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Kristin Fracchia

Shifts in Voice — SAT Grammar Fundamentals

SAT No-No: “Inappropriate shifts in voice”

Throughout these posts on SAT grammar fundamentals, I have used two levels of speaking when coming up with example sentences: One that is casual and chummy (the “taco Tuesdays” voice) and another that is more formal (“the SAT voice”). The SAT wants to make sure you know when to use the appropriate level of voice. That is, you don’t want to say something in a casual lax way when writing an essay, or, in this case, editing an essay that the SAT is provided.

In the sentence pairs below, one maintains a consistent tone whereas the other lapses into casual speak.

1a) The SAT places harsh demands on a student’s attention, forcing them to be focused for almost four hours straight.

1b) The SAT is really hard because you have to keep your mind on the task for four straight hours.

2a) Working in groups can lead to high employee productivity while making people feel good about working with others in the office.

2b) Working in groups can lead to high employee productivity while fostering good will between colleagues.

Language can also be too stilted, or formal. The SAT—and any manual of style (and good sense!)—will tell you to avoid overly formal language. Can you spot the offender below?

3a) The SAT is highly onerous on minds exhibiting a propensity for divagation.

3b) Students who are serious about SAT prep are more likely to seek outside help, and are thus more likely to see a score improvement.

If you are not even quite sure what 3a) is saying, you are not alone. It uses over-inflated, pompous language.

The reason, I think, the SAT is testing this is amongst students (and you might even be one of them) there’s a notion that sprinkling fancy-sounding SAT words into your essay is a mark of good writing. That thinking, however, is a gross misconception. See, there is a major difference between the discernment used in choosing a particularly apt word and the desperation to sound intelligent by using words like “divagation” (don’t worry that word will not be on the test!). The latter will confuse your reader, muddy what you are trying to communicate, and ultimately turn the reader off from what you have to say.



There is, of course, a dark side to video games. Like any activity that is based on a system of rewards, video games can cause people to overindulge and neglect other aspects of their lives, just to reach the next level in a game.

B) stop doing other stuff
C) cease in the engagement with other significant life activities
D) fail to attend to urgent facets of life



B) is too casual. Both C) and D) are too formal and wordy. A) is consistent with the tone and level of formality found in the rest of the sentence.


About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's blogs are chock-full of awesome, free resources for students preparing for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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