Somewhere between the second and seventh sections of your SAT, you’re going to get a 25 minute writing multiple choice section. There will only be one of these (not counting the experimental section, which might be reading, math, or writing and is unscored); the other two writing sections are the essay—section 1—and a ten-minute improving sentences segment—section 10.
The last chunk of questions in that 25 minute multiple choice section will be “improving paragraph” questions. The SAT will give you a short passage that’s got a number of grammar or style errors in it, and you’ll be asked to choose the best ways to correct those mistakes or add extra sentences.
How not to approach improving paragraphs questions
Having a whole passage in front of you makes it very tempting to start reading and analyzing the text. It’s not a bad instinct—after all, you want to be reading critically while working on reading comp passages. But the truth is, you only need a pretty rough understanding of the author’s purpose and importance of specific details.
Most of the questions will ask you about very specific details in the passage. Spending a lot of time reading the passage in depth is not going to help you, because you know almost nothing about which of those nitty-gritty details the SAT makers are going to ask you about. Unlike SAT reading, you’re not going to be asked about the author’s purpose or opinions.
Skim the passage and don’t worry about how to fix errors
Yes, you should read the passage before you get to the questions, but only for a pretty general understanding. If you see some writing errors while skimming, then great—there are usually quite a few, and that means you’ve got a good editorial eye. That’ll come in handy when you’re writing your essay. But you’re going to get those errors put plainly in front of you in a moment, so don’t labor over whether something is wrong or why it is.
Read the questions, then go back to the passage for context
Once you get to the questions, you’ll know exactly what you should be scrutinizing in the passage. Then, as is true in improving sentences questions, you should try to find what the problem is before you look at the ways the SAT suggests fixing it.
That means you should go back to the passage with a more critical eye. Closely reread the sentence or sentences you’ve been asked about, and try to find what’ll need to be improved, unless you’re being asked to add content. In that case, you’re going to have to look at the answer choices and start eliminating things that sound strange.
If you can find what went wrong in the original passage, then great—all you have to do is find the answer choice that fixes the problem and doesn’t create any new ones. If not, then it’s just a matter of eliminating anything you know is wrong and then following your gut.
- Skim the passage for the gist and just note errors mentally
- Read the first question, then reread the part of the passage it refers to
- If you’re asked to add information, eliminate answers, considering whether they work in context with the sentences both before and after.
- If you’re looking at a grammar error, predict how to fix it before looking at the answer choices
- Search through the answer choices wary of new problems they might create
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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.
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