy of the dog" or the toy that belongs to the dog"

apostrophes for contraction[edit | edit source]

  • contractions are used for "to be" words to join the subject and the verb via the apostrophe, as in:
    • "I am" contracted to "I'm" or "we are" = "we're"
    • "it is" = "it's" or "they are" = "they're"
  • informal use of the contraction occurs with any noun, as in:
    • "the dog is happy" contracted to "the dog's happy"
      • such use is informal and is mimicking the slurring of a noun with "is"
      • note that since the 's causes confusion with the possessive form of the apostrophe, in written English, the subject-verb contraction is avoided
    • the SAT will not test this use of a contraction

Clause[edit | edit source]


  • = a part of a sentence that has a subject and a verb
    • and may or may not be a complete sentence or thought

What a clause is and is not[edit | edit source]

  • a clause is part of a sentence
    • a sentence is a grammatically correct and complete thought
      • i.e., it contains a subject and a verb and completes a thought
        • ex. "I go." = a sentence bc it contains and subject and verb and completes a thought
        • whereas, "I send" contains a subject and verb but is not a complete thought
          • "send" is a transitive verb that requires an object, as in "I send a letter"
      • a sentence may contain one or more clauses
    • phrase = a part of a sentence that has two or more words but does not have both a subject and a verb
      • if a sentence part contains a subject and a verb, it is a clause
  • note: Santa is not a clause
Description Grammatical unit Is a clause Is not a clause
a grammatically complete thought Sentence X
a grammatically complete though

that is part of a larger sentence

independent clause Y
a part of a sentence that contains

a subject & a verb but is not a complete thought

dependent clause Y
a part of a sentence that contains two

or more words but does not have both a subject & verb

phrase X

main or dominant clause[edit | edit source]

  • main or dominant clause = an IC (independent clause)
  • the "main" clause is the clause the creates the "main idea" of the sentence
    • = that part of the sentence that makes the complete and most important, or "dominant" thought of the phrase
      • i.e., the main clause or part of the sentence that states its primary purpose or idea
    • everything else is additional information
  • for the SAT test, the "dominant /main clause" is that core idea of a sentence that is the focus of the sentence
    • SAT tests measure #Emphasis shift
    • emphasis shift measures if the correct form of the sentence "emphasizes" the core or main idea of the sentence
    • passive voice de-emphasizes the dominant clause
    • dominant /main clauses employ direct voice, i.e. SVO

independent clause[edit | edit source]

  • Independent Clause (IC)
  • = a sentence part that can stand as a complete sentence and thought
    • it is a clause because it is attached to or has another clause/s attached to it (otherwise it'd just be a sentence)
  • IC contains SUBJECT + VERB at a minimum (SV)
  • IC usually contains SUBJECT VERB OBJECT (SVO)
  • since SUBJECT VERB OBJECT form the core of a sentence there is no punctuation separating them, with the following exceptions:
  1. parenthetical information (commas, dashes and parentheses) can separate SVO from each other
    • i.e., S (parenthetical info) V (parenthetical info) O
  • click EXPAND for examples of parenthetical separation of S from V and O:
  • parentheses: S (parenthetical info) V (parenthetical info) O
  • commas: S, parenthetical info, V, parenthetical info, O
  • dashes: S -- parenthetical info -- V -- parenthetical info -- O
  • ex. "Alex, an experienced pilot, landed the plane expertly."
      • S= Alex V= landed O= plane
    • other parenthetical punctuation:
    • "Alex (an experienced pilot) landed the plane expertly."
      • "Alex -- an experienced pilot -- landed the plane expertly."
    • two commas, two dashes or two parentheses = parenthetical phrase
      • ex. Alex, and experienced pilot, landed, for the second time that day, the plane expertly.
          • this is an awkward sentence but using it here to demonstrate how commas can separate a SUBJECT VERB OBJECT if used parenthetically
      • compare this construction:
        • "Alex, an experienced pilot, landed the plane expertly." to:
        • "The experienced pilot, Alex, landed the plane expertly"
        • "The experienced pilot Alex landed the plane expertly"
      • each form creates a different emphasis
        • in this case, the parenthetical construction emphasizes that it was Alex who landed the plane and that
      • if, for example, Alex was an inexperienced pilot, we might prefer a construction that emphasizes it, so,
        • instead of, "Alex, an inexperienced pilot, landed the plane expertly."
        • we might say, "The inexperienced pilot, Alex, landed the plane expertly" or "The inexperienced pilot Alex landed the plane expertly"
  • click EXPAND for example of SVO lists:
  • S, S V O
  • S, S and S V and V O
  • S, S and S V, and V O
  • S, S and S V, V and V O and O
  • S, S and S V, V and V O, O and O
    • note that with commas that separate a subject, verb, and/or object the final word in the list must not be separated from the related S V or O
  • ex.
    • "Alex, Nia, and Joan are all experienced pilots"
    • "Alex, Nia, and Joan relied on, used, and proved their skills by landing their planes expertly"

dependent clause[edit | edit source]

  • "Dependent Clause" (DC) is a sentence part that contains a subject and a verb but does not complete a thought
  • also called "subordinate clause"
    • DC clauses are therefore attached to an IC that completes the clause as a complete sentence and/or thought
    • DC clauses add information to but are not necessary for the IC to make sense
  • Note: technically, a sentence part that does not contain both a noun and a verb is a phrase
    • yet non-IC sentence parts are commonly referred to as "dependent clauses" when they are actually "phrases" if they do not contain a subject + verb

Click EXPAND for examples of DC:

  • "Since I ate breakfast late, I'll skip lunch"
    • "Since I ate" = an incomplete thought and so not an IC
  • example of a phrase that is not a clause as it does not contain a verb:

subordinate clause[edit | edit source]

  • subordinate clause is another name for a DC
    • we usually think of a subordinate clause as one that is formed by adding a subordinating conjunction
    • however, technically there are three types of subordinate clauses:
      1. adverbial clause: defines a verb, usually in terms of time, duration, extent, or condition (if)
      2. noun clause: acts as a noun
      3. relative clause: acts as an adjective to define a noun; can be restrictive or non-restrictive (see below)
  • however, here will think of subordinate clauses as those that add additional and not required, or requisite, information to the main clause
    • in this sense, subordinate clauses are preceded by "subordinating conjunctions" (see below)

subordinating conjunction[edit | edit source]

Subordinating Conjunctions

although as as if as long as as much as as though because before by the time even even if even though


if only if when if then in case in order to just just as now now that


provided that rather than since so that supposing than though till unless


whenever were whereas where if whenever wherever whether while whose whoever why

note: that, which and who are relative pronouns that can act as subordinating conjunctions in some cases
  • subordinating conjunction "subordinates" an IC into a DC
    • i.e, (SC) renders or turns an IC into a DC
    • the reason is the the SC creates the need for additional information after the SVO
    • ex. "I love baseball" = a complete sentence and thought
    • by adding a SC to the sentence, it is no longer a complete thought:
    • ex. "Since I love baseball"
      • "Since" = SC and it "subordinates the IC "I love baseball" by creating the need for additional information in order to complete the thought:
      • "Since I love baseball, I watch it every chance I get."

relative clause[edit | edit source]

  • a type of "adjective clause"
  • = a dependent clause that contains a subject-verb, but provides additional information and is not a complete sentence of thought by itself
  • the "subject" of the clause is a pronoun (thus "relative," as pronouns relate to a noun)
  • relative clauses are introduced by a relative pronoun (see table)
relative pronouns
Pronoun For Rule
who people subject (does the action): he, she, we, they
whom people object (acted upon): him, her, us, them
whose people or things possessive form of whom: his, her, us, their
that people or things subject or object: adds required information (no punctuation)
which things subject or object: adds additional information (usually non-restrictive, ie. with a comma)
* Source:

restrictive relative clause[edit | edit source]

  • goes by various names: necessary, requisite or defining clause
    • technically, also an "adjective clause" since it describes a previously stated (antecedent) noun
  • "necessary" or "requisite" = the idea is the clause or phrase is necessary
  • "defining" = the meaning of the sentence is defined by the clause
    • or: the sentence is not a complete thought without the clause
  • restrictive clauses are not separated by punctuation
    • i.e.: since the information is necessary, there is no pause
    • ex.: "Glue that sticks to both my fingers and the paper is a pain"
      • vs. "Glue, that sticks to both my fingers and the paper, is a pain"
        • since the parenthetical phrase is "non-defining" (can be removed), that would leave us with only "Glue is a pain" which lacks the defining information as to what type of glue is a pain, the kind "that sticks to both my fingers and the paper"
      • "Dogs that are friendly are nice"
        • that are friendly is restrictive because the sentence would otherwise be "Dogs are nice"
          • by adding that are friendly, we have necessary information to make a meaningful sentence
    • non-restrictive clauses do not change the meaning of the sentence:
      • "Friendly dogs, which I like, are nice"
        • the main clause, 'Friendly dogs are nice" is meaning.
          • adding "which I like" does not change the meaning of the sentence

because: when to use a comma[edit | edit source]

  • because is a subordinating conjunction and not a relative pronoun
    • normally, a subordinate clause preceding the main clause would be separated by a comma:
      • Because it rained, we stayed inside"
    • and, normally, a subordinate clause following the main clause would not be separated by a comma:
      • We stayed inside because it rained
      • the reason is because the subordinate clause is requisite (necessary) information
    • however, there are times with the subordinate clause starting with because and following the main (independent) clause can be separated by a comma
      • if the information following the because is distinct and not directly explanatory (normally, "because" offers an explanation, making it requisite)
      • ex. We didn't play in the rain, because Mom said we might catch a cold
        • here, the speaker may wish for the subordinate clause following "because" to offer additional and not requisite information
      • other examples of because preceded by a comma:
        • Even if it's scary, don't close your eyes, because you'll miss the best part!
        • Playing tennis is fun, because it means the weather is good

non-restrictive relative clause[edit | edit source]

  • or "Non-defining relative clause"
  • or "non-essential" clause
    • = the additional information added by the clause is not necessary (or essential) for a complete sentence or thought
  • ex.: "Glue, which I hate to use, always sticks to my hands."
    • "which I hate to use" is not essential to the idea that "Glue always sticks to my hands"
  • see Restrictive relative clauses for sources

Other types of clauses[edit | edit source]

adjective clause[edit | edit source]

  • = a dependent clause that contains a subject and verb but acts as a modifier or adjective
  • see "relative clause"

adverbial clause[edit | edit source]

  • = a subordinate clause created by a subordinating conjunction and adding information to the action of a sentence:
  • adverbial clauses define or add information as to how, how much, when, where, why
  • examples:
    • I'm staying until the park closes
    • As my grades sank, my heart sank, as well

finite and non-finite clauses[edit | edit source]

  • refer to types of clauses with verbs that either show or do not show "tense" (past, present future)
    • = not an important category, but one that grammarians refer to in the context of "tense"
  • a finite clause shows tense and is usually an ICs
    • ex. "Trey sent that text yesterday"
  • non-finite clause does not show tense and is usually a DC
  • non-finite clause adds information to the main clause (IC), but without marking "tense" (past, present or future)
    • it is the IC that shows the tense:
    • ex. Working hard, Jeremiah finished his project on time last night"
  • the utility of these
  • see

noun clause[edit | edit source]

  • = a clause that functions as a thing or idea (noun)
  • = often introduced by what, when, where, wherever
  • = a clause that acts as a subject, object, subject complement or object of a preposition, ex.:
    • subject: "What I love to eat the most is steak"
      • "What I love to eat the most" = a clause that operates as the subject to the verb "is"
      • "Wherever we end up is fine with me"
    • subject complement or object: "
      • "The teacher liked what Johnny said"
      • "I taught whoever would listen"
    • preposition:
      • "She recognized him for who he really is"
      • "Saddened by what he read, he cried"

Phrase[edit | edit source]

  • = two or more words that are part of a sentence but does not contain both a subject and a verb
  • phrases are used to add information to a sentence or modify one of its parts
    • "In the afternoon..." = a prepositional phrase
  • types of phrases:

gerund phrases[edit | edit source]

  • gerunds
    • = -ing forms of verbs that act as a noun
      • "Smoking is bad for you" << "smoking" = gerund (a noun created by the present participle, "smoking")
  • gerund phrases are gerunds + additional words that create a phrase
    • usually the gerund phrase is the subject of a sentence:
      • "Getting up early makes for a productive day."
      • "getting up early" is the subject (gerund phrase + adverb "early") of the verb "makes"
  • for more on gerunds see [Parts of speech: participles and gerunds (School4Schools wiki] or [Phrases: noun phrase (School4Schools wiki]
  • SAT Writing test generally does not test for gerunds, although they will appear in the text

participial phrase[edit | edit source]

  • = verb phrases that act as an adjective
  • participle = a verb that functions as an adjective, usually in the past tense or -ing form
    • "participle" = a verb or verb phrase, but used here to describe a phrase that starts with a "participle" (verb) but that sets up a phrase to act as a noun or adjective
  • as an adjective:
    • ex.: "Songs sung softly are soothing"
      • "to sing" is a verb, but the past participle, "sung" becomes an adjective here
      • the participial phrase is "songs sung softly" which is the subject of the verb "are"
  • note: participial phrases are often the source of "dangling modifiers", which are adjectives or adjective phrases that are not clear as to what they are modifying
    • ex.: "Smiling grandly, she won the choral competition"
      • = unclear if she won the competition because she was "smiling grandly" or if she was "smiling grandly" when she won the tournament
  • for the SAT Writing test, note that the gerund or past particle adjective in participial phrases are NEVER the subject of the sentence!
    • ex.: "The extra players practicing all season as a backup have never had a chance to play"
    • Here the participial phrase "practicing all season" and the prepositional phrase, "as a backup" modify the subject "players"
      • therefore we match the plural "players" with the plural present perfect verb "have never had" (as opposed to the singular "has never had")

Click EXPAND for an example from CB Test 6, Writing question no. 7, on identifying the subject of a sentence for matching with the verb:

From College Board practice test 6, Writing question no. 21 (test page 24)

    • see CB Test 6, Writing question no. 7
The experiment confirmed their suspicions when the half of the lake containing the phosphates [7] was teeming with blue-green algae. 

A) was teeming B) were teeming C) are teeming D) teems

  • we see that the subordinate clause starting with "when" is what the question is about
    • therefore we can ignore the main clause, "The experiment confirmed their suspicions"
  • identify the preposition "of" and the prepositional phrase it creates, "of the lake"
    • nouns in prepositional phrases ARE NEVER the subject of the sentence
  • identify the participle "containing" and the participial phrase it creates, "containing the phosphates"
    • nouns in participial phrases ARE NEVER the subject of the sentence
  • therefore our subject is "the half"
    • which thereby matches to the singular, past tense A) was teeming

prepositional phrase[edit | edit source]

  • built around a preposition, which indicates time, place, or other relationship to the main clause or a noun
    • prepositions are followed by a noun (and not a verb), which forms a "prepositional phrase"
    • prepositions tell us more about the nouns, esp. the subject or object of a sentence
      • they may follow a verb, but they do not directly precede a verb, as in:
      • incorrect: "The teacher about tells" or "The odor from stinks" makes no sense
      • correct: "The teacher tells us about math" or "The odor from the garbage stinks"
  • prepositions include:
    • at, by, for, from, in, of, on, since, to (when suggesting a direction), with
    • other prepositions include, above, about, after, along, around, before, behind, below, beside, between, down, during, into, near, over, through, toward, under, until, up, upon, with, without
    • see List of Common Prepositions (
  • prepositional phrases may be separated from the main clause by a comma or not

click EXPAND for examples of prepositions and prepositional phrases with or without commas:

  • without a comma = required (or essential or restrictive) phrase in order for the sentence to make sense, usually following a verb or providing an essential idea for a noun:
    • "I went to the store"
    • "Get the ornaments from the attic"
    • "My papers in the notebook are a mess"
  • with a comma = non-required (or non-essential or non-restrictive) phrase that is not needed in order for the sentence to make sense, ex.:
    • During the blackout, I got tons of work done"
    • "After eating lunch, I'm taking a nap"
  • for SAT Writing identify prepositions in order to:
    • to distinguish the subject of a sentence from other words that might be confused with the subject in wrong possible answers
      • see example below from CB Test 6 question no. 7 in the section on participial phrases
    • to get rid of unimportant information in order to better read the sentence and answer the question

click EXPAND for an example of ignoring prepositional phrases from Practice Test 9 Writing question 5:

Seawater seeping into fissures in the ocean floor is heated by underlying magma, and the heat drives chemical reactions that remove oxygen, sulfates, [5] [and remove] other chemicals from the water.
  • we can identify the core of the sentence by ignoring the prepositions:
    • Seawater seeping into fissures in the ocean floor is heated by underlying magma, and the heat drives chemical reactions that remove oxygen, sulfates, [5] [and remove] other chemicals from the water. which leaves us with:
 Seawater is heated, and the heat drives chemical reactions that remove oxygen, sulfates, [5] [and remove] other chemicals
    • which allows us to eliminate possible answers more readily:
x A) [and remove] NO CHANGE << "oxygen, sulfates and other chemicals" are the objects (in a list) of the subject-verb "heat drives" so each object should be listed in the same form (parallel structure)
x B) it also removes << same as A)
x C) also removing << same as A) 
y D) and << creates an appropriate list of objects to the subject verb "heat drives"
  • SAT test frequently tests for subject-verb case agreement and includes a prepositional phrase that matches to a wrong answer

click EXPAND for an example from Practice Test 7 Writing question no. 19:

The most common forms of professional development provided to employees [19] [includes] coaching, mentoring, technical assistance, and workshops.
  • possible answers here test if the student can identify the subject of the sentence which may be obscured (hidden) by or confused with a prepositional phrase
A) [includes] NO CHANGE
B) include
C) including
D) has included
The most common forms of professional development provided to employees [19] [includes] coaching, mentoring, technical assistance, and workshops.
  • removing the preposition "of" clarifies the subject:
    • The most common forms of professional development provided to employees leaves us with
The most common forms [includes] coaching, mentoring, technical assistance, and workshops.
  • which clarifies the correct conjugation of the subject-verb:
    • = forms include
      • = third person plural, so "I include, you include, he/she/it includes, we include, they include"
      • thus the correct answer B) include

verb phrase[edit | edit source]

  • = an additional verb that helps to modify or clarify another verb
  • think of "verb phrases" as a combination of verbs that act as a single verb
    • verb phrases are combinations of verbs to make a single verb phrase or predicate (a verb or words that together act as a verb)
  • sometimes also called "helping verb" = verbs that "help" other verbs
    • ex.: "She could have broken the vase."
      • "could have" = "helping verbs" that define the verb "broken"
      • "helping verbs' include:
Helping verb !! example
be, am, is are, was am eating
were, been, being have, has, had have eaten
must, shall, can, will,. do, did, does, having can sing
    • note that these "helping verbs" are different from conjugations such as "had sung" or "will sing"

Sentence placement[edit | edit source]

  • paragraph and sentence order will follow either
    • logical argument, or
    • chronological sequence
  • identify transition words that would require certain information to precede or follow the sentence
  • identify prepositions / phrases for time or place sequence (“now” “after” etc.)
  • identify determiners, and place the sentence according to
    • a = the first time an idea or word/name has been mentioned
    • the = previously stated
      • ex.: “this guy” means that whoever “this guy” is was already stated, whereas “a guy” would be introducing the “guy” for the first time, which should inform sentence placement
  • identify pronouns in order to place correct sentence sequence:
    • ex: “Scientists understood that this process illuminates…” – “this process” suggests that correct sentence placement will follow an initial discussion of the process

to fix: Writing section sentence placement Clues: 1. pronouns 2. other transition words 3. details 4. don't break up logical sentences 5. chronology

Transition words[edit | edit source]

  • Suggested approach:

1. ignore the transition word in the passage and re-write it next to A) NO CHANGE

2. translate the transition words into your own words

3. identify if any two transition words are synonymous

    • if both mean the same thing (are synonymous), they can't both be right, so eliminate
    • ex., "However" and "Yet" = synonymous, so eliminate

4. identify if the transition word is generally positive or negative, i.e,

  • click EXPAND to see table
expands contrasts
explains contradicts
restates states an opposite
adds information offers alternative
gives example Says "yes... but"
draws a conclusion from
follows chronologically or creates a sequence

5. NOW read the sentences

    • don't summarize, simplify (to avoid misconstruing the meanings)

click EXPAND to see transition sentences example from CB Writing practice test 6, question 8:

"The research demonstrated a clear correlation between introducing phosphates and the growth of blue-green algae. [9] For example, legislators in Canada passed laws banning phosphates in laundry detergents, which had been entering the water supply"

    • re-read as:
      • Sentence 1: "The research demonstrated correlation between phosphates and blue-green algae."
      • Sentence 2: "[____ ] legislators passed laws banning phosphates"

6. NOW assess the relationship between the two sentences WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE POSSIBLE ANSWERS

    • Does sentence 2 support/expand, etc. (POSITIVE) or contrast/contradict, etc. (NEGATIVE) sentence 2?

7. NOW anticipate the correct answer IN YOUR OWN WORDS

  • click on EXPAND to see the anticipation
      • Sentence 2: "[____ ] legislators passed laws banning phosphates"
    • does what to:
      • Sentence 1: "The research demonstrated correlation between phosphates and blue-green algae."
expands NO contrasts NO
explains NO contradictsNO
restates NO states an oppositeNO
adds information MAYBE offers alternative DOES NOT CONTRADICT
gives example NO Says "yes... but" NO
compares NO
draws a conclusion from NO
follows chronologically or creates a sequence MAYBE

8. NOW eliminate

  • A) For example, << NO bc Sentence 2 does not give an example of Sentence 1
  • B) Similarly, << NO bc Sentence 2 does not make a comparison to Sentence 1
  • C) However, << NO bc Sentence 2 does not draw an opposite
  • D) Subsequently, << YES bc Sentence logically follows chronologically Sentence 1
    • So the answer is D)

Transitions between paragraphs[edit | edit source]

  • the Writing test frequently asks for an "effective transition" or to "add" or "delete" a topic sentence (the first sentence of a paragraph) based upon the prior paragraph
  • it is useful to think of these transitions (topic) sentences as transition words, which:
    • connect ideas
    • move the reader from one idea to the next
  • students can see look at these transition sentences the same way they do transition words (above), i.e.:
    • does it provide a positive or negative transition?
    • does it continue a thought or idea?
    • does it contrast or change the subject?
  • topic sentence =
    • connects to prior paragraph's concluding sentence
  • concluding sentence =
    • sets up the next paragraph
  • passage concluding sentence
    • = states thesis, main point, or call to action
    • for the SAT Writing section, the concluding sentence MUST relate to / repeat the passage TITLE.

click expand for an example from CB Writing practice test 8, question 10 on a transition topic sentence:

  • the prior paragraph discusses how organic compost is discarded to landfills, concluding that:
As a result, organic material that is sent to landfills
contribute to the release of methane, a very
potent greenhouse gas.
  • the next paragraph starts with:
[10] [While composting can sometimes lead to
accidental pollution through the release of methane gas,]
cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have instituted
mandatory composting laws requiring individuals and
businesses to use separate bins for compostable waste.
  • possible answers:
Which choice provides the most effective transition
from the previous paragraph?
A) While composting can sometimes lead to accidental pollution through the release of methane gas, [NO CHANGE]
B) Though government regulations vary,
C) Armed with these facts,
D) Mindful of this setback


  • x A) While...
    • while creates an incorrect transition because the idea of wasted compost in the prior paragraph is not carried on into the subsequent paragraphy
  • x B) Though...
    • while creates an incorrect transition because the prior paragraph did not mention "government regulations"
  • y C) Armed with these facts,
    • if we translate "armed with these facts" to "given these facts" or "based upon these facts" we can see the connection between the prior paragraph's presentation of "facts" about compost and other waste/ landfills, some governments have acted upon them
  • x D) Mindful of this setback
    • there is no "setback" discussed in either paragraph

Usage[edit | edit source]

  • overall, the SAT measures for concise and precise usage
    • select for direct voice
    • avoid wordiness or overly complex sentence construction
    • avoid repetition
      • ex.: “annually, the store has a sale every year”
    • avoid unnecessary breaks in clauses (using "gap commas" see [[1]]

Modifiers usage[edit | edit source]

  • modifiers = words or phrases that change the meaning of other words or phrases
  • includes adjectives and adverbs (“very”, “-ly” words)
  • modifiers do not impact the core sentences structure (i.e. can be removed)
  • correct modifiers are placed next to the word or phrases being modified
  • “dangling modifier” = ambiguous or missing connection between modifier and its target
    • ex.: “Being late, my teacher gave me an F” (confuses “being late” w/ “teacher”)
  • “misplaced modifier” = incorrectly placed modifiers
    • ex. “Steve badly ripped his shirt” (instead of “Steve ripped his shirt badly”)

Homophones[edit | edit source]

  • homophones = sound alike, different spelling & meaning
    • their v. they’re, it’s v. its
    • affect v effect
      • affect = a verb meaning "to impact, influence, alter or make a difference"
      • effect = a noun meaning "the result" of something
  • note: effect can also be a verb meaning, "to produce a result" BUT
    • for the SAT use affect as a verb, and effect' as a noun
  • homonyms = same spelling, different meaning
    • ex." dogs bark, trees have bark
    • not generally included on the SAT

Idioms & idiomatic words[edit | edit source]

  • "idiomatic" = words, phrases or expresses that have no set rule and exist from common usage
    • idiomatic is different from "informal" or colloquial (local, common) language
  • By definition idiomatic words have no set rule
  • HOWEVER, on the SAT Writing section, students can use elimination techniques to eliminate down to the correct idiomatic expression
  • see this video for demonstration of [on elimination techniques with idiomatic & vocabulary questions (by Michael Bromley)]

Click EXPAND for an example from CB Test 6, Writing question no. 21, on how to eliminate idiomatic possible answers using grammar rules:

From College Board practice test 6, Writing question no. 21 (test page 30)

Burland [21] advocated using soil extraction: removing small amounts of soil from under the tower’s north side, opposite its tilt, to enable gravity to straighten the tower.

A) advocated using B) advocated to use C) advocated the using of D) advocating to use

  • In the answer explanation, the CB tells us that B) "advocated to use" and C) "advocated the using of" are wrong because it creates incorrect idiomatic expressions.
  • However, we can eliminate them through a grammatical analysis of the possible sentences.
  • First, let's look at A) "Burland advocated using soil extraction"
Parts of speech
A) Burland advocated using soil extraction
part of speech: subject (noun) verb direct object (gerund) attributive noun (adjective) indirect object
B) Burland advocated to use soil extraction
part of speech: subject (noun) verb indirect object (infinitive) attributive noun (adjective) indirect object
C) Burland advocated the using of soil extraction
part of speech: subject (noun) verb direct object () preposition indirect object
D) Burland advocating to use soil extraction
part of speech: subject (noun) gerund or past progressive missing "was" indirect object (infinitive) attributive noun (adjective) indirect object
  • A) correctly employs the noun "using" (gerund = a verb that acts as a noun) as the direct object
  • B) incorrectly employees the noun "to use" (infinitive) as an indirect object
  • C) correctly uses noun "the using" (gerund) but incorrectly uses the preposition "of soil extraction" a modifier of "the using"
  • D) incorrectly uses the verb "advocating" without the auxiliary verb "was"; otherwise it incorrectly does not create a complete independent clause

"such as"[edit | edit source]

  • "such as" is a phrase that acts like a:
    • subordinating conjunction
      • when introducing non-restrictive (not essential) information
      • "I get tired of board games, such as chess or checkers"
      • = preceded by a comma
    • conjunction
      • when introducing restrictive (essential) information
      • "Board games such as checkers or Monopoly are boring"
      • = not separated by a comma
  • note: "such as" is never followed by a colon

Modifiers usage[edit | edit source]

  • modifiers = words or phrases that change the meaning of other words or phrases
  • includes adjectives and adverbs (“very”, “-ly” words)
  • modifiers do not impact the core sentences structure (i.e. can be removed)
  • correct modifiers are placed next to the word or phrases being modified
  • “dangling modifier” = ambiguous or missing connection between modifier and its target
    • ex.: “Being late, my teacher gave me an F” (confuses “being late” w/ “teacher”)
  • “misplaced modifier” = incorrectly placed modifiers
    • ex. “Steve badly ripped his shirt” (instead of “Steve ripped his shirt badly”)

Synonyms & synonymous sentences[edit | edit source]

  • use for elimination:
    • if two words, phrases, or sentences are synonymous they both can't be correct, so eliminate
  • see "Transition" words for elimination via synonymous transition words
    • if both do the same thing, they are both wrong
  • sentences, clauses or phrases can also mark synonymous usage, thus are useful for elimination:

click EXPAND for an example of using this elimination from CB Writing practice test 8, question 35:

A group of engineering students from the University 
of California at San Diego (UCSD), for example, [35] [tried 
to find a method to make their biofuel combustion study]
(fuels derived from once-living material) free of the 
drawbacks researchers face on Earth

A) tried to find a method to make their biofuel combustion study [NO CHANGE]
B) strove for a method to make their study of biofuel combustion
C) looked for a method to study biofuel combustion 
D) sought a method to study combustion of biofuels
  • each possible answer is grammatically correct
  • each possible answers says the same thing:
    • "tried to find" = "strove for" = "looked for" = "sought"
    • although A) and B) use "to make" which may be awkward or less academic, so eliminate
  • which leaves C) and D) which express the same idea and with the same concision (direct and no wasted words)
  • perhaps A) and B) are more wordy
    • but each possible answer expresses the idea (are essentially synonymous)
      • therefore usage is not the measurement here
      • something else distinguishes the correct from the wrong answers:

click EXPAND for the correct answer:

  • instead, this question is measuring context
    • the correct answer is the one that effectively sets up the subsequent parenthetical phrase:
(fuels derived from once-living material)
  • that parenthetical phrase defines the word the precedes it
    • therefore D) sought a method to study combustion of biofuels is the correct answer
      • as "(fuels derived from once-living material)" defines what are "biofuels"

Emphasis shift[edit | edit source]

  • SAT measures focused writing
  • "emphasis shift" = losing focus, straying from the idea, or emphasizing the wrong clause
    • sentence emphasis should be upon the dominant clause
      • i.e.: don't unnecessarily complicate the most important idea in a sentence
  • proper sentence construction emphasizes the dominant clause
    • while the subordinate clause adds information or details but does not detract from the message of the dominate clause
  • emphasis shift when Combining sentences:
    • identify the main purpose of the sentence and select that possible answer which most directly states that purpose or includes it in the dominant clause:
      • ex.: “I found a unique vase from the store, which was very cluttered, in the back”
      • vs. the more direct: “I found a unique vase in the back of the cluttered store"

Combining sentences[edit | edit source]

  • generally speaking, combining sentences questions measure:
    • unnecessary repetition of nouns and subject-verb combinations
    • unclear pronoun references
    • shifting emphasis:
      • does the new sentence focus on the main idea?
      • avoid passive voice & subject -verb inversion (placing the subject after the verb)
    • direct v. passive voice
    • emphasis on the main clause ("emphasis shift")
    • grammar and punctuation errors, especially regarding punctuation between clauses and phrases

"Command of Evidence” questions: adding or deleting text[edit | edit source]

  • asks to improve a passage by adding or deleting text or a sentence
  • correct answer will improve and clarify passage or paragraph focus and purpose
  • the point of these questions is to identify textual focus
  • incorrect answers will dilute or distract from passage or paragraph focus and purpose
  • use titles for context and consistency with main point
  • be careful to read "delete" or "add"
    • SAT purposefully mixes up the wording to be confusing
  • try to eliminate first by stated reason for adding or deleting
    • then decide between "yes" or "no"

Vocabulary[edit | edit source]

  • Writing section vocabulary questions are never antonyms
    • whereas reading section vocabulary will usually include 1 or 2 antonyms (have opposite meaning)
  • identify sentence context, especially as regards the word "type" or "characteristics" regarding
    • person or thing?
      • certain words describe people and the things they do differently from words for things
    • emotion or physical?
      • certain words are used for emotional v. physical states
    • ability or capacity/ size?
      • people and some things have ability
      • things are more likely to have capacity or size
  • identify part of speech and associated other words
    • if a noun
      • is it a subject or object
      • what is its verb?
      • any adjectives or descriptive phrases?
    • if a verb
      • what is the subject and object?
      • any adverbs?
    • is it part of the main clause or a subordinate clause?

Grammar and punctuation rules[edit | edit source]

<< to fix this section

  • use relative pronouns (that, which, who, whose, etc.)
  • add commas prior to conjunctions ( “, and …”)
  • consider combining subjects and verbs
  • avoid repetition and unnecessary pronouns
  • avoid #Emphasis shift errors