Writing Multiple-Choice Questions
Clear and Concise Writing
Mastering the concepts already presented ensures that you will be able to recognize the great majority of the errors in Sentence Error ID, Sentence Improvement, and Paragraph Improvement items. However, Paragraph Improvement will also test your ability to recognize writing that is not as consistent, logical, or succinct as it could be. Primarily, you’ll be directed to the connections between clauses, sentences, and paragraphs.
Let’s demonstrate this higher-order level of error recognition and correction with a concrete example. Read the following poorly written paragraph. Keep in mind that this exercise is much harder than what the SAT Writing section actually tests.

Virgil’s patron while he wrote the Aeneid was Maecenas, a powerful minister and friend for Augustus, the all-powerful first emperor of Rome. The poet Virgil wrote beautiful, gorgeous Latin verse for all to see in the classic epic poem the Aeneid nineteen years before Christ was born. One of Maecenas’s roles was to commission the production of works of art that would accrue glory to Augustus for purposes of

justifying his new power. In the Aeneid, the fact that Virgil found in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey a foundation myth that connected Rome to Troy shows that the question as to whether Augustus based his political power on partly culturally recognizable myths is not wholly untrue. Connected the Julio-Claudian family into which Augustus had been adopted by Julius Caesar to Aeneas, son of the goddess Venus, who had escaped from burning Troy carrying his father on his back. Virgil follows Aeneas from Troy through his wanderings in the Mediterranean, to Carthage, and finally to Rome, where he founds a colony that eventually becomes Rome. While at Carthage, Aeneas falls in love with Queen Dido, but leaves her to found the people from which in spite of the fact of that love affair will spring the army that will raze Queen Dido’s city to the ground some time later.

This paragraph needs some serious work. We’re going to fix it line by line.

(1) Virgil’s patron while he wrote the Aeneid was Maecenas, a powerful minister and friend for Augustus, the all-powerful first emperor of Rome.

The above is not a lead sentence and starts the paragraph off in the middle—a typical Paragraph Improvement error.
Before finding a better home for this sentence, let’s fix some redundancies. Note that powerful repeats. The adjective is applied to two different people, but we can do better. Also, if you’re an emperor of Rome, aren’t you already all-powerful? Finally, a powerful minister and friend for Augustus is awkward. Here’s a fix:

During the Aeneid’s composition, Virgil’s patron was Maecenas. As the trusted ally of Augustus, first emperor of Rome, Maecenas wielded great power on his friend’s behalf.

(2) The poet Virgil wrote beautiful, gorgeous Latin verse for all to see in the classic epic poem the Aeneid nineteen years before Christ was born.

This is our topic sentence and should come first. For now, note again the redundancy of beautiful, gorgeous; of poet, verse, and poem; and of nineteen years before Christ was born. Also note the unnecessary phrase, for all to see. Here’s a rewrite:

In 19 B.C., the Roman poet Virgil wrote some of the most beautiful Latin verse in his classic epic the Aeneid.

(3) One of Maecenas’s roles was to commission the production of works of art that would accrue glory to Augustus for purposes of justifying his new power.

We can trim a lot of fat here. Don’t ever allow any word to slack off. If a word isn’t carrying its share of meaning, omit it. Commission, in this sense, means “order to be made,” so production is redundant. Works of art can be cut down to simply art. The phrase that would accrue glory to might sound like highfalutin prose, but it’s really just flab. And for purposes of should be avoided at all costs. Here’s one possible rewrite:

One of Maecenas’s roles was to commission art that would glorify Augustus’s new regime.

(4) In the Aeneid, the fact that Virgil found in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey a foundation myth that connected Rome to Troy shows that the question as to whether Augustus based his political power on partly culturally recognizable myths is not wholly untrue.

First, phrases such as the fact that and the question as to whether should be avoided. Second, note the echo of found and foundation. Third, the adverb partly is misplaced. Fourth, based on is often used in a vague manner; surely there is another more forceful and specific verb we could use. Fifth, a culture cannot recognize a myth, so this too can be clarified. Sixth, this sentence implies, but doesn’t make explicit, that Virgil’s epic followed a propagandistic program that originated with Augustus but was executed by Maecenas. Finally, not wholly untrue introduces a logical problem that is best to cut. Note how not wholly untrue doesn’t logically follow from the question as to whether. Can a question be found to be not wholly untrue? Avoid negative statements; they tend to be wordy and logically confusing. Here’s one way to fix this sentence:

By appropriating material in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Maecenas’s protégé constructed a foundation myth that traced Rome’s origins to Troy. By aligning the emperor’s new regime with a venerable and widely familiar myth, the Aeneid demonstrates one way in which Maecenas’s commissions legitimized Augustus’s power.

(5) Connected the Julio-Claudian family into which Augustus had been adopted by Julius Caesar to Aeneas, son of the goddess Venus, who had escaped from burning Troy carrying his father on his back.

This sentence, despite its length, is a fragment—there’s no connection. Where’s the subject? Furthermore, several potentially unfamiliar proper names are crammed into the sentence. Also, the tenses used are unnecessarily complex, which leads to chronological confusion. Examples of unnecessary information include Julius Caesar’s adoption of Augustus and that Aeneas escaped from burning Troy carrying his father on his back. The technical name for Augustus’s family (Julio-Claudian) is not critical either. Finally, this sentence fails to build upon the previous sentence in a crucial manner. It fails to present the genealogical connection between Augustus and Aeneas as a specific, legitimizing advantage of Virgil’s more general genealogical connection between the people of Rome and Troy. Let’s rewrite with these points in mind:

Moreover, Virgil specifically traced Augustus’s lineage not only to the Trojan prince Aeneas but also to Aeneas’s mother, the goddess Venus. Thus, Virgil granted Augustus kinship not only with a great sovereign of a venerable race but also with the gods themselves.

(6) Virgil follows Aeneas from Troy through his wanderings in the Mediterranean, to Carthage, and finally to Rome, where he founds a colony that eventually becomes Rome. (7) While at Carthage, Aeneas falls in love with Queen Dido, but leaves her to found the people from which in spite of the fact of that love affair will spring the army that will raze Queen Dido’s city to the ground sometime later.

First, sentence 6 would be best used earlier in the paragraph, as it provides important information about the Aeneid’s plot that readers need in order to appreciate the main point of the paragraph: the epic’s political value. However, it’s not as concise as it could be. For example, Rome is mentioned twice. Also, Virgil doesn’t follow Aeneas, his readers do. As the writer, Virgil is in control.

Virgil leads Aeneas from Troy across the Mediterranean to Carthage and finally to Italy, where he founds a colony that will eventually become Rome.

Second, given that the political value of the Aeneid is the paragraph’s main point, we do not need to mention that Aeneas, progenitor of Rome, hooked up with Dido, ancestor of Carthage, an enemy Rome ultimately vanquished. The irony is not worth going off-topic for. Cut sentence 7 altogether, because it is riddled with redundancies (the fact . . . that; raze . . . to the ground), overly complex structure (from which in spite of), unclear chronology (sometime later), and vague identification of characters (we’re not explicitly told that Dido was queen of Carthage).
Let’s decide where to insert sentence 6 in the rewritten paragraph assembled below:

In 19 B.C., the Roman poet Virgil wrote some of the most beautiful Latin verse in his classic epic the Aeneid. During the Aeneid’s composition, Virgil’s patron was Maecenas. As the trusted ally of Augustus, first emperor of Rome, Maecenas wielded great power on his friend’s behalf. One of Maecenas’s roles was to commission art that would glorify Augustus’s new regime. By appropriating material in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Maecenas’s protégé constructed a foundation myth that traced Rome’s origins to Troy. By aligning the emperor’s new regime with a venerable and widely familiar myth, the Aeneid demonstrates one way in which Maecenas’s commissions legitimized Augustus’s power. Moreover, Virgil specifically traced Augustus’s lineage not only to the Trojan prince Aeneas but also to Aeneas’s mother, the goddess Venus. Thus, Virgil granted Augustus kinship not only with a great sovereign of a venerable race but also with the gods themselves.

With a few minor adjustments (highlighted below by plain text and strikethroughs), the rewrite of sentence 6 would do nicely as the second sentence of this paragraph:

In 19 B.C., the Roman poet Virgil wrote some of the most beautiful Latin verse in his classic epic the Aeneid. In that epic, a sequel to Homer’s earlier Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil leads the Trojan prince Aeneas from Troy his besieged native city across the Mediterranean to Carthage and finally to Italy, where he founds a colony that will eventually become Rome. During the Aeneid’s composition, Virgil’s patron was Maecenas. As the trusted ally of Augustus, first emperor of Rome, Maecenas wielded great power on his friend’s behalf. One of Maecenas’s roles was to commission art that would glorify Augustus’s new regime. By appropriating material in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey,

Maecenas’s protégé constructed a foundation myth that traced Rome’s origins to Troy. By aligning the emperor’s new regime with a venerable and widely familiar myth, the Aeneid demonstrates one way in which Maecenas’s commissions legitimized Augustus’s power. Moreover, Virgil specifically traced Augustus’s lineage not only to the Trojan prince Aeneas but also to Aeneas’s mother, the goddess Venus. Thus, Virgil granted Augustus kinship not only with a great sovereign of a venerable race but also with the gods themselves.

And the final, rewritten paragraph . . .

In 19 B.C., the Roman poet Virgil wrote some of the most beautiful Latin verse in his classic epic the Aeneid. In that epic, a sequel to Homer’s earlier Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil leads the Trojan prince Aeneas from his besieged native city across the Mediterranean to Carthage and finally to Italy, where he founds a colony that will eventually become Rome. During the Aeneid’s composition, Virgil’s patron was Maecenas. As the trusted ally of Augustus, first emperor of Rome, Maecenas wielded great power on his friend’s behalf. One of Maecenas’s roles was to commission art that would glorify Augustus’s new regime. By appropriating material in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Maecenas’s protégé constructed a foundation myth that traced Rome’s origins to Troy. By aligning the emperor’s new regime with a venerable and widely familiar myth, the Aeneid demonstrates one way in which Maecenas’s commissions legitimized Augustus’s power. Moreover, Virgil specifically traced Augustus’s lineage not only to Aeneas but also to Aeneas’s mother, the goddess Venus. Thus, Virgil granted Augustus kinship not only with a great sovereign of a venerable race but also with the gods themselves.

In an actual Paragraph Improvement set, as you will see, the task of revision is made considerably easier because the items are multiple choice. Rather than provide a revision, you’ll only need to recognize both an error and its correction. Furthermore, when you write your essay, your main goal will be to prevent writing an essay as convoluted and error-ridden as the original version of the Aeneid essay.
It’s time to learn the most efficient way to use your knowledge on testlike items and sets. We’ll treat each of the item types separately. Let’s begin with Sentence Error ID.
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