SAT “Identifying Sentence Error” Writing Multiple Choice

You get two writing multiple choice sections on the SAT. One of those two is a short section—only ten minutes and 14 questions—and is made up entirely of Improving Sentence questions. The other one is longer and has all three types of writing multiple choice questions.

That 25 minute section is the bulk of where your grammar skills are tested during the SAT. (Yes, grammar counts on the essay, but it’s mixed in with your vocabulary (link to “How Difficult Is SAT Vocabulary?), clarity, structure, and more.) And of the three question types, Identifying Sentence Error questions are the most grammar-focused, in a way. After all, Improving Sentence questions sometimes test style problems, and improving paragraphs questions include an aspect of reading comp.


What Identifying Sentence Error questions look like

Here’s an example of one of these questions as the SAT would present it.

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There’s no other context; there’s no question mark and no explanation around the sentence itself. Instead, all of the direction are at the beginning of the section. It’s best if you don’t have to read that on the day of your SAT. Why not save time? When you see this, your job is simple: locate the problem and bubble in a letter according to where it is.


How to answer Identifying Sentence Error questions

First off, realize that you have to go through these quickly. There’ll be 18 of them smack in the middle of that long writing section, and if you take too long on each one you won’t have enough time to deal with the improving paragraph questions which come after and are much more time consuming.

1) Read quickly and naturally. Don’t even worry about what could be wrong—just read it as you would any other sentence. In a lot of cases, you’ll see a clear and simple error in this first read. If that’s the case, great. You’re done. Move on and save time.

2) If you haven’t noticed a problem after that first, natural read through, then you can go back and look piece by piece. Try to find errors by what part of speech is underlined. Is the verb the right tense? Should that adjective be an adverb? Does the pronoun have a clear antecedent?

3) If you’re stuck on an ISE question, bubble in “No error” and move on. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re looking at an error, don’t waste time worrying about it. Remember, you have to go through these quickly. Two reads through should be enough.


The answer to the example

If you’re not sure what the answer to the example I gave is, follow that link above to the post on dealing with pronouns.

Then, think twice about the antecedent of “she.” Who had always dreamed of visiting the Philippines? Hard to say, isn’t it? The answer is C.



  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!


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