A Sample Improving Paragraphs Essay
A Sample Improving Paragraphs Essay
Below is a sample essay followed by six typical SAT Improving Paragraphs questions. We also provide an explanation of how we applied our five-step strategy to answer each question correctly. Take a shot at answering the questions yourself using the five steps before you look at our answers and explanations. Here’s the sample essay:

(1) In one scene in a short story I recently read, the main character goes back in time and happens to bring a few gold pieces back to the present with him. (2) The gold pieces turn out to be incredibly valuable. (3) This short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. (4) Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future.

      (5) My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. (6) Someone like my dad used up his allowance every week just because he wanted to collect all of his favorite players—Roy Campanella, in my dad’s case. (7) By dedicating the bulk of his weekly income to adding player after player to his collection, my father declared his dedication to the players.

      (8) Baseball is a highly profitable sport, and so baseball card collecting has become one. (9) Everyone has heard of one baseball card in its original wrapping commanding an absurdly high price, and now everyone is positive that his or her shoebox filled with old baseball cards contains at least one card worth millions. (10) But if my dad had that one card, he won’t know it. (11) Way before he realized it, his mother had gotten rid of them.

1. Which sentence best summarizes the main idea of the passage?
(A) sentence 1
(B) sentence 2
(C) sentence 3
(D) sentence 4
(E) sentence 7
2. In context, which revision does sentence 3 most need?
(A) Add In point of fact at the beginning.
(B) Delete the phrase short story.
(C) Delete the words it being.
(D) Replace the comma with a dash.
(E) Replace reminded with reminds.
3. Which of the following sentences should be added before sentence 5, at the beginning of the second paragraph?
(A) But there were people who didn’t collect baseball cards with money in mind.
(B) Clearly, early capitalism is a good idea.
(C) In the collecting world, everyone has a different story.
(D) Let me relate to you my own father’s plan to make money.
(E) Some pastimes have benefits you can’t discern at first.
4. Which of the following best revises sentence 8, which is reproduced below?
Baseball is a highly profitable sport, and so baseball card collecting has become one.
(A) (as it is now)
(B) Growing to be more and more like the sport that makes its existence possible has been baseball card collecting.
(C) They say that baseball is now a highly profitable industry, as is this other pastime.
(D) Like the sport itself, baseball card collecting has become a highly profitable industry.
(E) At last, like the highly profitable industry of baseball, baseball card collecting is wholly changed.
5. Of the following, which best revises the underlined part of sentence 10, which is reproduced below?
But if my dad had that one card, he won’t know it.
(A) card, they would never realize it.
(B) card; he would never realize it.
(C) card, how could he realize it?
(D) card, my dad won’t ever realize it.
(E) card—he never realized it.
6. In the context of the paragraph, which is the best revision of sentence 11, which is reproduced below?
Way before he realized it, his mother had gotten rid of them.
(A) (as it is now)
(B) Years before his cards became valuable, his mother had gotten rid of them.
(C) Years before he has realized about the cards, his mother has gotten rid of them.
(D) It was years before he realized about the cards that his mother got rid of them.
(E) His mother gets rid of the cards years before he realizes about them.
Answers and Explanations
Before you answer any of these questions, remember to follow our five-step strategy for Improving Paragraphs questions. Here are the five steps once again:
  1. Read and outline the entire passage.
  2. Read the question.
  3. Reread the context sentences.
  4. Make up your own answer first.
  5. Read every answer and pick the one that comes closest to your answer.
You can often skip some of the five steps in our strategy plan, but having the five steps in mind will give you a plan of attack for each question. You can then pick and choose which steps to use to answer the question at hand. Below is a detailed discussion of each sample question and answer about the essay above.
1. The correct answer is D
This is an Essay Analysis question that asks you about the essay as a whole. The first step you should always take on Improving Paragraphs questions is to read the entire passage and outline it quickly. Here’s an example of how we would outline the passage.
  1. bball card collecting / American culture / cheap cards now valuable
  2. Dad’s cards = dedication / bball card collecting now profitable business, not just hobby
  3. Collections can be worth lots of $$$. Dad’s collection junked by mom.
Notice that you don’t have to write in complete sentences or spell out every word. Instead, do whatever it takes to make jotting down your outline as efficient and helpful as possible. Only you have to be able to understand what your outline says.
After reading the essay once and jotting down an outline sketch like ours, you should read the first question (step 2). To answer this question as efficiently as possible, skip step 3. Since the question does not refer to one specific sentence, it doesn’t make sense to reread context sentences. Step 4 does still apply to this passage, which means you should next come up with your own version of the main idea.
Use the quick outline you’ve jotted down to help determine the main idea of the passage. Is it just about baseball? Is it just about baseball card collecting? Try to narrow down the main idea to a more focused statement. For example, the most accurate description of this passage’s main idea might be something like, “This passage is about how baseball card collecting evolved from being just a hobby to becoming a big business.” You should then check your answer against the possible main idea sentences that the question directs you to assess specifically in the answer choices (step 5).
Your version of the main idea doesn’t have to be as thorough as the one we suggested above—something like this will do just fine: Collecting baseball cards can turn out to be very profitable. That’s just enough of a sketch to give you an idea of what you’re looking for as you go back and check out the possible main idea sentences. Now let’s take a closer look at those.
A: Sentence 1 reads, In one scene in a short story I recently read, the main character goes back in time and happens to bring a few gold pieces back to the present with him. That deals with the anecdote the writer uses to introduce his main idea—it’s too specific to be the main idea sentence. Eliminate it.
B: Sentence 2 reads, The gold pieces turn out to be incredibly valuable. This is even more specific than the first sentence, so it also cannot be the correct expression of the essay’s main idea. You can also eliminate B.
C: Sentence 3 reads, This short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. This sounds closer—it mentions baseball card collecting, which is part of the main idea of the essay. However, it sounds like a transition between the anecdote and the main thrust of the essay, rather than a summation of the overall main idea. Leave it for now, since it sounds better than the first two.
D: Sentence 4 reads, Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. This sentence sounds very much like the main idea you generated on your own—it talks about card collecting, and it also mentions the idea that you can make money on card collecting. Sentence 4 is a better choice than sentence 3, which is a transition sentence and is not specific enough about the business side of baseball card collecting.
Look at E, just to be sure it’s not a better answer choice than D. By dedicating the bulk of his weekly income to adding player after player to his collection, my father declared his dedication to the players. E is too specific. The passage’s main point is not to explain the initial reason that kids take up card collecting; it’s to explain what happens years after the collection is begun. D is the correct answer.
2. The correct answer is C.
Here we have a typical Sentence Revision question. Sentence 3 reads, This short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. You’ve read and outlined the essay (step 1), and you know what sentence the question covers (step 2), so now you’re up to step 3. Rereading the context sentences is crucial on this question. Here’s why: If you make the changes suggested by answer choice A, you get, In point of fact, this short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. Out of context, this change seems to fix the sentence just fine, except that it ends up a bit wordy. If you look at it in context, however, you can see that adding in point of fact is illogical: The gold pieces turn out to be incredibly valuable. In point of fact, this short story reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. The phrase in point of fact signals that the writer is about to elaborate on a point that he or she started to make in the last sentence, but sentence 3 is actually a departure from sentence 2, not an elaboration on it. You can eliminate A. If you had skipped step 3 and just dove right in, you probably would have chosen A and moved on not knowing you had fallen into an SAT trap.
You always want to have your own fix in mind (step 4) as you review the answer choices in Sentence Revision questions. Ask yourself which part of the sentence sounds off or incorrect? The first half of the sentence looks and sounds perfect: This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze. The tail end of the sentence also looks spotless: an interesting facet of American pop culture. The problem lies in the faulty phrase it being, which joins the two halves of the sentence. The correct answer must do something to remedy that awkward link. One suggestion you could keep in mind as your answer might be, “This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, an interesting facet of American pop culture,” or “This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, which was an interesting facet of American pop culture.”
Step 5 requires you to compare your answer with the answer choices given in the question. If you make the changes suggested by B, you get, This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. Removing the phrase short story just makes the word this vague. It does not improve the sentence.
C gives you This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze, an interesting facet of American pop culture. C is the correct answer choice because it removes the unnecessary it being phrase without making the sentence ungrammatical. The SAT loves concise solid sentences, so it’s no surprise that C is the most compact and concise answer choice here. Notice also that C is a perfect match for the first of the two solutions that we suggested you plant in your head before reviewing the answer choices. Once you have a strong idea of the solution to a Sentence Revision question, finding the answer is often just a matter of plucking a match from the actual answer choices.
Let’s check out D and E as well, just to be sure. D gives you This reminded me of the baseball card collecting craze—an interesting facet of American pop culture. A dash is usually used to signal an abrupt transition or a new thought. Here, the phrase that comes after the comma is an elaboration on the baseball card collecting phase, not a transition or a new thought, so a dash is inappropriate.
Finally, E’s changes: This reminds me of the baseball card collecting craze, it being an interesting facet of American pop culture. This revision doesn’t really help or harm the sentence. So now you’re at a crossroads. C is a better answer choice than E because it makes a needed revision to the sentence, whereas E just avoids making things worse. C it is.
3. The correct answer is A.
This is a Sentence Addition question that requires a firm grasp of the context sentences, so the best strategy to take on this question is to skip to step 3. Read sentences 4 and 5: (4) Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. (5) My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything.
Remember, the correct answer to Sentence Addition questions is almost always the one that smooths out a rough transition. If you can generate your own transitional sentence and then see which answer choice matches it, great (steps 4 and 5). If not, try out the suggested sentences and see which one works.
A. Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. But there were people who didn’t collect baseball cards with money in mind. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. A is the correct answer. It provides a smooth transition between the specific story of the writer’s father and the idea that people can profit from their card collections.
Even if you were able to pick out A as the correct answer right away, it’s helpful to understand why the other answer choices don’t work. Often the difference between the right answer and each of the four other wrong answers is slight, and having an acute sense of the subtle differences the SAT likes to test can help you avoid SAT traps and boost your score.
B. Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. Clearly, early capitalism is a good idea. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. This solution is passable, with the exception of the phrase early capitalism, which is meaningless. Also, it doesn’t tie together the two sentences, as A does.
C. Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. In the collecting world, everyone has a different story. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. This new sentence is okay, but it’s more vague than the correct answer, and once again it doesn’t do a good job of knitting together sentences 4 and 5. Also, the phrase collecting world is a little ambiguous. The passage is about baseball card collecting, not collecting in general.
D. Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. Let me relate to you my own father’s plan to make money. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. D’s main problem is its tone. The writer takes a relaxed, chummy tone throughout this essay, and this new sentence has a serious tone that clashes with the rest of the prose. You can detect this inappropriate tone shift in phrases like Let me relate to you and in words like father, which contrasts sharply with the word choice in sentence 5, which uses the words dad and kid. D is inappropriately formal and should be eliminated.
E. Buying and saving baseball cards means spending very little money on something that might turn out to be worth big bucks in the future. Some pastimes have benefits you can’t discern at first. My dad collected baseball cards when he was a kid, and no one back then thought they’d be worth anything. E relates almost entirely to sentence 5, without referring back to sentence 4 at all, whereas the correct answer refers to both 4 and 5 equally.
4. The correct answer is D.
This is another typical Sentence Revision question. Here the main problem is the vague phrase has become one, which disrupts the logical clarity of the sentence. Once you detect that problem, you can prepare your own answer (step 4) and then look for an answer choice that clears up the sentence in a way most similar to your own solution (step 5). Also, once you see that the sentence needs improvement, you can eliminate A, which keeps the sentence as it is.
B is grammatically incorrect. It contains a misplaced modifier, baseball collecting, and also suffers from awkward inconsistent use of tenses (growing to be, has been).
C starts and ends with unacceptably vague language. They say is a weak, muddled phrase. The clause after the comma, as is this pastime, is even more vague and unclear. The correct answer must be much clearer and more direct than C is.
D is the correct answer. It clears up that vague phrase has become one. The one is referred to specifically as a highly profitable industry.
E sounds strangely overblown. The original sentence does not claim that baseball card collecting is wholly changed, as if a vast transformation has taken place, so neither should the revised version.
5. The correct answer is D.
This Sentence Revision question asks you to revise a specific, underlined part of a sentence. Context sentences are irrelevant on these kinds of questions, so you can skip straight to step 4 and come up with your own solution to the problems in the underlined portion.
The main problem is tense. The first half of the sentence sets up a conditional sequence, but the verb is simple past tense: if my dad had and won’t know it don’t fit together correctly. Of the answers, only A and D solve this tense problem. But A introduces a new problem by creating a mismatched pronoun. The plural they cannot act as a pronoun for the singular my dad. That means choice D must be the right answer.
6. The correct answer is B.
Another Sentence Revision question. The problem with the initial sentence is the overly vague phrase way before he realized it. Look at the sentence in context (step 3): (9) Everyone has heard of one baseball card in its original wrapping commanding an absurdly high price, and now everyone is positive that his or her shoebox full of old baseball cards contains at least one card worth millions. (10) But if my dad had that one card, he won’t know it. (11) Way before he realized it, his mother had gotten rid of them.
Your revision must replace the vague phrase way before he realized it with a more specific phrase about realizing that his cards could be worth something. The point here is to bring out the emphasis on the cards’ increased value, which is the point here, not the man’s realization.
B is the correct answer. It replaces way before he realized it with the more specific phrase years before his cards became valuable, which replaces the vague word way with years and stresses the cards’ increase in value rather than the man’s realization.
If you didn’t see that B was correct immediately, you could have eliminated wrong answers. Answer A can be eliminated, since you know the sentence is not perfect. C has a tense problem. Since everything in the sentence is happening in the past tense, he has realized should be he realized, and has gotten rid of them should be got rid of them. D is awkward and difficult to follow. E has a tense problem, like C (his mother gets rid should be his mother got rid). She got rid of the cards in the past, not in the present. Cutting A, C, D, and E leaves B, which is the best answer.
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