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Lucas Fink

Style Errors in SAT Writing Multiple Choice Sections

For the most part, the sentences and passages that the SAT gives you in the writing sections have purely grammatical errors. For example, there may be problems in subject-verb agreement or verb tense, or you’ll see some run-on sentences or fragments. That is, if there are any errors at all. In both “improving sentences” and “identifying sentence errors” questions (which make up 90% of the writing multiple choice between them), there’s always one option that keeps the sentence as it is.

But there’s a third option—one that involves neither a grammar error nor leaving the sentence as it is. SAT writing questions also test you on written style. Of course, this has to be style that can be objectively measured. The College Board can’t have any answers that are up for debate. No talking pineapples on the SAT.


The passive voice

This can be one of the most difficult things to spot in SAT writing multiple choice, so it’s definitely worth spending a bit of time studying. The post I wrote about passives a while back is a good place to start.

Example: See the link above.

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If some information is given twice, it’s wrong.

Example: The national championship includes thousands of contestants from the whole country.

Something has to go. We don’t need both “national” and “from the whole country.” They’re the same thing.



I hate to be vague in that description, but there isn’t a great word for these errors. They’re just… awkward. Like a dog wearing socks, but not as entertaining to watch.

Example: Being vague in that description is something that I hate to do

It’s pretty common that awkwardness errors use what should be the main verb of a sentence as a noun instead (like in that example), but there are lots of other ways to make awkward constructions. This kind of problem shows up a LOT in wrong answer choices, so it ends up being one of the most important parts of SAT writing.  But that’s good news, because this is the kind of problem you can sense without having to really analyze. It’s just about what sounds natural and what doesn’t.


Crack open your College Board SAT guide (or whatever prep book you may have), or spend ten minutes going through Magoosh’s SAT writing practice and look for every instance of the subtler errors like these ones above. Training yourself to spot them quickly can really pay off.


About 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.

2 Responses to “Style Errors in SAT Writing Multiple Choice Sections”

  1. Kristen says:

    Hi Lucas!

    Good tips. I have a question: on the 2007-2008 Collegeboard Practice Test there is a section called ¨Characteristics of Effective Writing¨ that defines the common problems in multiple-choice questions. How come Adjective vs. Adverb confusion is not included? Or is that a subcategory of one of the sections? I always find that to be a popular error in Writing.

    Let me know what you think.

    Much Appreciated,

    • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

      Hi Kristen,

      You could say that using adverbs and adjectives correctly fits into their 5 characteristics, sure; it would probably go under “Expressing Ideas Logically” as a part of “Modification and Word Order.” Adjectives must modify nouns, just as an introductory participial phrase must modify the subject that follows it.

      That table doesn’t include all of the grammar points that could show up on the SAT; it’s just a list of some of the most important ones. The difference between adverbs and adjectives definitely shows up on the test!


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