Cheap Tricks
Cheap Tricks
We put the Cheap Tricks at the end of this chapter because you should use them only in Cases of Desperation. Only two Cases of Desperation on Improving Sentences questions merit resorting to Cheap Tricks:
  • You can’t eliminate even one answer choice.
  • You’ve eliminated all but two answer choices and find yourself wasting time agonizing over which answer choice is correct.
Before we discuss each Cheap Trick, we must add a further warning: Do not apply the Cheap Tricks blindly. Cheap Tricks can improve your odds of correctly answering a question on which you’re stumped, but they aren’t foolproof. Cheap Tricks will help you get a higher percentage of questions right. They won’t help you get every question right.
That said, let’s break open our bag of Cheap Tricks and get started.
  1. Go with the shortest answer.
  2. Cut answer choices that change the meaning of the sentence.
  3. Cut answer choices that begin with words ending in -ing.
  4. Get your A in gear.
Here’s an example to show you how and when to use Cheap Tricks:
Brent’s cowboy hat looks pretty silly, seeing as how he lives in New York City.
(A) seeing as how he lives in New York City
(B) since he lives in New York City
(C) considering him living in New York City
(D) seeing that he lives in New York City
(E) after all he doesn’t live in the West
Start off by applying our eight-step strategy (see page ) for Improving Sentences questions to this example. So, let’s say you give step 1 a whirl (“Read the sentence and try to hear the problem”) and you hear something funny about the phrase seeing as how. You can’t immediately think of a solution, but step 2 tells you that if you find an error, you can eliminate A. Steps 3 and 4 require you to have some hunch about how to fix the error, but in this example you’re hunchless. That means you should skip to step 5 and eliminate any answer choices that repeat the error. In this case, that means eliminating answer choice D, which repeats the awkward word seeing.
Let’s say you now find yourself stuck. B, C, and E look equally good to you. It’s time to bring on the cheap tricks.
Cheap Trick 1: Go with the shortest answer.
We’ll make this quick. When you find yourself staring blankly at two or three answer choices, go with the shorter answer choice. The SAT likes to keep the right answers concise. In the example about Brent’s goofy cowboy hat, B is not only the right answer, it’s nice and short: since he lives in New York City.
Cheap Trick 2: Cut answer choices that change the meaning of the sentence.
Be suspicious of answer choices that tweak the meaning of the sentence. E is the obvious suspect in the sample question: after all he doesn’t live in the West. Sure, there’s a better reason than the Cheap Trick to eliminate E: If you substitute E into the original sentence, you get Brent’s cowboy hat looks pretty silly, after all he doesn’t live in the West, which is a run-on sentence. But if you didn’t spot the run-on, and were in a panic, you could have eliminated E anyway, thanks to Cheap Trick 2. The sentence initially had to do with New York, and how ridiculous one looks sporting a cowboy hat there. E brings up the West—new territory. Remember, the directions explicitly instruct you to choose the answer that best expresses the meaning of the original sentence, so an answer choice that messes with the original meaning should be eliminated.
Cheap Trick 3: Cut answer choices that begin with words ending in –ing.
More often than not, gerunds (words ending in –ing) do not appear in correct answer choices. If you apply this trick to the goofy hat example, you can eliminate answer C considering him living in New York CIty. In cases like this one, -ing words are often awkward. If you read the sentence and have no idea which answer choice is right, get rid of the one with a word like considering.
Cheap Trick 4: Get your A in gear.
It’s worth reiterating that about one-fifth of the answers on this section will be A—“no error.” Students tend to freak out when they can’t find errors, and they pick some random B, C, D, or E rather than go with A. A is not your enemy. In fact, A can be very helpful when you’re in a bind on Improving Sentences questions. Here’s why: Cutting A tips the guessing odds in your favor. That means if you’re unsure how to fix the error in a sentence, but you’re certain it contains some error, you can always cut A and guess with confidence.
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