SAT Tips from Veritas Prep

Improving Paragraphs on the SAT: It’s Nothing Personal


Improving Paragraphs on the SAT: It’s Nothing Personal

Photograph by Yasuhide Fumoto/Getty Images

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

On the SAT writing section, one of the question types (Improving Paragraphs) asks you to improve an early draft of a student essay through responses to multiple choice questions. The essay always needs corrections in several ways; it contains numerous errors, organizational issues, and stylistic flaws. The multiple choice questions will ask you the best way to rewrite particular sentences in the paragraph, whether it would be better to shuffle sentences around, and whether it would be appropriate to add certain transitional language to make the essay flow better. You can expect about five to six questions in total on these types of questions on the SAT, so while it’s not a huge part of the raw writing score, it does count enough to potentially help you gain (or lose) 30 points to 50 points on the SAT writing section.

The good news about these questions is that if you’re already doing well on the SAT Essay and other SAT Writing Multiple-Choice questions, you will already have much of the knowledge and many of the tools necessary to score well on Improving Paragraphs questions. While grammatical errors are pretty clear cut and easy to identify, certain stylistic preferences on the SAT may not be perfectly clear. One of these stylistic preferences revolves around the use of personal voice in essays—the use of informal first- and second-person pronouns such as I, us, we, your, and you.

The SAT is a test to help you to apply to college, so the writing guidelines on the SAT are similar to those of a formal college-level essay. As a result, the SAT’s stylistic guidelines prefer formal writing over personal writing. So for Improving Paragraphs questions, you should look for opportunities to improve informal writing. Let’s take a look at the following question that appeared on the 2010-2011 Official SAT Pretest:

(1) On September 10, 1973, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), one of four stamps in the American Arts series. (2) Acclaimed as an artist in the United States and Europe at the turn of the century.  Tanner was called the “dean” of art by W.E.B Du Bois. (3) But after his death, Tanner’s work was largely forgotten. (4) And so it remained, an even later, in 1969, the donation of one of his paintings to the Smithsonian Institution aroused new interest in the art of this American master. (5) Now his works are on exhibit again. (6) You can even buy posters of his paintings!
In context, which is the best revision of sentence 6 (reproduced below)?
You can even buy posters of his paintings!

(A)   It is amazing, you can buy posters of his paintings.
(B)   Even ordinary people like us can buy posters of his paintings.
(C)   Posters of his paintings had been sold.
(D)   People can even buy his paintings as a poster.
(E)    One can even buy posters of his paintings.

As we mentioned before, the SAT prefers formal language to informal, so we can eliminate any answer choices that have personal pronouns in the first and second person.

(A)   It is amazing, you can buy posters of his paintings.
(B)   Even ordinary people like us can buy posters of his paintings.
(C)   Posters of his paintings had been sold.
(D)   People can even buy his paintings as a poster.
(E)    One can even buy posters of his paintings.

We are able to eliminate two of the answer choices right away here. Next, we can  eliminate answer choice C because of the unexpected and illogical change to past perfect tense when the previous sentence, “Now his works are on exhibit again,” is clearly present tense. Finally, we can also eliminate answer choice D because of the awkward phrasing “paintings as a poster.” We are then left with the correct answer choice E, which uses the more formal pronoun “one” and also most directly and clearly indicates that posters of Tanner’s paintings can be purchased.

Remember not to “make it personal” on the SAT and to keep things formal for more points on the SAT Writing section.

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