Things You Need To Know To Ace the SAT Writing Multiple Choice – Part I

by guest author Douglas Groene

Many kids dread the SAT essay and obsessively prepare for it as if their futures depend on it. But the little-known secret of SAT writing is that it doesn’t count for very much:

The essay only counts for about 30% of your writing score!

If you really want a stellar SAT writing score, you’d better focus on the writing multiple choice, which counts for a whopping 70% of your writing score.

Luckily, the writing multiple choice tests a very limited number of areas- ten, in fact. If you know all ten very well, you are good to go. You don’t need to worry about properly forming the possessive, spelling, or anything other than these ten things (Part II will contain the last five):

1.) Subject-verb agreement– Every verb must agree with its subject. The SAT will throw all sorts of clauses, phrases, and other distractors between the subject and verb to fool you. Your best bet is to mentally cross out everything in between the subject and verb and make sure they are both singular or both plural:

For example, “The girls on my cheerleading team is traveling across the country to participate in the national finals.”

Forget the extraneous words “on my cheerleading team.” Girls is? No. Girls are traveling.

You should be aware of a few special subject-verb agreement issues: two singular nouns connected by “and” create a plural subject; words that describe a portion of a whole (all, most, etc.) can be singular or plural subjects depending on the whole they describe; the pronouns “each” and “every” (and related pronouns) are always singular subjects; and collective nouns that describe a group of people or things acting in unison (such as “team” or “Congress”) are treated as singular subjects.

2.) Verb tense– The verb must be in the correct tense for the time in which it takes place. For the most part, you should prefer the simple past, present, and future tenses (I played, I play, I will play). Rarely on the SAT, you will need to use the progressive (I am playing) to emphasize that the action is ongoing.

The perfect tenses are more often wrong than right on the SAT, so only use them when your situation fits the rule perfectly.

Use the present perfect (I have played) to describe something that started in the past and continues to the present (for example, “I have played soccer since I was five”).

Use the past perfect tense (I had played) when something else in the sentence happened in the past and your verb happened even earlier (for example, “By the time I turned 21, I had earned an undergraduate degree in physics”).

Use the future perfect tense (I will have played) when something else in the sentence will happen in the future, and your verb will happen between then and now (for example, “by next month I will have paid off my entire Visa bill”).

3.) Idiom– Idiom is the one part of the SAT writing for which I can’t give you any rules to follow. Idiom comes down to how most people phrase expressions. For example, most people don’t say “I am confused on how you got your answer.” They say, “I am confused about how you got your answer.” Ultimately, there is no good reason why we say one and not the other- it’s just convention.

If you have been reading/writing English for a long time, most of the common idioms are probably familiar to you. Otherwise you should spend some time memorizing common idioms.

Watch out for idiom whenever you see verb-preposition combinations (comment on, emerge from, etc.).

4.) Diction– On the SAT, you must choose your words precisely. The SAT will test your knowledge of the difference between commonly confused words, such as less vs. fewer, or affect vs. effect.

For example, “My Girl Scout troop is selling boxes of cookies- how much would you like to buy?”

You should use many, rather than much. Use many for things you can count (boxes, dollars, sheep, etc.) and much for things you can’t count (food, money, luck, etc.).

5.) Pronouns– There are a few things to look for when you see a pronoun. First, make sure the pronoun agrees with its antecedent (the word it stands in for) in number, gender, and person.

For example, “After the boys finished playing baseball, she started a game of football.”

The word “she,” a feminine and singular pronoun, is way off. The only possible antecedent is “the boys,” so the pronoun should be “they.”

Second, make sure the pronoun is in the correct case- subject or object, depending on whether the pronoun is doing the action of having the action done to it.

For example, “After we won the lottery, many of the neighbors came over to congratulate my wife and I.”

Though some people obsessively prefer “I” over “me,” in the above sentence it is wrong. The pronoun is the object of the verb “congratulate” and therefore needs to be in the objective case. It should read, “many of the neighbors came over to congratulate my wife and me.”

Douglas Groene has over ten years experience in tutoring for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT. He is the founder and author of Pencil Nerd’s Test Prep Blog, which contains interesting news, tips, tools, and product reviews relating to test prep for the major standardized tests.


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