The writing section of the SAT is complicated. You can memorize rules and know when to use commas, but the answers can still be ambiguous. There are times when all four answers are grammatically accurate. The key to the question is typically, wording such as “which answer is the best choice.” So, how do you determine the best choice?
Concise and Clear
These types of questions are most common when the SAT is looking for the most concise, or the clearest wording for a phrase. Often, a phrase will be given that includes redundant words, so you will need to choose the phrase that conveys the same information with fewer words. The following question is taken from Practice Test 8 provided by the College Board:
Approaching a doorway in which dangles a red envelope filled with green paper money, the lion’s teeth snare the envelope. It then chews up the bills and spits out the money-filled envelope instead of chewing it up. The crowd cheers for the lion dancers and for the prosperity and good fortune their dance foretells.
The correct answer is D because it clearly states what the lion chews up. The other phrases are redundant because that information had been communicated within the paragraph already. “It then chews up the bills and spits out the envelope” clearly states what the lion does. The added information muddles the sentence.
Start With the Shortest
It may be tempting to always choose the shortest answer when looking for the most concise answer. However, it is not always the best choice. Sometimes a short answer may communicate something that is false within the context of the paragraph, or is a word that doesn’t have an appropriate definition. The short answer is a good place start though. Look at the shortest answer and place it within the sentence. Then, determine whether or not the sentence makes sense and still has the same meaning. If not, you can eliminate that choice.
Many of the questions on the SAT want to ensure that you know how to write in a manner that makes sense. This is challenging because of the way the questions are formatted. You are editing someone else’s writing, rather than producing your own. As you move through the exam, always think about what is grammatically correct and what makes sense. When more than one answer is grammatically correct, determine what sounds the best in your head and what fits within the context of the paragraph. The best way to improve this skill is to answer questions from SAT practice exams.
Michael Romano has been offering his San Jose SAT prep services for almost two decades. He’s seen thousands of kids and helped with just about every kind of standardized testing anxiety a student could have. This has taught him that increased scores come down to confidence. Yes, you have to understand the material, but confidence is—more often than not—the #1 cause of a student’s trouble with testing. Bearing that in mind, he has created an SAT tutoring program that builds confidence by desensitizing his students to the conditions of the test, while providing them with targeted instruction on both the academic content of the exam and the tips and tricks that make it so much easier.