SAT Tip: Improving Paragraphs With Grammar and Logic

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This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

The “improving paragraph” questions on the SAT can be thought of as writing/reading hybrids. Some of the questions will ask about the grammar of an individual sentence (just like “improving sentence” questions). And some will ask more reading comprehension-type questions that require you to make decisions based on logical transitions, flow of ideas, and the overall main ideas in the text. Let’s look at an example that involves just one sentence in a longer passage:

Of the following, which is the best version of the underlined portion of the sentence?

The book reported Aristotle’s geocentric view of the universe, it was along with detailed mathematic explanations of the epicycles of the planets.

(A) universe, it was along with

(B) universe; it was along with

(C) universe; so with

(D) universe, along with

(E) universe by

This question doesn’t require us to read the rest of the passage, since the underlined portion really doesn’t relate to any other sentences—which makes it similar to an “improving sentence” question. We can see that this sentence as written is a “run-on”—it is trying to combine two complete thoughts using only a comma. Both (B) and (D) correct this error: (B) does so by adding a semicolon, and (D) makes one of the clauses dependent (no longer its own thought). The correct choice is (D), since it does not introduce the ambiguous pronoun “it.”

Be on the lookout for questions that seem to ask about only one sentence, but in fact require some extra reading. This question is a perfect example:

Inserting which of the following at the beginning of the sentence would create the best sentence?

Galileo’s ideas were initially rejected by many, the evidence that Earth rotates around the Sun soon became irrefutable.

(A) Although

(B) Because

(C) On the other hand,

(D) When

(E) So

Even though it asks about one sentence only, this is not a grammar question. To know which transition word to use, we’d have to reread the preceding sentences, consider the flow of ideas, then select the most logical transition word. Here are the preceding two sentences to get some context:

Using his telescope, Galileo was able to more exactly document the movements of planets and nearby stars. His observations left little doubt that the Sun, not Earth, was the center of the solar system.

The phrases “initially rejected” and “soon became irrefutable” in our question-stem can be compared with the phrase “left little doubt.” We can see we need a contrast transition word to show how this acceptance of Galileo’s idea came over time. Answer (A), ”although,” is correct.

Remember that if a question asks only about the grammar of an individual sentence, we don’t need to read the entire paragraph, but if it’s more of a reading comprehension question, context is key.

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