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It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the volume of content you need to understand for the SAT writing section. However, you will be tested from a fixed list of grammar concepts, so once you master them, a good score won’t be far out of reach. The most crucial thing to remember is that you should never rely on convention or how you would normally say or write something to gauge its grammatical correctness. Why? Oftentimes, our everyday language habits do not adhere as strictly to official grammar rules as we think they do. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most common grammar concepts that you need to understand to ace the SAT writing section:

1. Punctuation

Out of the various types of punctuation tested, students grapple most with commas. Most of us are understandably used to inserting commas into sentences where we would take a breath or pause naturally. However, similar to other types of grammar, there are strict punctuation rules that must be adhered to in the SAT. Besides commas, the SAT syllabus also includes apostrophes, semicolons, colons, and dashes.

2. Subject-Verb Agreement (SVA)

At its core, SVA simply means that a singular subject requires a singular verb, and a plural subject requires a plural verb:

  • A girl sings. [singular]
  • Two girls sing. [plural]

To confuse you, the SAT might complicate the subject by using compound subjects, collective nouns, uncountable nouns, and portions. In addition, it might difficult to identify the correct subject if it is separated from the verb with prepositional and modifying phrases. If you are a student of ours, our grammar content class will go over all the tricks the SAT generally uses in some detail.

3. Pronouns

Pronoun case, agreement, and ambiguity are tested in the SAT. Pronouns are also where many students falter when they are used to picking answers that “sound right”.

Case refers to the function of a pronoun in a sentence; for the test, you only need to be familiar with subject, object, and possessive pronouns.

Agreement is considered in terms of number, gender, and point of view. For example, a singular, male pronoun (he), should have a singular, male referent (John). Point of view, meanwhile, mainly focuses on pronoun consistency.

Ambiguity becomes an issue when the pronoun has either an unclear referent (subject noun is not mentioned explicitly) or an ambiguous one (multiple possible subject nouns).

4. Verb Tense

While many find this topic challenging, don’t overthink tense as most questions that look like they are testing you on tense are really testing subject-verb agreement or parallelism. The three categories of tenses included in SAT syllabus are simple, progressive, and perfect tenses. You must understand the various contexts in which you can use each tense in order to answer these questions well.

5. Parallelism

This is the basic idea that there are certain things in the English language that need to match in structure. Parallelism manifests in things like lists, coordinating conjunctions, comparisons, and paired phrases.

6. Modifiers

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes something in the sentence. It typically describes the word(s) it is closest to, and its removal from a sentence does not render the sentence incomplete. The SAT focuses on adverb vs. adjective, comparative vs. superlative, misplaced modifiers, and dangling modifiers. If all these words are Greek to you, attend our Writing class which demystifies clearly all these concepts.

7. Expression of Ideas

This type of question can be split into three categories: development, organization, and effective language use.

Development questions require you to enhance the writer’s message by clarifying the main points: work with supporting details, sharpen the focus, and use data from informational graphics such as tables, graphs, and charts to make the passage more accurate, precise, and effective.

Organization questions will have you placing or sequencing material in a passage to make it more logical: decide how openings or closings of a passage/its paragraphs/the transitions tying information and ideas together can be improved.

Expression of idea questions require you to use language to accomplish particular rhetorical goals: improve precision and economy of expression, make sure that the style and tone of a passage are appropriate and consistent, put sentences together to make ideas flow more smoothly.

While the learning curve is undoubtedly steep, as with most things, practice makes perfect. The benefit of the SAT being a standardized test is that the same traps and tricks are used over again, so the more practice you do, the less likely you are to be duped on the actual test. When approaching each question, be sure to first identify the concept(s) being tested so that you can then narrow down the possible answer choices systematically.

If you have close to no grammar knowledge (a lot of this probably wasn’t taught in school), Prep Zone offers comprehensive grammar classes that will walk you through all the concepts the SAT will test – master them and avoid careless mistakes, and it will be possible to achieve a near-perfect SAT score.

Still unclear about the SAT Writing Section?

Register for a free 1-hour SAT Writing trial class with Prep Zone’s experienced SAT trainer!

Please note that all trial class slots are subjected to availability. Our friendly staff will get in touch with you to finalise the trial slot within the next 48 hours.

For any additional inquiries regarding our course or the trial class, contact our hotline at +65 6812 9999.

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Megan Y

Megan Y

Megan joined Prep Zone after completing her undergraduate studies at the National University of Singapore, where she majored in English Language. During her time in university, she tutored high school and primary level students in English. She firmly believes that building good rapport with her students and utilising an engaging and direct approach are key in helping students learn and thrive.

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