Most Common SAT Writing Mistakes

The SAT Writing and Language section is comprised of questions that test your knowledge of grammar and writing style. This section is meant to test and challenge your practical editing skills. All you need to know is how to read and how to find and fix grammatical errors and structural problems.

For many students, the SAT writing and language section proves to be most difficult. However, by taking just a few minutes to brush up on a common mistake students usually make when analyzing passages and answering questions, you could raise your score significantly.

It is very important to know the most common types of errors and to avoid them in your writing section if you want to achieve your desired score. So learning what the most common errors are and how to fix them is not as a big hurdle as you might think. 

Here we will discuss a number of common SAT writing mistakes that students often make but can be easily avoided.

1. Subject-Verb Disagreement

One type of mistake that appears repeatedly has to do with subject-verb disagreement. To tackle this sort of question, first, make sure you know how to find the subject of a sentence. Essentially, the subject is the actor, the person or thing performing an action (which is the verb).

Here is an example of that type of error: 'The group of high school students is going on an excursion tomorrow.'

In this example, "group" is the singular subject of this sentence while "is" is the singular verb. The prepositional phrase "of high school students" is inserted between the subject and the verb to make it harder to see that 'group' should be paired with 'is'. Here the SAT is trying to trick you into finding an "error" in this perfectly correct sentence.

On the SAT, subject-verb disagreement is more challenging to spot. Keep an eye out for these prepositional phrases, and your score will certainly be in agreement with your grammar abilities.


2. Incorrectly Interpreting Questions

Time is a crucial factor in any standardized test. The SAT Writing section throws a lot of questions at you which have relatively little time to answer. The test makers know this fact, so you have to adapt. The only problem with this is many students rush through the questions and end up interpreting them wrong. Remember, these questions are not always straightforward. They are designed to be tricky, which means you need to take a few extra seconds to understand exactly what is being asked. Furthermore, if you are confused about any question, it's better to:

  • Take keywords into account.
  • Take some extra seconds to re-read if needed.
  • Try to Circle keywords/words that define the questions.
  • Check that you answers the questions efficiently.


3. Comma Splice

Though comma splice is the most common type of sentence error of writing it is easy to find and fix. A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as sentences) are incorrectly connected by just a comma (,). For example:

' I went to the shopping mall to buy some clothes, I ended up buying a lot of ornaments'.

To fix the above type of comma error, you can:

  • Add a conjunction after the comma.

         I went to the shopping mall to buy some clothes but I ended up buying a lot of ornaments.

  • Connect the two independent clauses with a semicolon

        I went to the shopping mall to buy some clothes; I ended up buying a lot of ornaments.

  • Separate the two independent clauses into two sentences.

        I went to the shopping mall to buy some clothes. I ended up buying a lot of ornaments.


4. Grammatical Mistakes

No matter how fluent you are with speaking and writing the language it is still a good idea to brush up on grammar rules before you go for the test. Pay special attention to grammatical concepts. Learn to recognize and tell the difference between nouns, pronouns, prepositions, and gerunds. It is surprising how many students lose marks for simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided. Even native English speakers tend to mess up the grammar, especially since many of us speak the language casually without being mindful about the small nuances of the languages.


5. Incorrect Modifiers

Modifiers change to give additional information about a word phrase. But sometimes it can be misplaced if you are being careless. For example:

'Running down the hallway, I collided with my class teacher'

Here, "running down the hallway" is the modifying phrase because it provides more information about what "I" was doing.

But if the sentence read, 'I collided with the class teacher running down the hallway.' we have a problem because it now sounds as if it might have been the class teacher who was running down the hallway.

Once you have gotten your head around these common grammatical errors and sharpened your mind with plenty of practice questions, you will be ready to rock the SAT Writing & Language.


5. Skipping Ahead to Main Passages to Save Time

Many questions on the SAT require you to look back at the passage and analyze a sentence, phrase, or word, often asking how it relates to the passage in a larger sense. Unfortunately, students too often skip reading everything and go straight to the underlined sections. The largest mistake students make when working with these questions is failing to get enough context. You should remember that a majority of the questions will want you to understand the entire passage so you can identify the introductory or concluding sentence of the passage or add an additional sentence anywhere in the passage. Take time to understand the entire passage and grasp the main idea and objectives of the passage. This is what is required to answer these questions with confidence.


6. Do Not Overthink

Overthinking is easy to do, but it's not necessary. You should listen to your instincts. Don't get so wound up that you over analyze any question. Overthinking any particular question will not only decrease the accuracy of the answer, but it will also waste precious time. Sometimes, the answer is so obvious, all you need to do is slow down and stay focused and you will see it. Always remember that test prep doesn't only teach you how to handle the test, but also how to handle yourself under this degree of pressure.

Making mistakes is not wrong, but being careless without learning from the mistakes will keep you far from the scores you should get in the SAT. Happy learning!


If you want to know more about the SAT, you can check on Best SAT 2018-2019 books.

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