Writing Multiple-Choice Questions
Tackling Identifying Sentence Errors
This item type only requires that you recognize a mistake—you don’t have to fix it. Some items will be correct; most will have an error in one of their underlined sections. No item will have more than one error.
Here’s the item you saw earlier:
1.  In Victorian  England, hunger and unemployment  was  so
 A B 
prevalent that social revolution was a constant source of
 
 anxiety for  members of the  upper class .  No error 
 C D E
Note that, unlike most SAT items, which have both a stem and a set of answer choices, Sentence Error ID items embed their answer choices in their stems. There aren’t many shortcuts you can use if you’re stuck—in fact, there’s only one: if you’re sure that the sentence contains an error, but you can’t isolate which underlined portion contains it, or you’re running out of time, guess. You’ve already eliminated one answer choice—namely, E—so by guessing among the remaining four, you’re ahead of the wrong-answer penalty.
That strategy aside, be sure to use the following step method every time you attempt a Sentence Error ID:
Step 1: Read the item carefully, noting the types of words or phrases that are underlined.
Step 2: Ask yourself whether any underlined word or phrase, in the context of the entire sentence, is in error. Eliminate those that are correct.
Step 3: If you find no error, E is the correct answer.
Perform step 3 only if you haven’t identified an error in step 2.
Sentence Error ID in Slow Motion
In order to demonstrate exactly how this method works, let’s attempt item 1 using our three-step method in slow motion.
Step 1: Read the item carefully, noting the types of words or phrases that are underlined.
1.  In Victorian  England, hunger and unemployment  was  so
 A B 
prevalent that social revolution was a constant source of
 
 anxiety for  members of the  upper class .  No error  
 C D E
The essential concepts reviewed in the last section will give you an advantage. If you have some sense of what to look for, you can ignore the noise that the distractors represent and predict the kinds of errors you’re likely to see. Likewise, if you note the kinds of words or phrases that are underlined, you will know what the SAT likes to test.
In this case, you have:
Whether you identify these as formally as we did or simply think “in—that’s a preposition; was—verb; for—another preposition; upper—adjective” does not matter. The key is not merely to identify but to strategize as follows:
Step 2: Ask yourself whether any underlined word or phrase, in the context of the entire sentence, is in error. Eliminate those that are correct.
The key here is that while an error will appear in an underlined portion of the sentence, in order to recognize the error, the function of that underlined portion must be considered as part of a whole. Do not judge the underlined portions in isolation from the sentence. We’ll show you what we mean by this as we work through the answer choices below.
You’ve learned that the SAT likes to test idioms. In Victorian . . . sounds wrong, but In Victorian England . . . sounds okay. Eliminate A. (Scratch a line through A’s part of the sentence, if you like.)
The SAT loves to test subject/verb agreement. Anytime you see a verb underlined, check out whether it agrees with the subject. What’s the subject here? Hunger and unemployment? Bingo. A compound subject requires a plural verb. Choose B. Obviously, there’s no need for step 3.
On the test, you’d just move on to the next item, but we’ll review the other distractors to show you why they appeared.
Again, think “idiom.” Anxiety for sounds okay, especially when embedded in the phrase a constant source of anxiety for.
There’s no issue with comparatives versus superlatives here and no issue with adjective versus adverbs. We’re familiar with upper class, so no problem.
Note how there was no way to judge if B (the verb, was) was right or wrong without determining its function within the sentence.
Guided Practice
Try this one on your own:
2.
Rita and Julie  are planning  to get  a doctorate  so that
 A B 
 they  can become  professors .  No error 
 C D E
Step 1: Read the item carefully, noting the types of words or phrases that are underlined.
Write down the type of word or phrase that is underlined in each of the spaces provided.
Choice Type of Word or Phrase
A
B
C
D
Step 2: Ask yourself whether any underlined word or phrase, in the context of the entire sentence, is in error. Eliminate those that are correct.
Write whether you think there is an error and what type of error it is in each of the spaces provided.
Choice Error?
A
B
C
D
Guided Practice Explanation
Step 1: Read the item carefully, noting the types of words or phrases that are underlined.
Choice Type of Word or Phrase
A are planning plural verb
B a doctorate singular noun
C they plural pronoun
D professors plural noun
Step 2: Ask yourself whether any underlined word or phrase, in the context of the entire sentence, is in error. Eliminate those that are correct.
Choice Error?
A are planning This looks okay: a plural verb, are planning, that matches the compound subject, Rita and Julie.
B a doctorate This is singular but the subject is compound and therefore plural. Remember that nouns must match in number: Rita and Julie cannot earn one doctorate. B is correct.
C they Plural subject, plural pronoun. All is well here. Notice how the other underlined portions can focus your attention on the error.
D professors If Rita and Julie are becoming professors, why are they getting one doctorate?
Independent Practice
After you complete the following item, look on the following page for the explanation.
3. To  fundamentalist  movements around the globe, the nature
 A 
of modern societies  present  a  grave and permanent  threat
 B C 
to traditional  ways of life .  No error 
 D E
Independent Practice Explanation
Step 1: Read the item carefully, noting the types of words or phrases that are underlined.
Choice Type of Word or Phrase
A
adjective
B
plural verb
C
adjectival phrase
D
prepositional phrase
Step 2: Ask yourself whether any underlined word or phrase, in the context of the entire sentence, is in error. Eliminate those that are correct.
A seems fine—fundamentalist movements is unobjectionable. How about B? Note that societies is right next to present. This should immediately make you suspicious—remember “camouflaging clauses.” The subject of this sentence is not societies but the nature of modern societies, which is singular and thus requires a singular verb. This is the error, so pick B. C is meant to distract the unsuspecting test-taker with what looks like a compound subject but is actually simply two adjectives. D is a familiar and correct prepositional idiom.
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