So another SAT date is coming on Saturday. My, how the time flies! Here are a few sentence-correction, sentence-completion, and reading tips to use on the SAT. (Also, feel free to read the rest of my blog for other tips you can use to boost your SAT score on SATurday… *ducks thrown objects*).
First, we’ll discuss some usage matters:
Latter and Former
These words can be used to compare only two people, places, or things – no more, and no less. The “latter” is the second of the two nouns; the “former” is the first. So if you run into an ACT or SAT question containing a sentence like “While ice skating, snowboarding, and downhill skiing are all exciting winter sports, I greatly prefer the latter,” you’ll know that the sentence cannot be correct, since the sentence compares more than two things. In this case, we can’t tell if the speaker prefers snowboarding or downhill skiing. The same applies to “the former.” If we substituted that into our sample winter sports sentence, we wouldn’t know if the speaker preferred ice skating or snowboarding.
Who and Whom
“Who” is a subject; “Whom” is an object. In other words, “Who” does something; the thing may be done to a “whom.” Consider these sentences: “The umpire yelled ‘Who threw that bat?’” WHO-ever it was, was the person who threw the bat. “At whom did he throw the bat?” shows that the “whom” is the subject. Also consider the famous Hemingway novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, which incorporates the quote “… and therefor never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” If you’re not sure whether to use “who” or “whom,” try substituting “him.” If “him” sounds right in the blank, then “whom” is the right word. If “he” would work better; then use “who.”
Not Only…But Also….
If you see answer choices that deal with “not only…but also,” as in “Jeannie is not only an excellent scholar, but also a talented athlete,” choose the one that uses those words in that order – “Not only [what the subject is] but also [something else the subject is].” Don’t fall for “She is not just only…but she is also….” or “Not only is she …. but she is also,” or any other variation.
Trust Your Instincts.
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re a native speaker of American English. If a sentence choice sounds weird or “off” to you, and another one sounds better, pick the one that sounds better. Trust your instincts. If it sounds like something someone whose native language is not English would say or write, it’s probably wrong.
Yes, I know many sentences that comply with the rules of grammar sound weird and wrong to the average person, but those are still in the minority (and you probably know many of the rules that exist, but that most people don’t follow unless they are writing in formal English). If a sentence sounds a little too formal, it may well be correct in “SAT Land,” but it may also be a “smart kid answer,” designed to fool students who don’t know the right answer, but figure a “smart kid” would know why the answer that sounds weird and “stiff”is correct. Don’t fall for it.
If your only reason for picking an answer is “It sounds like something the kid who always gets 100s on his English tests would say,” don’t pick it. Instead, pick the answer choice that expresses the idea of the sentence being corrected WITHOUT changing it, and that does so directly and succinctly (“succinctly” means “without using unnecessary words”).
If a sentence is in the passive voice (e.g., it reads “The ball was thrown by John” instead of “John threw the ball”), is redundant or otherwise uses unnecessary words – e.g., “The ball was red in color.” (Yes, nothing can be red in any other way, so we don’t need to write that) or “Because I went to the store was the reason why I had apples to share at work today.” (You don’t need “was the reason why;” “Because” alone explains the cause quite well.)
Now a little more on sentence structure:
Independent and Dependent Clauses
An independent clause is a clause (group of words) that is a sentence all by itself; thus it is “independent.” Independent clauses are also called “strong clauses.” A dependent clause is a clause that is not a complete sentence.
Basically, you should know that words like “because,” “since,” “although,” or phrases like “despite the fact that” (really just a wordier way of writing “although”) change an independent clause into a dependent clause. “I went to the store this morning” is a complete sentence, so it is an independent clause. “Because I went to the store this morning,” is a dependent clause.
Simply adding “because” makes all the difference. When we read the first sentence, “I went to the store this morning,” we hear a complete thought and perhaps we think “That’s great; you went to the store this morning. How wonderful for you.” However, the second, dependent clause “Because I went to the store this morning,” is not a complete thought. It “leaves us hanging” when we hear it; we’re thinking “Because you went to the store this morning - What HAPPENED? You weren’t hungry because you bought coffee and a doughnut? You got in trouble at work because you were late as a result? TELL ME!” If it’s not a complete thought, it’s not a complete sentence, and unless it’s attached to an independent clause, it’s not the right answer.
Also, you should know that, to combine two independent clauses, you need to use a semicolon ( you know , one of these à ; ), or a conjunction such as “and,” “but,” “then,” etc., or add a “because,” “since,” or other word that turns an independent clause into a dependent clause.
Read the Blurb!
The little italicized blurb before an SAT critical reading passage often tells us important information, even though it’s easy to overlook. For example, it may tell you when the passage was written, the author’s background, the occasion for which the passage was written, all of which may give you a clue to the author’s worldview.
Skim the Passage, Read the Questions, and Re-Read the Passage for Detail.
Some SAT guides encourage you to read the questions FIRST, then mark the line numbers mentioned in “detail” questions (that is, questions like “The meaning of the word ‘chicken’ in line 5 is closest to a. poultry; b. afraid; c. girl; d. flightless bird; e. producer.”), then actually read the passage. Personally, I don’t find that helpful, since I’ll just end up reading the lines around the referenced lines in the detail questions, leading me to the point that I may as well just skim the whole paragraph, and then skim the whole passage.
Others encourage you to read the passage before reading the questions, which is closer to my technique. Your best bet is to read the whole thing quickly (i.e., skim it), get an idea of what the passage is about, then look at the questions, going back to find support for the answers you choose in the actual passage. It makes the “detail” questions easier to answer, since you know the context in which words are used, and the situation about which the author was writing.
Also, skimming and re-reading for detail makes it much more likely that you will answer “support” questions correctly, since you’ll be looking for the actual words in the passage that support or contradict assertions in the questions. One SAT trick is to include answer choices that sound true, and may well BE true, but are NOT stated or strongly implied in the passage. You can be tricked if you actually know something about the subject of the passage, if the answer choice is something you know is true (e.g.., “Advertisements often imply things that aren’t true, even though the statements in the advertisements are themselves true,”) but is NOT stated in the passage (perhaps the passage is about other troublesome aspects of advertising, but not the misleading nature of many ads).
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Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.