SAT Tip: Identifying Sentence Errors That Aren't Obvious

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

On the SAT, the “identifying sentence errors” questions will provide one sentence with four underlined parts. One of the parts contains an error, unless the sentence is error-free. Here’s a few quick tips to bear in mind when you find yourself struggling with an especially hard ISE question:

Never assume there’s no error. As many as five ISE questions will be error-free on the typical test. Just because you can’t spot an error on your first read, however, don’t leap to the conclusion that one isn’t there. Rather than picking (E)—no error—and moving on, go through each underlined portion systematically if you harbor any doubt.

Rewrite the sentence in your head. If something sounds odd to you, ask yourself: How would I say it? Your instinctive revision can help you identify precisely what the error is. Maybe you don’t know the correct idiom, but you do know it shouldn’t be “either … and.” That’s often enough to answer the question correctly.

At a loss? Check the VPIMPS. The “VPIMPS” is an acronym for some of the most-commonly tested English grammatical errors. If you are really struggling with a difficult sentence and have more than one underlined portion that “sounds funny” to you, see if you can tie that funny feeling to a specific grammatical error. “VPIMPS” stands for:

Verbs: Check the verb tense for logic and to make sure it agrees with the rest of the sentence.

Parallelism: Is there a list or a series of clauses in the sentence?

Idioms: Two-part idioms and prepositional idioms are very commonly tested.

Modification: Is an adjective being used when an adverb is needed?

Pronouns: They must have clear antecedents and agree with their nouns.

Sentence structure: Is the sentence a run-on or fragment? Is there too much information in the sentence—or not enough?

Let’s try a couple together.

Golden Retrievers, large gentle dogs (A) notable for their long, light-brown fur, and Labrador Retrievers, (B) similarly sized dogs (C) with short, dark-colored fur, (D) often confused with each other. (E) No error.

This question is hard because a sentence may have multiple nouns and verbs and still be a fragment. This sentence requires a predicate verb, such as “are,” to be complete. (A) and (C) are correct idiomatically, while (B) properly uses an adverb to modify an adjective. The error is in (D).

The coach’s strategy (A) to employ fewer defenders and more midfielders (B) are a variation on one (C) she developed when she was (D) in college . (E) No error.

On the SAT, remember that you may see a plural noun used as an object next to a verb with a singular subject, but don’t be fooled. Here, the plural nouns “defenders” and “midfielders” are the objects of the verb form “to employ.” The subject of the verb is actually the singular “strategy.” (A) uses the infinitive form appropriately. (C) uses the pronoun “she” correctly to refer to the coach. (B) contains the error: a plural verb, “are,” for the singular noun, “strategy.”

Remember, don’t rush through the “identifying sentence errors” questions without checking each underlined portion.

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