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Tanya Shah

Sense of Grammar for Improving Sentences

Improving Sentence Errors

For many test-takers, these are the toughest questions in the Writing Section. You have five different versions of a sentence, each one slightly tweaked, but all sounding the same after you’ve read each one. This is the wrong strategy, but one that many test-takers automatically resort to: they read each sentence in its entirety! This is not only time-consuming, but frustrating because it gets you lost in a jumble of words.

To avoid the hassle and save time, you need a good grammar sense* and quick strategy. Granted, some of these are easier than others, but a good method can help with the harder, wordier ones. Let’s use an example:

Membership in the local gyms have grown, we can expect a higher fitness level in the community.  

  • Slowly and carefully read the original sentence before looking at any of the answer choices.
  • Does something sound “off” about the sentence? Is anything wrong with it?
  • If NO: Choose A. Really, if you’re sure the sentence is correct (this is where a good sense of grammar comes in), why read the other versions? About 20% of the time, SAT test designers will give you perfectly constructed sentences that don’t actually need improvement. You can see them as tricks or you can see them as favors J
  • If YES:
    • Eliminate A.
    • Troubleshoot: In the underlined portion, which specific part is wrong? What does the sentence need?
      • There is a comma between 2 independent clauses (Run-On)
      • In the example, “have” is wrong because it doesn’t agree with “membership”(Subject-Verb Agreement).
      • You may have noticed the run-on and glossed over the other one
    • Edit the sentence by yourself (still not looking at the answer choices).
      • Replace “have” with “has”
      • Put a connecting word after the comma OR replace the comma with a semi-colon
    • NOW you can look at choices B – E to see which one fixes the problem you found. Eliminate the ones that don’t match your edit. Also eliminate the ones that introduce new errors.
    • Once you have arrived at an answer, read the whole sentence to double check.

Membership in the local gyms have grown, we can expect a higher fitness level in the community.  

  • local gyms have grown, we can expect a higher fitness level
  • local gyms have grown, and we can expect a higher fitness level
  • local gyms has grown, so we have an expectation of a higher level of fitness
  • local gyms has grown, so we can expect a higher fitness level
  • local gyms have grown, so we can expect a higher fitness level

We already know A is wrong. The verb “have” is incorrect, so that eliminates B and E. Now we’re left with C and D. Both add “so” to fix the run-on sentence, but C is too wordy and sounds awkward. We’re left with D, the correct answer: “Membership in the local gyms has grown, so we can expect a higher fitness level in the community.”

Grammar Sense

The Writing section can be tricky even for students who love English class. I have seen top students disappointed by low scores. It boils down to poor grammar sense—yes, it’s a sense!* When we are looking or listening for something, we use the appropriate sense to find it. To tackle these questions, you need to heighten your sense for grammar.

In school, grammar can be swept aside in favor of other things; there’s just so much material to cover. By junior year, students are adept at reading quickly, sharing their views, and finishing essays. However, because school essays are typically written in drafts, mistakes are usually caught and corrected for you by teachers, peers, and spell check. As a result, your sense of grammar may be off and you struggle when tested. I can confidently tell you that studying for the Writing Section means re-learning some grammar basics from scratch and sharpening your sense for grammar. With more practice, that focus becomes second nature.


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About Tanya Shah

Tanya has taught advanced English and test prep for over five years, and sees standardized tests as solvable puzzles. When she's not reading or writing, she is sampling local bakeries or enjoying the outdoors with her dogs.

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